06/07/2012 04:51 pm ET Updated Aug 07, 2012

District of Disgrace

Another once-promising young man goes down in D.C. Kwame Brown's demise is not just his personal shame. The detritus of multiple corruption cases at City Hall fills the entire city with the odor of dysfunction, despair, and utter disgrace. The most disenfranchised jurisdiction in the nation --- truly, the "last colony" of political lore --- suffers one more nail driven deep into the coffin once proudly called "Home Rule."

On the late news last night, Councilmember Mary Cheh, now the pro-tem chair of the D.C. Council, hastened to assure the city that "business as usual" will go on at City Hall. And what, pray tell, is that business? With former Councilmember Harry Thomas heading to jail, former Council Chair Kwame Brown heading to a possible plea bargain, Mayor Vincent Gray under investigation and numerous other local political figures heading to their lawyers' offices for protection in the rising tide of scandal, the business of government in D.C. right now seems to be a boomlet for defense lawyers.

Every citizen of the city pays a heavy price for the moral failures of our leaders. The solons of Congress who have never respected the District of Columbia's fundamental freedom to govern itself now add "too corrupt" to their private list of the "toos" they chant about DC --- too liberal, too urban, too Democratic, too black. Each new scandal adds fresh meat to the table of bigotry where throngs still feed regularly.

Washington Post Columnist Robert McCartney says this morning that we all should take comfort in the fact that, despite the fog of scandal, the city is actually functioning very well. Perhaps that's true from the perspective of developers, baseball fans and young professionals enjoying the night life on U Street or Dupont Circle.

But check in with the women in Anacostia who can't get the health care services they need because congressmen from Arizona and other far-away places are making decisions for them. Ask the single moms of the city if they really have the child care, mental health, housing, food and other services they need so desperately to sustain daily life. Ask the large number of adults in the city who can't read if things are going really well. Ask the 9,000 young people between the ages of 16-24 who are out of school and unemployed if things really are "better" for them than in a past they cannot remember.

Check in, as well, with the business community. Ask corporate leaders why virtually all major businesses have relocated their headquarters elsewhere. Ask CEOs what it's like to get things done in the city. Ask people who have felt berated and even intimidated in dealings with the city government. Ask people who are spending millions of dollars providing private educational and social services for D.C. children because the city systems simply do not work for the neediest. This is not a government that is "going well" for many people who are trying to get things done here.

What's to be done? Curiously, and sadly, public outrage over the betrayal of Home Rule at the hands of its very stewards seems muted, a shrug not a scream. The pervasive disenfranchisement of D.C. citizens is clear in the largely passive reaction to each new indictment. We knew this was coming; there goes another one; what do you expect.

To raise D.C. out of the current morass of disgrace to the honored place that the nation's capital should hold in the national and global consciousness, we must have a fresh, vital, ethical new generation of leadership for the city. D.C. citizens need to demand better candidates and exert more care in choosing leaders. The stakes for the future of the city are higher than ever; citizens should be demanding the best, insisting on greater accountability, and show some guts in throwing the bums out when they prove unworthy of the public trust.