The D.C. Council may have a major problem. Anita Bonds, chairwoman of the Democratic State Committee, is determined to bring her historical baggage and flawed politics to the legislature struggling to regain the public's trust and confidence.
Under Bonds, Democrats' state organization has been a disaster. It has been cited with multiple campaign finance violations, forcing it to pay $8,000 in fines; some ward organizations were practically defunct; and elections for committee members have yet to occur, according to current and former members.
"Anita is by far the worst [chairwoman] since Home Rule," said Philip Pannell, a former committee member. He called the committee "an ethical and intellectual wasteland."
Bonds is campaigning to fill temporarily the at-large council seat left vacant by Phil Mendelson's ascent to chairmanship. District law gives the state committee authority to select a replacement until a citywide special election.
John Capozzi, Donna Alston, David Fuller and Douglass Sloan also are vying for the temporary post. But Bonds reportedly has the votes to win.
What a conflict. Bonds has great influence over the committee. Further, the terms for 48 of the 82 members have expired, raising questions about the legality of their participation.
Bonds defended her record, blaming campaign violations on receiving poor advice. "We thought we were doing the right thing. But it's not a situation where money was missing." She said the election for new committee members can't occur until the organization's bylaws are rewritten. She anticipated either a caucus or citywide election will happen by spring 2013.
She also denied any conflict, asserting no role in development of the selection process. "I, like anyone else, have to garner signatures of 27 members of the committee along with 200 Democrats citywide."
In 2011, a similar selection was fraught with arm-twisting involving then-Councilmen Harry Thomas Jr. and Kwame R. Brown. Ironically, they eventually resigned in disgrace -- not before their candidate, Sekou Biddle, won the temporary post.
Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells worried Bonds' selection could recall that episode, giving the impression of backroom deal-making. "It would look a little like we're Tammany Hall."
Bonds' political associations and incarnations help underscore that perception. She was a co-manager of Marion Barry's mayoral campaigns and for a time held his political machine together inside the government, masking it as an office of community outreach. According to political insiders, she advised Barry's defense attorneys during jury selection for his drug trial. Later, she turned up as an adviser to Mayor Sharon Pratt.
"My record is sterling, and I got things done," said Bonds, adding she also has been an advisory neighborhood commissioner and chair of nonprofit boards.
"I would be a value to the council," she continued, asserting the legislature needs more women.
That may be true. She's not the one.
Bonds spells trouble for a legislature and government reeling from Thomas' and Brown's resignations and still under federal investigation for possible corruption.
"Her selection would continue the narrative of decline of political standards in the city," said Pannell.
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com.