Photo by afagen on Flickr.
Thanks to the many of you who sent letters yesterday, Jack Evans decided not to propose his budget amendment to allocate free sports tickets among councilmembers. Evans is also, not surprisingly, displeased that I compared his attitude over tickets to malfeasance from Harry Thomas Jr, Kwame Brown, and Harriette Walters.
Primarily, he argues that it was inappropriate to criticize him because he was just proposing to tweak a law that gives the council free tickets, not create a new one.
While it’s indeed important to get the legal details as precise as possible in our articles, it’s also still wrong for councilmembers to get free tickets. Any law that clarifies who gets which tickets only cements the dangerous attitude that members are entitled to free goodies by virtue of their positions.
As Evans noted, the law already requires half of DC’s free tickets at the Verizon Center and ballpark to go to the DC Council, and the other half to the mayor. Evans’ amendment would not create a new ticket requirement, but would have spelled out exactly how many tickets go to each member, as well as the parking passes.
Evans is right that my original intro paragraph was imprecise. I wrote that he “wants to enshrine into DC law the current practice that politicians get free sports tickets.” He notes that this is already enshrined.
It is indeed important to try to get details right. I should have been more accurate. I was thrown off slightly by the Post headline that said, “D.C. politicians’ free tickets could be written into law,” but that’s not a reason not to get things right as much as possible.
However, this also isn’t the point. There is a big difference between a law that says the council gets some tickets, and a law that explicitly divvies them up among members. It also means something to take steps to further codify details of such a scheme into the law. This sends an even stronger message that these tickets are for councilmembers, their guests, or people they choose to reward. It sends the message that these are perks to which members are entitled.
Let’s say 3 people come across a lost wallet on the street, and start quarreling over who saw it first and who should get the money. Is the proper response to try to help them agree on a division, or to tell them to mail it back to the person whose driver’s license is in the wallet?
What Jack clearly doesn’t understand is that most residents view the entire ticket giveaway as dirty. Try to move the piles of dirt around, and you just get dirtier.
Evans is the District’s biggest cheerleader for huge public land and money deals for sports teams. He also benefits personally from these deals. As a result of the baseball deal, he now gets free tickets. If he succeeds in wooing the Redskins to the District, he will likely get them too. And so will his colleagues. How can we trust that they’re acting in the public’s best interest?
Having free parking passes (a current practice that Evans’ bill would explicitly continue) also distorts our council’s view. DC has made enormous efforts to make the ballpark accessible by transit, and to encourage most baseball fans to use those options. If councilmembers get free parking which most of the public doesn’t get, will they recognize the value of funding better transit service?
Small perks can make a huge difference in someone’s psychological outlook. Evans has been very clear that he doesn’t see a problem with free tickets and parking passes, or having substantial outside income from lobbbying activities, or as he said on the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday, with the District’s campaign finance laws. Most residents I’ve spoken with absolutely do think these are problems, and feel that the Council’s ethical compass as a whole is seriously miscalibrated.