D.C. politicians and life in the fast lane

Remember former Mayor Sheila Dixon's Jimmy Choo shoes and closetful of fur coats? Who could forget — except, perhaps, Washington, D.C., City Council President Kwame R. Brown, who resigned from office this week after federal prosecutors charged him with bank fraud and misuse of campaign funds. Mr. Brown's troubles allegedly began when he needed money for a second mortgage, a 40-foot power boat and, yes, a closetful of fancy clothes and shoes.

Mr. Brown's resignation comes just a few months after another D.C. council member, Harry L. Thomas Jr., pleaded guilty to secretly stealing more than $350,000 in city funds intended for youth sports programs and filing a false tax return. Prosecutors charged he used the money to fund an extravagant lifestyle that included lavish parties, vacations and "fully loaded" luxury SUVs. He was sentenced to 38 months in prison and ordered to repay the money to took. Meanwhile, a federal investigation into wrongdoing by other city officials is continuing.

Although the great majority of people who go into public service conduct themselves honorably, there are always a few who seem to think elected office somehow entitles them to indulge in the trappings of luxury usually reserved for movie stars and music moguls — all paid for at taxpayer expense. Flashy cars, clothes and vacations top the list but by no means exhaust the possibilities.

Which raises the question: Why do so many elected officials seem to think they should be able to live like celebrities?

For one thing, just as the names and faces of celebrities' are often on TV and in the newspapers, so are those of politicians, which means a lot of people know who they are. If the definition of a celebrity is someone who is well known for being well-known, elected officials fit that description. They, like everybody else, see how "real" celebrities are supposed to be treated and think they should be treated that way too. Never mind that celebrities don't have to do anything except show up, while elected officials are supposed to be running the government and paying its bills.

Another thing: Like celebrities, politicians crave the public's respect and affection. They want people to not just think they're doing a great job in office but to adore them. The glitz and glamour of fancy cars and clothes makes them feel worthy of the esteem in which they aspire to be held. Those sexy shoes are part of the package.

And finally, there's all that money floating around — campaign contributions, charitable donations, expense accounts for their personal use and for perks they administer. Some narcissistic personality types can't help but see all that cash as their very own ATM card and start splurging.

In short, the desire for sex, money and power — those age-old temptations — are the reason why elected officials who dip into the public till will always be with us. It's also why for some people, life lived in the fast lane will inevitably lead to a fall. Since voters can never predict precisely which officials will let them down, the only reasonable attitude to take is a paraphrase of the old Marx brothers line: They're probably honest — but you gotta watch 'em.

Glenn McNatt

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad