So, here in the grand city of Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon, who embezzled gift cards intended for poor children, gets to stay in office for who-knows-how-long - as if nothing has happened - while a city cop who took part in that goofy mock raid/marriage proposal at the behest of a politician gets charged with misconduct and could lose his job.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore City Council calls the elderly gentleman who runs a charitable foundation to City Hall to answer questions about how he's conducted operations and handed out money over the years. But not one council member has called for Sheila Dixon to answer for all the charges, criminal and otherwise, leveled against her as council president and as mayor.
And then there's Lindbergh Carpenter. He scampered down Calvert Street to get away from the TV cameras after testifying at the mayor's trial, and we may never see him again. He pleaded guilty to taking seven $20 Toys "R" Us cards from the batch on the mayor's Holly Trolley Tour in 2007. He lost his job in the city housing department and, as of last month, he still had not found new employment.
Sheila Dixon offers a short blah-blah-blah on her trial and her intention to stay in office, takes not a single question and goes back to work.
She didn't testify, and the legal experts have explained why. But she also has not testified in the court that matters most, out here where people live and work and pay their enormous tax bills to support the city government that she heads.
She's the mayor, and the mayor matters most of all. The mayor is supposed to have integrity and the public's trust; the mayor is supposed to be worthy of our admiration and support. In the age of Obama, a Democratic mayor should have great influence with a Democratic president and members of Congress.
The mayor can't be effective without all that. Everywhere she goes, everything Sheila Dixon does - it's all under a cloud now, more than ever. I don't know about anyone else around here, but I don't think our city can afford a bad-news mayor for any length of time. And how does the city question the integrity of others (cops, foundation presidents) with a mayor in office who violated a trust?
Baltimore has been struggling for years, in the throes of a rebirth that has taken decades. We've been waiting for it to become "the greatest city in America" for a long time. A lot of people - cops and nurses and ministers, teachers and community activists and church ladies, social workers and volunteers and artists, rehabbers and retailers and restaurateurs - have been working at this, dealing with the day-to-day reality of the city and not some fictional television concept of it. They've found hope and success in a Baltimore that cynics have come to regard as a hellhole.
In the midst of all the bad stuff that goes on in this city, there's got to be integrity in the men and women we count on for leadership. Even in the midst of the craziness and violence and dysfunction, those assigned to fix Baltimore at all levels have to meet high standards of law and conduct.
Thursday's memorial for Marty Ward reminded us of how bleak things were here in the 1980s. Mr. Ward was the city cop who was shot by a drug dealer 25 years ago, and anyone who heard the wiretap evidence presented at his killer's trial remains haunted by Mr. Ward's death. Edward Angeletti, the retired judge who approved many of Mr. Ward's requests for search warrants, said of him: "He was sincere, genuine, caring and, most of all, blessed with unquestioned integrity and character beyond reproach."
Many of the men and women who work for Sheila Dixon - or who work in the many nonprofits that fight the good fight out here - have the same qualities, and they are true believers in the city.
They recognize the work that must be done. Getting kids out of poverty and into college, making the city hospitable to middle-class families again, cracking the drugs-and-crime culture, encouraging more economic development and employment in post-industrial Baltimore: Those are the great challenges they face and the reasons for enlisting in public service. They want to work where they can make a difference.
There's been a lot of progress to show for it already, especially since the start of this decade. And, even in the grind of a long recession, you can see more opportunity on the horizon. Baltimore is a city on the verge. We need better than a mayor found guilty of dishonesty by a jury of her fellow citizens.
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.