District voters will not elect an attorney general this year if the city's current top attorney has his way.
On Monday, D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan sent a letter to the three District of Columbia Court of Appeals judges who are considering what may be attorney general hopeful Paul Zukerberg's final chance for getting the office on the November ballot. Nathan notified the judges, who sounded sympathetic to Zukerberg's arguments on May 29, that the D.C. Council is moving forward with legislation to push back the vote to 2018.
However, Nathan's attempt to throw cold water on the appeal does not does not appear to have dampened the spirits of Zukerberg or his supporters. DC Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith announced what he called "Hope for D.C. Democracy in 2014" on Monday afternoon, in a statement that suggested optimism about the ruling.
"Given the tenor of last week's argument, however, it seems likely the Court will order the Council and the Board of Elections to move immediately to schedule the Attorney General election for later this year," Smith stated. "In that case, there would be a number of ways for the Council and the Board to put the election back on track. They will have to act promptly — and we trust that they will."
Nathan's letter asserts that the D.C. Council is moving in the opposite direction. He points out that a measure advanced by the council last week sets up a major restructuring of the office on Oct. 1, 2018. The proposal, which could win final approval as soon as June 11, provides for more than 40 subordinate agencies currently reporting to the city's attorney general to start reporting to their own agency directors.
Despite a nearly 3-to-1 margin of support for a 2010 referendum to that could have changed the city’s attorney general job from a mayoral appointment to an elected position in 2014, Nathan maintains that deferring the vote to the 2018 election cycle makes the most sense from both a practical and political standpoint.
"As the Act demonstrates, the Council is committed to holding an election for Attorney General as soon as practicable, while also being mindful of the need to defer to the 2018 election cycle, rather than rushing to hold it in 2014," Nathan wrote. He also lays out the obstacles to having the election this year, including statutes governing the timing of the many steps in the election process, the dearth of qualified candidates and the "undoubted cost" of any city-wide special election.
Nathan suggests that with more time, the city could potentially change the local Hatch Act to allow current AG employees to run for the office.
Earlier this year, he testified against a bill sponsored by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, a Democrat who represents Ward 3, that would have ended a ban on D.C. government lawyers running for office. The proposal also set up the framework to elect an attorney general in 2014.
Zukerberg pointed out that contradiction when asked for comment on Nathan's latest attempt to delay the election.
"His claim that the four years between passage of the 2010 charter amendment and the 2014 election left insufficient time to prepare is not credible," Zukerberg said in an email. "If the council could not prepare in 4 years another 4 is unlikely to help."
The judges have indicated they will attempt to make a speedy ruling on the case.