METRO WEEKLY: What do you think should be the nature of the Attorney General’s relationship with both the Council and the Mayor? As Democrats, can voters trust that you will be able to remain independent of the mayor, the Council, and particularly the D.C. Democratic Party when it comes to aggressive oversight and enforcing D.C.’s laws?
Karl Racine (D): As Attorney General, my first duty would be to uphold the law and represent the District of Columbia and its people. I plan to work effectively with the Council and the mayor to provide legal advice for the District and advance policies that are in public interest, but if elected, my first priority will be to establish a truly independent Office of the Attorney General.
Voters can trust that I will remain independent because I have consistently demonstrated independence and integrity throughout my 25 plus years of practicing law. My independence led to my selection by legal peers to serve on the District’s Judicial Nomination Commission to vet judges. It also led to my endorsement by 14 past presidents of the DC Bar Association. As an experienced attorney, I have extensive experience working zealously for the best interest of the client above all else. And as Attorney General, I will never forget that my client is the District of Columbia, not the mayor or the Democratic Party.
MW: Realizing that bias enhancements are more difficult to “prove” in a court of law, what can the Attorney General do to ensure that crimes motivated by anti-LGBT bias are properly prosecuted, beyond merely providing lip service to the LGBT community?
Racine: Though hate crimes tend to be more difficult cases to prove, they are usually awful attacks on some of the most vulnerable members of our community. As Attorney General, I will ensure that these crimes are properly prosecuted, that my prosecutors understand that the facts of a case matter more than boosting their conviction rates, and that management supports prosecutors who spend their time on important cases, such as hate crime.
MW: What specifically, under the restrictions put forth in the Home Rule Act and the U.S. Constitution, can an Attorney General do to push statehood or budget autonomy? Or is this just a “talking point” for candidates, designed to get votes?
Racine: I am a supporter of D.C. statehood and autonomy and have lived in D.C. for most of my life. I take it personally that District residents don’t share the basic citizenship rights granted to other Americans. As Attorney General, I will pursue all available legal avenues toward increased autonomy, fair representation, and eventually statehood. I also believe that we must advance our argument for statehood in political, as well as legal, venues.
I will use my experience defending President Clinton against Congress as Associate White House Counsel to stand up for the District against Congress if our autonomy is violated. I will also use my familiarity with that body to work with advocates lobbying Congress for change.
I will work with other state’s Attorney’s General on nation-wide projects to show that our government can be a player on the national legal scene and enhance the reputation of the District.
I will use the bully pulpit of the office to publicly champion the cause of DC statehood when I have the opportunity. When the right case arises, I will zealously and ferociously proclaim the District’s right to self-determination in court.
That being said, I am the only candidate who has had the courage to speak hard truths on this topic. The fact is, the budget autonomy strategy undertaken by the Council is not a winner. I believe we weaken the cause of statehood and autonomy when we pursue every possible angle to get to success rather than being strategic about how we pursue the vindication of our fundamental rights.
MW: Avoiding talking points and campaign rhetoric, name three SEPARATE legal issues that you would advocate and push for as the city’s “top cop,” and why they’re important to improving the lives of District residents.
My top three priorities as Attorney General will be: Standing up a truly independent office with the highest standard of integrity, accountability, and independence, enforcing laws on the books meant to protect D.C. residents, including laws on affordable housing, consumer protection and environmental protection, and reforming the juvenile justice system and working with private foundations and agencies to provide wrap-around services to at-risk youth in order to keep them out of the juvenile justice system in the first place.
I would encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about my positions to read “The Keys to Justice” — my policy platform. I am the only candidate in this race with a published policy platform and therefore the only candidate whose position you can know with specificity before election day.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Racine: First, the LGBT community should vote for me for the same reason that other residents should: because I have the right kind of experience to lead the Office and to make it truly great, independent and effective.
When it comes to my specific interactions with the LGBT community, I have always held a firm belief in the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. I have spent my career exemplifying these values. At the DC Public Defender Service, I represented children and adults who could not afford to hire a lawyer, and worked to develop comprehensive support plans that would provide alternatives to the criminal justice system.
At Venable, I was elected by my colleagues to become the first African-American Managing Partner of an Am Law 100 firm. I was deeply honored by this appointment, but also fully cognizant of the brave civil rights leaders whose struggles for equality made it possible. With this in mind, I have always been deeply concerned with making sure that the same opportunities are available to others regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other trait.
As Managing Partner at Venable, I was responsible for hiring, promoting, and training our attorneys, and emphasized the importance of ensuring diversity in doing so. I drafted, implemented, and enforced clear policies regarding equal treatment and equal opportunity. I specifically hired a diverse team, including women, minorities, and LGBT individuals, and promoted many of these individuals to positions of prominence within the firm. Furthermore, I strongly believe in the power of proactive diversity training. Intolerance is based on ignorance, but can be addressed through creative programs such as our firm-wide book clubs dedicated to educating employees on issues of diversity.
On a personal level, I am a long-time volunteer with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the primary community-based provider of HIV/AIDS services in the city. I have taken numerous pro bono cases representing people living with HIV/AIDS and helped them obtain social security benefits. I also took on pro bono work representing the Clinic itself. To further support Whitman-Walker’s work, I encouraged my Venable colleagues and other friends to take on additional projects, earning Venable the Clinic’s “Going the Extra Mile Law Firm Award” in 2004, among other honors.
In addition to my work with Whitman-Walker, I have volunteered with the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Legal Advice Program at Bread for the City, which provides vulnerable residents with comprehensive services such as housing, food, legal assistance, and medical care. I am also a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization dedicated to creating a truly diverse legal profession.
As Attorney General I will treat each and every resident of the District with dignity, respect and with equality before the law.
For more information on Karl Racine’s campaign, visit votekarlracine.com.
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