The difficult right


Toledo City Council elected a new president this week. Joe McNamara, the former president who is running for mayor, has made an act of contrition before Lucas County Democratic Party leaders. It’s all good, unless you believe that elected leaders should be allowed to govern.

Mr. McNamara and Mike Craig, another council Democrat, ran afoul of their party and its allies in organized labor for exercising independent thought. In January, the councilmen unsuccessfully opposed the party-backed candidacy of union organizer Shaun Enright to fill a council vacancy. They argued plausibly that he wasn’t the best-qualified choice.

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Mr. Craig also may have been smarting from his 2011 re-election campaign, when the party backed Mr. Enright’s bid to oust the incumbent. Mr. Craig’s sin was supporting wage and benefit concessions by city workers to help balance Toledo’s recession-battered budget.

The two errant councilmen had to be shown the error of their ways. A former head of Mr. Enright’s union proposed figurative castration for Mr. McNamara, while a Teamsters official blasted his display of independence as “ego-driven” and “self-serving.”

After an inquisition by the county party, Mr. McNamara relinquished the council presidency, but not without a final act of defiance. He and Mr. Craig backed the candidacy of Councilman Adam Martinez, who publicly said that Mr. McNamara “had done nothing to deserve” being forced out.

Other council Democrats backed Paula Hicks-Hudson for president, amid talk of stripping Republican council members of their committee chairmanships. After five inconclusive votes last week, council members finally elected Ms. Hicks-Hudson this week.

Now it appears that Mr. McNamara and Mr. Craig are again counted among the Democratic faithful. They swore allegiance to all Democratic and union-approved candidates, starting with Ms. Hicks-Hudson. But Mr. McNamara lost positions of power within the party, perhaps as a lesson to others who might follow his apostasy.

When Mr. McNamara resigned as president, he said that being a public official is “about serving the people and always picking the difficult right over the easy wrong.” He’s right. Government does not exist to serve Democrats or Republicans, or to do the bidding of special interests.

Government is supposed to serve a broad good that takes into account the needs of individual factions. But that can happen only when officials, though they are elected by partisans, are permitted the freedom to govern for everyone.