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On Jan. 20, President George W. Bush declared the state of the union strong, and all kinds of luminaries were in the audience to hear the declaration. There were Iraqi Governing Council President Adnan Pachachi, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and members of Congress.
And then there was Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who, as usual, provided a great pan for the cameras. At one point, he sat there with his hands clasped against his nose.
Perhaps the mayor was deep in thought about his own address to the people.
Next Tuesday night, the mayor will render the State of the District to much pomp and circumstance. Instead of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) shaking his head in disbelief, Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson might grimace. The mayor’s security detail will take the place of soldiers who served in Iraq. And various advisory neighborhood commissioners will think big thoughts.
LL has snagged a copy of the mayor’s first draft of the speech, before Communications Director Tony Bullock and Chief of Staff Kelvin J. Robinson lard it up with niceties:
[Pause for applause]
The Mayor: Thank you for joining me at the historic Lincoln Theater.
First I need to acknowledge Virginia Ali, co-owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl here on U Street. Ben’s Chili Bowl has persevered through tough times—the ’68 riots, the Green Line Metro construction, the one or two nights a week I sit at the counter to eat two turkey dogs topped with veggie chili. Hardly anyone bothers me there. And I don’t talk to anyone, even my own security detail.
Thank you to my mother, Virginia Hayes Williams, for showing a little restraint this year. She’s agreed not to belt out “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
And even more thanks to my daughter, Asantewa Foster, and my wife, Diane Simmons Williams. Diane, I know you want me to ditch this government paycheck for something a little more lucrative. But thanks for bearing with me and making your sole annual appearance as first lady of the District.
Protocol now dictates that I acknowledge our congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton. The wild woman cussed me out after I declared my support for Republican-backed school vouchers and appeared several times with Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige. Our warrior on the Hill helped derail our first-in-the-nation primary, then anointed herself a champion of our voting rights.
Way to go, Eleanor!
I also want to—or, I should say, have to—acknowledge Chairman Linda W. Cropp and her colleagues on the council: Even though you all make the most of every opportunity to beat me down in the Washington Post and elsewhere, I still have to be polite to you at these events. Yes, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, even you.
Just think, Jack: If I run for and win a third term as mayor, we can repeat this charade six more times.
And let me ask my cabinet to stand. These are the folks who spend the entire year blaming one another for their failures in service delivery. Only at the State of the District address do they sit down together and stay quiet. You might notice that Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini’s missing. He’s our designated cabinet member, who’s spending this evening with his staff members in an undisclosed location far away from DC Watch Executive Director Dorothy Brizill.
I chose Dan largely to torture his spokesperson, Bill Rice, who lives to attend these
Friends—er, political associates and citizens—the state of the District is strong despite the hoo-ha rattled off by recall proponents such as Barbara Lett Simmons. The Save Our City group prattles on endlessly about how I closed D.C. General Hospital, how I want to spend hundreds of millions on convention centers and baseball stadiums, and how I hired former Fire Chief Ronnie Few.
Let me try to get this message through your hard hats: A recall election, of sorts, was held in 2002. Remember? I received 66 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, 61 percent in the general election.
I’d interpret that as a vote of confidence.
I say that with authority, because I’ve learned a lot in the three citizen summits I’ve held over the past five years. Each session, D.C. residents inform me that education ranks as their top priority. So I’ve been chanting about improving the schools—and doing nothing of substance at the same time.
By how many points did I beat Carol Schwartz in the last general election? Can you say landslide?
Who’s really being dishonest about priorities here?
Nevertheless, I’ll start with the mantra that we need to fix our schools. Yes, I know I’ve started with education in every one of my State of the District addresses:
In 2000: “I’m digging in, committing my leadership and the full weight of my office to pull us through a reform agenda.”
In 2001: “It’s time for us to stop dreaming—and start working to repair and rebuild our crumbling schools.”
In 2002: “Next year, I don’t want to hear about what we’re going to do to improve education.”
In short: Over the years, reform has come in stops and starts. Ooops—that’s what I said in 2000. Well, let’s just say that I believe the children are our future, and no one understands that as well as the overpaid apparatchiks at D.C. Public Schools.
And for those critics who say I haven’t reformed the system, just send your kid to a private school! I’ll help you with that one, too: We recently got congressional approval to launch an experimental voucher program here in the District—an initiative for which I must thank a whole community of right-wing Republicans as well as Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous.
Because of our shameless support for the idea, 1,700 D.C. schoolchildren will attend private schools that might or might not be better than D.C. public schools.
So you might ask: What of the other 63,000 children in the system?
Well, I will announce bold initiatives to help them in next year’s State of the District speech.
For months now, I’ve been hinting at some kind of radical change to the school-governance structure. In 2000, I advocated for an all-appointed board, but I compromised on this hybrid thing, which has an elected president, four elected ward-specific members, and four appointed members.
This was my strategy for dealing with the hybrid board: Ignore them. I all but forgot about my appointments, didn’t pay attention to school-board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and hoped that city CFO Natwar M. Gandhi would take care of whatever mess they got us into.
Meanwhile, over the past four years, I’ve increased the school budget by more than 40 percent. I’ve negotiated pay raises for teachers. I’ve expressed concern. And what do I get for it? Snarky little school-board rep Julie Mikuta, who complains that I never call her.
Hello, Julie: Have you heard of 727-1000?
That’s why I propose this: Abolish the elected board. I also want to be able to hire and fire the superintendent, have complete budget authority, and choose whether the elementary schools serve pizza or fish sticks on Fridays.
Why didn’t I just announce a plan months ago? I was concerned that even councilmembers who complain all the time about schools overspending—ahem, Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose—wouldn’t support me on this because they’re afraid of eliminating another of our precious elected offices.
Lord knows, we need to keep school-board rep Dwight E. Singleton in office!
OK, on to my other perennial issue: public safety.
Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and I believe that crime must go down.
I mean, it has to go down. Look at all we’ve done: We’ve called a crime emergency. We’ve held two crime summits. We’ve recruited like hell—from Puerto Rico, no less—in a longstanding effort to boost the officer ranks to 3,800. We’ve redrawn the police-service-area boundary lines. We’ve redeployed. We’ve pandered to community groups. We’ve equipped squad cars with e-mail. We’ve put cruiser lights on more often.
Yet every time I go out of my office, I hear the same tired complaint: We don’t see the police out in the community.
Well, I say to you all: Put some glasses on, folks! If you want to see cops, they’re here. Protecting all of us and our freedom from terrorism. How ’bout a hand for our police officers!
[Pause for applause]
In our efforts to reduce crime, we have to pay close attention to economic development, a priority of this administration since Day One. Councilmember Chavous used to always taunt me that I was the mayor for downtown and he was the mayor for the rest of town. Well, Kevin, now that I hosted a big-money fundraiser for you and allied with you on vouchers to give you some kind of education agenda, I guess you won’t be so concerned about this.
At some point in my address, I always promise to have two new supermarkets east of the river. So here goes—I’m working on getting two new supermarkets east of the river. Those communities deserve a nice place to shop.
Next I’ll talk about home ownership. For the umpteenth time, I’ve told the media that I’m once again searching for a home. Despite hosting a home-buyers fair, doing Fannie Mae commercials, and touting ad nauseam how important it is to community building to purchase a home, I have yet to do that myself.
I’ve been busy.
Here comes the laundry list of social-service improvements: I vow to improve our mental-health system, because the stories in the Post are heartbreaking and embarrassing to me.
Same for the city’s youth-services agencies.
I’m in a bit of a conundrum about health care. I steadfastly defended my decision to close D.C. General and create this system known as the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. We crafted the alliance around Greater Southeast Community Hospital. I promised a Level 1 trauma center at Greater Southeast. That never came through. I promised a greater focus on primary care. That really hasn’t happened. Now we’ve got this proposal to fund a new hospital with Howard University.
I’ll report on the shortcomings of that next year, too.
And let me say once again: Let’s free ourselves from the tyranny of those DMV lines! One day I’ll figure out how.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are broad goals for our city. Improving education, stopping crime, and building healthy communities are not goals for one year or one administration but for every administration and for all time.
Thank goodness for that.
God bless the District of Columbia.
•D.C. government employees who live in the city have to suffer a few indignities. They have no voting rights in Congress. They have to endure their neighbors’ bellyaching about spotty trash pickup, endless lines at the DMV, and the latest budget debacle over at D.C. Public Schools.
And now the latest: They have to sit at their desks while their suburban-dwelling colleagues get to go home. On Tuesday, as local meteorologists predicted a hazardous mix of sleet and snow during the afternoon commute, the mayor and D.C. Office of Personnel Interim Director Judy Banks decided to reward those who’ve abandoned “city living, dc style”: D.C. workers who live and pay taxes outside the Beltway went home at 1:30 p.m. City workers who live inside the Beltway in Falls Church, Alexandria, Arlington, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties packed up at 2:30.
And the poor schlubs who actually live here got to leave at 3:30.
Mayoral spokesperson Bullock says the policy shows concern for those who might have a long commute on icy roads. “We have to deal with the limited universe of people who came into work in the first place,” adds Bullock, who notes that many employees took advantage of the city’s liberal-leave policy on Monday and Tuesday. “The first day I felt very lonely in the Wilson Building.” —Elissa Silverman
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