I enjoyed reading Amanda Ripley’s piece on the mayor’s picnic in Ward 6 (City Desk, “Pie in the Sky,” 8/27). Actually, the picnic was even more of a disaster than she was aware. Some weeks ago, Mayor Williams’ office informed people that there would be a picnic in Ward 6 in early October. Then, last week, out of nowhere, the mayor’s office decided to hold the picnic on Saturday, Aug. 21.
Anyone familiar with Ward 6 is aware that the month of August is the worst time of the year to hold a picnic. Nearly everyone leaves town. Apparently the mayor’s office didn’t think of this. They also didn’t think of publicizing the event. No fliers were distributed or notices sent out. Consequently, here on the Hill, very few people even knew there was a picnic planned.
On Saturday, the mayor’s office began to worry about attendance at the picnic. His people even phoned the D.C. library system and begged them to get the word out about the picnic. They even phoned Southeast Branch Library on Saturday afternoon and begged them to send a staff person to the picnic to help boost attendance. Since only two staff members were on duty, the library could not comply with the request. Only about 40 people showed up for the event—a pathetic turnout.
The mayor’s office held a picnic in Ward 8 that same day. Here, too, the mayor’s office showed incompetence. The mayor had chosen the date and time for the picnic a month earlier. Everyone assumed that the mayor had the matter under control, that he would either raise money for the picnic by calling for donations from the downtown business community—as Marion Barry always did—or pay for it himself. Instead, the week before the picnic, the mayor informed everybody that he was paying only $400 for the picnic. The rest would have to come from somewhere else. If the people of Ward 8 hadn’t scrambled to raise the money, the Ward 8 picnic would have been as great a disaster as the Ward 6 picnic.
If the mayor’s handling of these two picnics was an isolated example of incompetence, I wouldn’t be alarmed. But D.C. councilmembers tell me that the entire staff of Mayor Williams’ office is constantly fumbling the ball and unaware of the most basic problems out here in the rest of the city. This has certainly been my experience—that the mayor’s staff is incompetent and uninformed. I have dealt with the mayor’s office on public safety issues on several occasions and I have found his so-called experts—Monty Wilkinson and Eric Christian—completely unaware of and uninterested in the crime problems on the streets of Washington.
My question is this: If the mayor can’t even put together something as simple as a picnic, how can he hope to close this city’s drug markets (as he recently claimed he would do in the Washington Post? How can he reform the D.C. government?