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During the recent mayoral race, the two Washingtons—one kempt and the other neglected—came into stark focus. But in the financial hysteria that has gripped the nation’s capital since the elections three weeks ago, D.C. is once again reuniting. All across the District this past week, from the banks of the Anacostia to cluttered Columbia Heights to privileged Georgetown, D.C. residents stepped from their homes to be greeted by the same smell: the aroma of uncollected garbage.
And, city officials revealed last week, those piles of large-scale trash that have been sitting in alleys in every neighborhood since well before the election will still be there in February. Department of Public Works Director Betty Hager Francis informed the District Council last week that the city can no longer afford bulk-trash collections. Instead, residents will be required to hire private firms to haul the stuff away.
Statehood Party founder Julius Hobson Sr. used to complain that D.C. doesn’t have an effective rat control program because too few rats roam Georgetown, where they might bring wrath down upon the heads of public officials. No more. Francis also told the council Nov. 22 that her department’s rodent control program will end as of this week. Soon packs of hungry rats could be sniffing the garbage heaps of even the District’s toniest community.
Drivers and pedestrians have been giving thanks for the unseasonably warm weather that has kept D.C. streets and sidewalks free of slippery ice and snow. But as winter draws nigh, city dwellers will soon face another hazard: mounds of wet, slick leaves. Removing leaves from streets is another service the city can no longer afford to provide.
Also on Francis’ list of services her department will no longer perform: repair of broken traffic lights.
Welcome to the new, bankrupt District of Columbia.
This is the picture that D.C. officials painted over the past week. That picture also includes cuts in welfare and Medicaid benefits, a rollback of pay raises for city workers, furloughs and layoffs of city employees, and fewer cops on the street. Instead of the 4,500 police officers currently authorized, or the 5,000-member police force popularized just a few years ago, D.C. now foresees a force of no more than 4,100 officers.
Talk of statehood, which reached a fever pitch during the one term of outgoing Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, now seems as remote as Hillary Clinton‘s health care reform. The issue facing D.C. today is whether it can even continue to function as a city. As members of the new Republican majority in Congress stop to smell the garbage on their way to work, perhaps they’ll understand that the District desperately needs more money from somewhere—anywhere—to survive.
Rock stars, who once gathered in concert to raise money for starving Bangladesh, may soon raise money for Washington, D.C.
Since the election, D.C. politics has been dominated by talks of where to cut, how much to cut, and who will suffer those cuts. Almost no one said such things prior to Nov. 8, with the exception of Council Chair Dave Clarke and independent mayoral contender Curtis Pree. Clarke preached doom and gloom in his re-election campaign, but since he faced no serious challengers, no one paid much attention. And Pree wasn’t taken seriously when he came out with a detailed budget analysis showing that the city was $1 billion in debt.
That figure was many times more than the $140-million red-ink total tossed about by Kelly and Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. Kelly didn’t want voters to feel any worse than they already did about the sorry state of affairs under her administration. And Barry didn’t want to broach the subject because he wanted voters to believe that his return to power would usher in good times again.
Now, with the Barry transition team acknowledging last week that the city could be a half-billion dollars over-budget by the end of the current fiscal year, Pree is beginning to look like a prophet crying in the wind.
The realities may be new, but the politics seem old. The Barry transition team unveiled Nov. 21 included many familiar faces from yesteryear—Hizzoner’s favorite develop er, Oliver Carr, former City Administrator Carol Thompson Cole, and former finance and revenue Director Carolyn Smith. Noticeably absent were three men considered to be part of Barry’s inner circle—former City Administrator Elijah “Baby” Rogers, former Deputy Mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, and former human services Director David Rivers. Rivers, acquitted of contract fraud in a 1990 trial, and Donaldson, who served three years in prison for stealing city funds, apparently still remain too politically hot for the incoming mayor to officially associate with them.
Rogers, however, was impressive at Barry’s Nov. 22 news conference. There Rogers—not the mayor-to-be—detailed the city’s current financial ills and outlined the possible bitter cures. He answered questions crisply and concisely as he warned that the city had to cut another $290 million in spending right away, above the $140 million in cuts already ordered by Congress, to ward off financial collapse. Though Barry spoke in terms that would reassure Wall Street, and vowed to make “truly radical changes,” he did not endorse any of the medicine Rogers prescribed. Wall Street investors appear to be waiting to see $250-$300 million in spending cuts before they loan the city the $250 million it is seeking to get through the next few months.
Only hours after Barry’s election, Clarke suggested renegotiating pay raises for city workers—an idea Barry has resisted. This week, Clarke, who owes his return to the council last year to support from labor unions, called on labor leaders to renegotiate their $105-million pay raise scheduled for next year.
“I’ve been the only one to go out and say face to face with the unions, “You’re going to have to face a renegotiation of your pay raise because RIFs are inevitable if you don’t,’ ” said Clarke. He bristles at suggestions that the council has been slow to act in the face of the current fiscal crisis. “I’m the only top-level political person saying anything concrete,” he insists. He points out that he also has embraced reduction in the police force and cuts in special-interest agencies such as the Commission on Women and the Commission on Latino Affairs.
Clarke also favors the scheduled property tax hike that will go into effect next year unless three-fourths of the council votes next Tuesday to block it. The move to stop the increase is not expected to succeed. Barry adviser Rogers has endorsed the property tax hike, but Barry hasn’t.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is keeping pressure on the council and Barry by warning that they had better do unto themselves and make the needed cuts, before the Newt Gingrich-led House does it to them. This rhetoric has not gone over well with some on the council, who view Norton as joining in the D.C.-bashing popular in her Capitol Hill haunts.
Norton irritated councilmembers in a Nov. 14 meeting when she referred to the problems in “your government.” Clarke then told Norton to produce a list of the cuts she wanted—a dangerous political move. But Norton snapped back that finding cuts is the chairman and the council’s job, not hers.The council is now expected to make the cuts at its Dec. 20 meeting, just two days before the winter solstice—the shortest and darkest day of the year.
Perhaps that’s an omen.
D.C.’S FIRST DELEGATE
This item falls in the category of a small oops.
Former Deputy D.C. Auditor Carl Bergman called to correct LL for stating in last week’s column that the District has elected only two delegates to Congress. Bergman reminded LL that Walter Fauntroy was D.C.’s second congressional delegate. The first was Norton Chipman, a white Republican elected in 1870, when the nation’s capital gained territorial status; he was re-elected two years later. Unlike today, the city’s territorial government did not have to submit its laws to Congress for congressional review.
The most lasting achievement of that four-year period of self-governance was the law requiring city restaurants to post menus and prices. The law was passed to end the practice of charging higher prices to black customers, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in the ’50s. But territorial status was swept away, and the territorial government bankrupted, by the massive public-works scandals under Boss Shepherd.
By the time of Chipman’s election to Congress, he had already gained lasting fame as the Union Army’s prosecutor of Confederates who committed war crimes at the South’s notorious Andersonville prison camp. A few years ago, a movie chronicling the Andersonville atrocities featured William “Capt. Kirk” Shatner as Chipman.
And that’s today’s history lesson.
BARRY, SHERWOOD, AND KELLY
The fall mayoral campaign was a tough time for WRC-TV (Channel 4) city hall reporter Tom Sherwood, co-author of Dream City, the book chronicling the Mayor-for-Life’s first rise and fall. After Marion Barry failed to show for a scheduled Oct. 26 debate with Carol Schwartz at Marie Reed Elementary School in Ward 1, Schwartz admonished Sherwood for continually defending Barry’s repeated no-shows. Schwartz told Sherwood he was suffering under a load of liberal white guilt over what he had written about Barry in the book, and was trying to make up. She suggested to the author that he get over it and get back to being a reporter.
Sherwood made no reply in his defense.
Two days later, in the Oct. 28 WAMU-FM broadcast of the Derek McGinty/Mark Plotkin weekly hour devoted to D.C. politics, Barry dismissed Dream City as “a terrible book.” But Hizzoner said he considered Sherwood’s role in the book to have been that of “collaborator,” so all seemed to be forgiven between the two pals. Apparently the real culprit, in Barry’s eyes, is co-author Harry Jaffe. But the following week, under grilling from Plotkin, Sherwood ‘fessed up to having a hand in writing the book.
Sherwood’s friendly attitude toward the incoming mayor markedly differs from his take-no-prisoners approach to outgoing Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly. Of course, Barry hasn’t even gotten to the honeymoon period newly elected officials usually enjoy with the media, so LL feels it’s too soon to render a judgment.
Kelly believes she was in part a victim of the old-boy network, including the media. The summation of Sherwood’s close relationship with Barry, in contrast to his cool relationship with Kelly, may well turn out to be: What a difference a gender makes.