We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Still Mayor Vince Gray came to Dunbar High School tonight with a nearly 10,000 word speech recounting his four years in office. Among the topics: education, statehood, and his recommendations for successor Muriel Bowser.
Gray improvised a good amount of the speech, especially as it lurched towards a two-hour running time, but you can read the prepared text below:
It’s great to see so many close friends and colleagues here tonight at my alma mater – the great Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School. Thank you for joining us.
Please know it has been the greatest honor of my life to serve for the last four years as your Mayor. We have come so far as a city during that time, made so much progress in so many areas, that it’s hard to say goodbye to what I think is without a doubt the best job in the world.
We live in an exceptional city. But you are what makes it like no other – the residents who breathe vitality into every corner of the District. It is the people of the District of Columbia – the people I had a chance to meet and talk to every day – who make this tough job worthwhile. And it is on your behalf that I have given my all every single day of the past four years. I leave proudly, knowing that I left it all out on the field and forever grateful to you for giving me the opportunity.
But tonight is about more than just giving me a chance to say thank you. It is a moment to celebrate real and measurable progress my administration has made for the city we all love. We are One City, Stronger Together.
When I was inaugurated four years ago next month, before the great Chuck Brown and his band took the stage, I laid out my ambitions for my term in office. I promised we would restore fiscal discipline and put the District’s fiscal house in order. I promised we would create jobs and put people back to work. I promised we would expand economic development beyond the downtown core into our neighborhoods. I promised we would continue to strengthen our education system to ensure our children get the world-class education they deserve. And I promised we would make our communities safer.
But before we could start work on this ambitious agenda, we had to address a frustration that permeated the city. Over the prior four years, residents had been given a false choice, told they had to choose between progress and inclusion, between rapid forward movement and stopping to listen to our residents. I rejected that false choice.
Every experience I ever had in my career told me that that approach was wrong – and ultimately counterproductive. Results are incredibly important – but the way we govern is also important. Talking and listening to people, offering respect, building as much consensus as much possible, and then powerfully moving forward together is the way I have always operated – and it’s the right way to govern the District of Columbia.
Now people may not know that I never got into politics to be Mayor. I got into this to try and lift people up, with my personal philosophy of “One City” underlying every decision. One City – meaning a city where your neighborhood or your background doesn’t define your future. It means One City where we work together to make the District a place where all can achieve their dreams.
And, governing that way, we have made the District stronger together.
Let me take you back to January of 2011, when I took office. Given where we are today, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of the challenges we faced then. Unemployment was sky-high and rising. The city’s rainy-day fund was rapidly being depleted. Multiple economic-development projects were stalled due to a lack of financing or bureaucratic challenges. The city was expected to face a major budget deficit in the next fiscal year. And a number of longstanding problems were draining the District’s monetary and human resources.
And so we quickly got to work. Four years later, I’m proud to say that the District is stronger today than at any moment in our history.
Now, fiscal responsibility may not sound glamorous – but it is the foundation for everything a government does. Even the most well-intentioned plans fail if you can’t pay for them. When I took office, I inherited a city whose finances were in significant decline. The District’s savings account had been spent down from a peak of $1.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2007 to under $1 billion – and it was projected to fall to $705 million!
My first priority was to restore stability and discipline to the District’s budget and finances. When I proposed my first budget, the District faced a $322 million gap between what we were projected to spend and the revenue we were expected to bring in. About one-third of this decline was due to the recession, but the rest was caused by failure to control spending, resulting in excess spending of more than $200 million. Wall Street placed the District’s bond ratings on negative outlook, and we were on the brink of a downgrade – which would ultimately cost the District millions of dollars more per year in higher interest payments.
In Fiscal Year 2012, the first budget we prepared on my watch, I proposed the District’s first structurally balanced budget in three years – meaning that we would spend only what we took in. And I went on to complete three more back-to-back-to-back balanced budgets. I created a spending-pressure task force whose mission was to mitigate overspending and improve efficiency. This, coupled with our tremendously successful economic-development strategies, resulted in significant annual budget surpluses every year and a restoration of the District’s crucial Fund Balance from a projected low of $705 million at the end of Fiscal Year 2011 to more than $1.75 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2013 – the highest level in District history.
Today, after several upgrades, Wall Street now ranks the District’s General Obligation bonds at AA – the highest in our history. This means that the District gets better interest rates and saves millions of dollars in interest payments – dollars that we have been able to invest in education, affordable housing, and public safety.
But what good is having a decent savings account if your people don’t have jobs? When I took office, the District was still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession, which hit many of our most disadvantaged communities particularly hard. Today, in no small measure due to the employment and economic development strategies put in place by my administration, the District’s unemployment rate has fallen dramatically and our economy is booming.
We’ve created 44,000 private-sector jobs and the unemployment rate has steadily fallen by three full percentage points – from 10.4 percent in mid-2011 to 7.4 percent today. That’s the lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen in more than six years. Most encouragingly, we’ve seen the biggest drops in Wards 5, 7, and 8 – the wards hardest hit by the recession – where unemployment fell by 27 percent, 24 percent, and 25 percent respectively.
How did all this happen? Part of the answer can be traced back to the day in September 2011 – with the District’s unemployment rate at a 30-year high – when I stood with the Department of Employment Services to launch the One City • One Hire program. Just three years later, this innovative, award-winning program reached its ambitious goal of helping match more than 10,000 previously unemployed District residents with jobs by connecting them with nearly 1,200 participating employers. Think about that – that’s 10,000 District residents who got back to work because the government and the private sector partnered to help raise them up.
And we improved the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program – a legacy of the late, great Marion Barry – providing approximately 15,000 District youth per year with relevant and invaluable work experience. During the last four years, extensive fiscal and operational controls have been put into place to ensure that every dollar spent on SYEP goes to support the vocational growth of District youth.
Our people also got back to work, in part, because of the economic development strategies that we pursued. Over the last four years, the District has seen dramatic economic growth and neighborhood development – bringing jobs and retail and other amenities to every part of the city.
Some of the largest projects – like CityMarket at O Street, CityCenter, Skyland Town Center, The Wharf on the Southwest Waterfront, the former McMillan Sand Filtration site, and the Shops at Dakota Crossing and our first Costco – had been stalled for years before I took office. They had been stuck in red tape or legal entanglements, or they lacked sufficient city support and attention. Our team went to work, and four years later 96 major projects have been completed or are under construction, representing an investment in the District of nearly $8 billion. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is creating jobs, building housing, and generating tax revenue that we are reinvesting into things like education and affordable housing.
We’re also looking to the future, moving forward on several critical development projects for which groundwork must be laid now to come to fruition years down the road. One of those is a monumental deal that my administration worked hard to bring to fruition – ensuring that the District will continue to be home to our successful D.C. United soccer team. And I want to thank the Council, who earlier today cast the final votes to approve this project. A world-class soccer stadium will now rise on currently underused industrial land at Buzzard Point. This will be catalytic development that will connect the Southwest Waterfront with the rapidly developing area around Nationals Park, creating not only jobs and revenues from the facility itself, but also secondary housing and retail development in the area around it.
Likewise, we’ve worked closely with the federal government to advance the redevelopment of the Walter Reed site in Ward 4 and have selected a great development team. If everything goes according to plan, next year the Army will transfer the property to the District and, at long last, construction will begin to transform the historic former military hospital site into a thriving community mixing old and new buildings. In fact, the first parcel was transferred two weeks ago so that the city can begin construction of a new fire station to replace one that was built in 1897.
We’ve done very similar catalytic work at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8. We’ve made major progress in creating a long-awaited anchor for new jobs and new amenities on the District-controlled portion of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital. We’re investing more than $50 million to rehabilitate the historic buildings and build a major technology center. Last year, we opened the gorgeous new Gateway Pavilion to begin opening up the campus to the community. And we now have letters of intent from Microsoft, VMTrek and Citelum to open offices at the new technology hub that we’re building there. Finally, the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center opened in the former St. E’s Chapel this year, and they have established programming partnerships with Microsoft and the University of the District of Columbia Community College to catalyze economic growth in Ward 8.
Let me take a moment to say something about my commitment to what some call “East of the River,” but I prefer to call the East End of the city. We have focused unprecedented time, energy, and resources on the economic development needs of communities in Wards 7 and 8, where jobs and amenities are sorely needed. Not only is it the right thing to do – to focus on communities that had long been neglected by government and business – but it is critical to the general well-being of the overall city. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., the District of Columbia can never be what it ought to be until we help the East End of the city be what it ought to be.
I’ve also talked directly to East End residents and other stakeholders by convening Community and Economic Development Summits in Wards 7 and 8 to identify pressing needs and spur District agencies to develop innovative programs to promote and enhance retail, entrepreneurship and job creation. We are making steady and important progress that, in the years to come, will yield extraordinary results.
Now, I can’t move on from the subject of economic development without touching on a project especially near to my heart. It is also near to where I live in Ward 7 – that, of course, is Skyland Town Center. After more than three decades of legal challenges and other barriers, work has finally begun to transform the shopping center into a destination retail town center that will also include both market-rate and affordable housing. Demolition is more than 90 percent complete, and look for an exciting announcement about a major retail anchor coming very soon.
But we have not been content to focus on moving forward on all this important economic development in the present. As the federal government enters a new period of fiscal austerity and downsizing, we must acknowledge the District is undergoing enormous economic change. Therefore, we have redoubled our efforts to diversify the economy and develop and grow the District’s private sector and the jobs it offers.
That is why my administration developed a Five-Year Economic Development Strategy – which serves as a roadmap for growing and diversifying the District’s economy. The strategy identifies six bold visions that is moving the city towards creating 100,000 new jobs and generating $1 billion in new tax revenue. And we’re making great progress implementing the plan – only two years into implementation, we’re nearly halfway to our goals on both metrics.
For example, one exciting area with strong potential for economic growth in the District is technology. And we’ve dedicated a lot of time to growing the District’s tech sector. We have invested significantly in several tech incubators and initiatives like the creation of 1776, a global hub for startups tackling major cross-sector challenges. And we launched Digital DC, a marketing, branding and economic development initiative that aims to promote the District as the leading community for the innovation and high-tech economy. This includes the establishment of a Tech Corridor along Georgia Avenue from Shaw to Petworth as well as grants to local companies through a D.C. Tech Fund.
We also recognized that burdensome bureaucratic requirements can interfere with the ability of tech companies and other small businesses to open, thrive, and remain in the District – and so, in 2013 I appointed a Business Regulatory Reform Task Force to make recommendations to address these challenges. Their recommendations led to the creation of the One City Business Portal that will come online next year. When it does, for the first time in District history business will be able to go to a consolidated website to access the permitting, licensing, and other registration functions of several District agencies.
But as we focus on ensuring that the District economy will continue to create enough good jobs for current and future residents, my administration has not forgotten about the long-time District residents who find it increasingly difficult to continue living here as the District becomes more expensive. The District is growing rapidly – adding more than 1,100 people a month – and is now bigger than both Vermont and Wyoming. We haven’t been this populous since the 1970s. But it does us no good to embrace a growing and prosperous future if we neglect those who have made the District their home for their entire lives. And that is why I have focused so much on affordable housing.
In the early months of my term, it became clear that housing affordability was an issue of concern to a wide swath of the District’s residents and leaders – an idea confirmed by the feedback I got when I convened my 2012 One City Summit.
In response, I moved aggressively to bolster the District’s supply of affordable housing. We made unprecedented investments in expanding the District’s supply of housing affordable for lower- and middle-income residents and worked hard to ensure longtime residents are not pushed out of their homes.
In early 2012, I created a Comprehensive Housing Strategy Task Force to advise me on the right strategies and the right amount of affordable housing we needed to build. When I received its report I wholeheartedly embraced its recommendations, committing to building or preserving 10,000 units of affordable housing by 2020 – what we call the “10 x 20 Goal.”
I am proud to say that we are now projected to exceed that goal by more than 20 percent! Already, more than 6,500 units have been completed or are currently under construction, and another 6,000 are in the pipeline and will be completed by 2020.
To realize this commitment, during my time in office I have invested more than half a billion dollars in creating and preserving affordable housing. This includes $317 million banked in our Housing Production Trust Fund, more than under any other Mayor’s four-year term.
Beyond housing, the issue critical to the District’s future is the continued reform of our education system. When I took office, I ensured stability by naming Kaya Henderson as chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, and I ensured more equity in public resources and stronger coordination between DCPS and the District’s robust system of public charter schools. I then worked with my education team to double down on the most successful elements of education reform – like longer school days and early-childhood education. And it has paid off.
District students have made significant gains in scores on the DC-CAS test over the past several years. Overall, since 2007, District students have achieved 23-percentage-point growth in math scores, 14-percentage-point growth in reading, and 16-percentage-point growth in science. The gains in DC-CAS scores track gains District students made on the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. In fact, in 2013, the District led the nation in growth on NAEP scores. We are not yet where we need to be, but we are on the right track.
And each year, more and more families are choosing the District’s public schools. Public-school enrollment has grown steadily in both sectors and is now at nearly 86,000 students – the highest enrollment in 27 years. We continue to see growth at the pre-K3 level while pre-K4 enrollment is leveling off, an indication that we have achieved near universal access for four-year-olds. Having witnessed 100 percent growth in pre-K enrollment from when I lead the passage of 2008 Pre-K Expansion Act, we are unquestionably the nation’s leader in early-childhood education.
And while other cities and states are still focused on pre-K quantity, we have shifted our focus to increasing quality. To ensure that our youngest children benefit from quality child care, the District is in the process of establishing an innovative community-based Quality Improvement Network that will allow children and families to benefit from comprehensive child-development and family-support-engagement services. And just last week, President Obama awarded the District $900,000 to support this next generation work.
School buildings reflect a community’s investment in its children’s education, and better buildings create better learning environments. On my watch, the District’s ongoing school-modernization efforts were accelerated, with and nearly 30 schools modernized. They include Cardozo High School, H.D. Woodson High School, Anacostia High School, Ballou High School – which I had the honor to cut the ribbon on just this morning – and Dunbar High School. Isn’t this a beautiful school, ladies and gentlemen? And there are more schools to come. Additional modernization projects are underway at Roosevelt High School, Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts, Lafayette Elementary School, Van Ness Elementary School, Garrison Elementary School, Murch Elementary School, River Terrace Education Campus, Orr Elementary School, and Marie Reed Elementary School.
And our charter schools need good homes too. On my watch, we’ve awarded 16 surplus DCPS school buildings to be repurposed as public charter schools. This is more than twice as many as in the four years prior to our administration.
New schools speak strongly to the value we place on public education, but alone they won’t get the job done. Investments must go on to support the work underway inside of schools. In the last four years, public education funding grew in each of the my budgets, culminating in a historic $112 million additional investment for DCPS and public charters in this year’s budget. This included a $60 million investment in a new “at-risk” weight targeted towards students who are at the greatest risk for academic failure.
My administration has made addressing the needs of the District’s special-education students in public schools a huge priority – and we’ve seen a 56 percent reduction in private-school placements for students with disabilities. This is because we’ve plowed budget savings from this reduction as well as increases in local special education funding back into building the capacity of the District’s public-education system to serve children with disabilities closer to home, as the law requires. As a result of this commitment, the District has been able to exit three consent decrees that resulted from decades-old litigation on special education – with a federal judge finally ending the third and final case just yesterday.
We’ve bet heavily on bringing back a 21st-century version of vocational education. Just this fall, the District launched nine new high school “career academies” at six DCPS and two public charter schools in partnership with the National Academy Foundation. The NAF Academies will prepare students in three of the District’s most vital and fast-growing career sectors: information technology, engineering and hospitality.
We’ve also continued to work to make navigating our complex education system easier for our families. For the first time last year, families were able to use a single online application to apply to DCPS and most public charter schools through My School DC, the District’s first-ever common lottery system. In its first year, My School DC received more than 17,000 applications from families interested in attending one of 200 DCPS or public charter schools this year. 85 percent of applicants were offered a seat at one of their top three school choices. And this year’s lottery just went online on Monday. In just the first two days, more than 3,000 families submitted applications.
We also simultaneously tackled the first comprehensive revision of school boundaries in 46 years. In August 2014, I adopted recommendations based on unprecedented community engagement and rigorous data analysis to create a roadmap for strengthening neighborhood schools while maintaining a complementary and equitable system of school choice. Some said this action could wait. Well, we’ve been waiting for 40 years. Our kids deserve action now, and I wasn’t going to wait just because moving forward was politically risky. Sometimes doing the right thing means taking bold action. This was one of those times.
Some youth need more help to succeed and require additional supports to get them back in school and on track. For those disconnected youth, this fall we opened the District’s first-ever ReEngagement Center to reconnect youth to educational options and other critical services to support their attainment of a high school diploma or equivalency. Additionally, driven by the inter-agency work of the Truancy Task Force, truancy has declined significantly in the past three years – with a 25 percent reduction in chronic truancy rates in the 2013-2014 school year.
In addition to providing our students with a world-class education, our children and families deserve world-class recreation and community spaces too. Through our PlayDC initiative we’ve completely refurbished 42 District playgrounds in every ward of the city – that’s nearly half of all the playgrounds in the District renovated in just three years.
We have also invested in improving those critical neighborhood learning centers known as our public libraries. Since 2011, we have completely modernized seven neighborhood libraries in the District into state-of-the-art community resources. In addition, construction is underway on two more libraries –Woodridge in Ward 5 and West End in Ward 2, which we just broke ground on this past Monday. Additional library modernization projects are on the way for Cleveland Park, Palisades, and Capitol View. Finally, my team has worked closely with the D.C. Public Library on an ambitious plan to completely rebuild and transform the District’s flagship downtown library – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. The new MLK will both respect the architectural integrity and legacy of this landmark building while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a 21st century knowledge and community center.
But for a city to rise together, simply meeting the basic needs of jobs, housing, and education is not enough. We must strive to treat each other as equals, with dignity and respect. That is why I have been, and will continue to be, an outspoken advocate of full equality for all District residents – particularly for immigrants and those in the LGBT community. I’m proud of my administration’s track record on equity and inclusiveness.
First, we were on the right side of history when I led the effort to enable undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses while not jeopardizing the District’s compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. It leads to both safer streets and a more just city for everyone. And we refused to implement the flawed federal Secure Communities program, ensuring that MPD had no role in enforcing a failed federal immigration policy.
And I am particularly proud of the great strides we have made in ensuring full equality for the District’s LGBT community. For example, we launched the first-ever District government-sponsored transgender employment initiative under the Department of Employment Services Project Empowerment Program.
In 2012, we launched a groundbreaking, first-in-the nation Transgender and Gender Identity Respect Campaign. It was designed to increase understanding for transgender and gender-non-conforming people; curtail discrimination and violence; and increase reporting of discrimination to the Office of Human Rights. Later that year, I was proud to sign the District’s Youth Bullying Prevention Act and appoint a Bullying Prevention Task Force, which created a Model Bullying Prevention Policy for the entire city. More recently, my office of LGBT Affairs partnered with law enforcement to solicit community impact statements from the LGBT community in cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes.
I was also proud to sign into law the “JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Act” – which allows people undergoing gender transition to receive a new birth certificate more accurately reflecting their gender identity. And I signed the “Marriage Officiant Amendment Act” – which allows couples to be married by officiants other than just a religious celebrant, judge, or designated clerk. I have performed nine marriages, with the first wedding I officiated under this new law that of Rob and Carlos – a same-sex couple.
Earlier this year my administration guaranteed health-care equity to residents who are transgender by requiring health insurers to follow the science and recognize gender dysphoria as a medical condition. This means all individual and group policies must cover any medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria – a monumental and nation-leading step forward in protecting the health of the District’s transgender residents.
Like much of America, the makeup of the District is changing – as urban areas across the country see growth in their senior populations. My administration has focused on ensuring that the District is friendly to all age groups.
In 2012, I committed the District to pursuing admission into the World Health Organization and AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities – launching the Age-Friendly D.C. Initiative to make the District welcoming and livable for residents of all ages. A short time later I established an Age-Friendly D.C. Task Force, and just last week we published the Age-Friendly DC Strategic Plan. Over the next three years, the District will work to implement the strategies laid out in the plan to ensure we are more senior-friendly.
I also appointed a Real Property Tax Ombudsman to work with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to assist mostly senior homeowners who may owe back property taxes and who are at risk of foreclosure and eviction. Before any foreclosure moves forward, the Ombudsman now reviews and advises on these cases and connects seniors with people who can help them. Additionally, in my Fiscal Year 2015 budget, I proposed significant property-tax relief for seniors who have been long-term residents of the District. Although the Council chose not to fund this tax relief, it is my sincere hope that it will do so in the future.
And that future will be bright only if we work now to preserve it. That’s why I created and implemented one of the most comprehensive and ambitious citywide sustainability plans in the world. My Sustainable DC plan is an award-winning initiative to make the District the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the country. The full implementation plan sets 32 goals, 31 targets, and 143 specific actions in the areas of the built environment, energy, food, nature, transportation, waste, and water.
By Earth Day of this year, 83 percent of Sustainable DC actions were underway. Twenty-seven agencies are directly involved in implementing actions. And my administration advanced several strategic pieces of legislation to support the mission of Sustainable DC including the “Ban on Combustion of Coal Act;” the “Community Renewables Act;” and two omnibus packages of legislation, “the Sustainable DC Act of 2012” and the “Sustainable DC Amendment Act of 2014” – which phased out the use of Styrofoam.
We also invested in innovative projects that demonstrate the District government’s commitment to sustainability, including smart-roof analysis for all District buildings, a pilot composting program, more than 100 anti-idling devices on MPD cruisers, and the planting of more than 1,500 new trees. Moreover, we aim to reduce energy consumption in District government facilities by 20 percent by 2020 and save the District more than $10 million dollars annually. Already, in just our first year of implementation, we estimate District taxpayers realized $2.1 million dollars in energy savings while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 13,000 tons. And I bet you didn’t know that 100 percent of the District government’s power comes from renewable sources!
The District’s actions to build a sustainable future have received national and international recognition. The District was named one of the three most sustainable cities in the nation by the STAR Communities Rating System and awarded the highest “4-STAR Rating” to date, surpassing cities such as Austin and Portland. For the third year in a row the District finished #1 in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Annual Green Power Community Challenge with the highest annual green power usage community-wide. And we solidified our green-building-superstar status by surpassing 100 million square feet of LEED-certified space. This placed the District in the same category as only three other cities, each with much larger populations: New York City, Chicago, and Houston.
While we work to build a sustainable city, we must also build a safe city. As I stand before you tonight, the District of Columbia has never been safer. My administration steadfastly focused, with major success, on consolidating and building on significant gains the District has made in public safety in recent years.
Together, Deputy Mayor Quander, Chief Lanier and I oversaw significant drops in the District’s homicides as well as homicide rates. This included a drop from 132 murders in 2010 to 88 homicides in 2012 – the lowest total in more than half a century!
When I took office, we moved quickly to address a significant decline in the Metropolitan Police Department’s ranks of sworn officers – which was on a trajectory to fall to levels that would be dangerous in a city that has grown not only in population, but in economic activity and nightlife. I increased funding and redoubled efforts to revitalize the Metropolitan Police Academy. Our efforts have added over 300 new officers to MPD’s ranks, bringing the officer corps back up to 4,000. And they’re training in a new, state-of-the art tactical village – a miniature city we designed and built to ensure both new recruits and seasoned officers are ready to face ever-changing threats.
Before recent incidents in Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland brought attention to pervasive issues of inequality and requiring that we think critically about the way we police our cities, MPD was leading the way with a body-camera pilot program and the most representative police force in the country. Look at our dedicated officers at MPD – they look like our city.
And over the last four years, we have made historic investments – more than $21 million — to upgrade and replace the outdated fleet of our D.C. Fire & Emergency Medical Services, which had suffered from years of insufficient attention and maintenance. In just the last three years we have put into service 33 new ambulances, 10 new pumper engines and five new ladder trucks to ensure the safety of our residents – with more on the way.
We’re also hiring and training new firefighters who have the necessary EMS skills to work in a modern department – including reinstituting the FEMS cadet program, which had long been dormant when I took office and which now provides District high school students with a pipeline into FEMS.
But we didn’t stop there to protect public safety. My administration’s One City Youth Initiative – an anti-crime program we designed initially just for the summer months – has been so successful we’ve transformed it into a year-round effort. The initiative ensures seamless and efficient coordination between government agencies, community-based organizations, and other key stakeholders focused on targeted neighborhoods with higher crime rates to create safe, empowered, healthy, whole youth and communities.
We redoubled our efforts to assist the District’s returning citizens as they have come back from incarceration – including creating a Re-Entry One-Stop Resource Center to provide returning citizens with a multitude of services all in one place, such as access to training, employment opportunities and other city services.
Our Department of Corrections has reached a historic low in housing fewer offenders at the D.C. Jail. Through effective collaboration with federal partners, DOC has reduced the inmate population from a high of 2,400 to just 1,600 today – and we have made several other improvements to the D.C. Jail for inmates, launching a mobile library system and improving health services.
We also devoted major resources and created several new initiatives to combat domestic violence and sexual assault. I increased the Office of Victim Services annual budget by $7 million, allowing the office to restore programs and assistance to the over 20,000 thousand victims of violent crime.
The city has made significant strides in improving services for youth in our juvenile-justice system. They include a new diversion program to address the need for additional options for young people seized by MPD for low-level offenses, an astounding 40 percent reduction in the re-arrest rate for youth in the care of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, and a dramatic increase in the number of youth offenders in the community who are being successfully electronically monitored rather than incarcerated.
A city needs not only to be safe, but also livable and walkable – and my administration has moved the ball forward aggressively on transportation. We created a 25-year strategic transportation plan called moveDC, and have advanced several major transportation projects that make it easier to get around the District. We’ve created nearly 20 miles of new bike lanes, 9.3 miles of shared lanes, and 25 miles of bike routes marked with signs.
And we have continued to expand the innovative and highly successful Capital Bikeshare program, adding 102 stations in the last 4 years for a total of 202 stations within the District’s border. This has doubled the initial size of the system. Membership has surpassed 22,000, with approximately 9 million trips taken to date.
In 2011, after inheriting a stalled implementation of a revived streetcar system, we completed construction of the H Street/Benning Road line and planning is underway for additional segments in Anacostia and across the city. Now I know – more than anyone – that bringing this streetcar system online has been a bumpy road. But we’re close, ladies and gentlemen. Once we get that first line up and running, everyone is going to see the value of building out the full streetcar system!
In other areas, we’ve worked with our federal partners to ensure critical infrastructure improvements for the District and region – such as the 11th Street Bridge Project, where we’ve completed two missing ramps connecting the river bridges to DC-295, moved freeway traffic out of our neighborhoods and onto the highway system, and constructed a new local bridge that connects communities on both sides of the Anacostia. Likewise, we are working to update the 60-plus-year-old Fredrick Douglass South Capitol Street Bridge. At over $1 billion, the project will be the largest project ever undertaken by DDOT.
When I took office, I said that a world capital like the District needs a world-class taxi system – and we have made significant progress in upgrading our taxi infrastructure. All District taxis now accept credit cards; vehicles are transitioning to a uniform red-and-gray color scheme, with the entire fleet required to adopt the design by 2018; a new standardized dome light for taxicabs has cut down on rogue operators and made identifying on-duty taxis much easier; enhanced safety devices for riders and drivers alike will be installed next year; and a Universal Taxi App is under development and is expected to be available in early 2015. And people said we would never change the D.C. taxi industry!
As the country moves into a new era of health-care delivery, I have worked to keep our public health system on the cutting edge – ensuring that the highest percentage of residents possible not only have health insurance, but also access to high-quality care providers.
First, the District moved aggressively to implement President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, setting up one of the nation’s most successful statewide insurance marketplaces, DC Health Link. The exchange opened on October 1, 2013 and was recognized by Bloomberg News as one of only four states in the nation whose marketplace was fully functional that first day. Since its launch, DC Health Link has served more than 63,000 District residents, small business owners and employees who have chosen a health plan or qualified for Medicaid coverage. To those who say that the Affordable Care Act isn’t working, I say come and look at what we’ve done here in the District of Columbia.
But we know not everything is perfect. We’ve expanded efforts to reduce an infant-mortality rate that once was among the worst in the nation. In the early 1990s, the District was plagued by a sky-high rate, reaching upwards of 20 deaths per 1,000 births. After implementation of a plan, the District’s rate declined to 7.9 for 2012, with data clearly indicating that it will drop to a historic low of 6.6 for 2013 once final figures are available. But we must further reduce infant mortality – which is why this year we launched a new prevention effort that I was proud to announce at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative gathering in New York. This public-private partnership involves more than 40 community providers and corporate partners and includes the development of a five-year Infant Mortality Reduction Action Plan.
And although we are doing much better now, we continue to experience an HIV/AIDS epidemic here in the District. That is why upon taking office I took steps to accelerate our efforts to fight the disease. The good news is that HIV/AIDS cases in the District declined 42 percent between 2008 and 2012 – the years for which we now have reliable data. As a result of the District’s needle exchange programs, there has also been an 81 percent decrease among new cases attributable to injection drug use, new AIDS cases declined 35 percent, and deaths among persons with HIV decreased 36 percent. I also instituted a treatment-on-demand program that has helped improve the rate at which those testing positive for HIV in the District are linked to care – now at 86 percent within the first three months. We are making progress in fighting HIV.
And on the financial side of health care, we took several major steps to reform longstanding problems with the District’s Medicaid program that involved wasting taxpayer dollars – including dramatically reducing fraud in the Medicaid Personal Care Program and improving the way public providers billed Medicaid services – resulting in more than $10 million reclaimed for the District from Medicaid over the last three years, with more savings expected in the future.
And then there is the United Medical Center. Many District residents don’t even realize that the District owns and operates a hospital on the East End of the city – a hospital that has historically suffered large annual operating losses, covered by our taxpayers. When I took office, it was clear that the only hospital east of the Anacostia River could go on incurring these losses and needed to be transformed into a self-sustaining community medical center. Relying on significant community input, we engaged an outside team of consultants who developed a strategic plan which has significantly turned around UMC. With the implementation of that plan, the District operating subsidy to UMC has been significantly reduced, with no operating subsidy budgeted for this year. Emergency care has markedly improved, new primary care and specialty physicians have been recruited to the community, and training programs have been initiated for employees and managers to create a better, more engaged workforce. And just yesterday, we made the biggest UMC announcement yet: Howard University and Paladin have jointly purchased the operations of the hospital from the District and will continue to operate UMC, providing quality, community-focused healthcare on the East End. We will do all this while retaining ownership of UMC’s buildings and equipment – and without financial liability to the District.
Now, with my background in human services, I worked assiduously to ensure that the District’s massive human-services system worked as efficiently and effectively as possible. This required reforms to many programs that had longstanding challenges, maximizing benefits to program participants and taxpayers alike.
Our Department of Human Services completely overhauled the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. With extensive stakeholder engagement and research on best practices, DHS implemented an approach that provides individualized services to overcome barriers but also holds DHS, providers and program participants accountable for moving families from dependence to dignity. The agency built an individualized model of assistance, and – for the first time ever – completed customized assessments for more than 20,000 customers. As a result of these reforms, my administration has moved nearly 6,900 people from welfare to work.
In an effort to address the demand for housing for homeless families, I launched the 500 Families. 100 Days. Quality DC Housing Now Campaign this past April. Through this campaign, DHS, in collaboration with The Community Partnership and Transitional Housing Corporation, identified and screened more than 941 apartments. To date, 464 formerly homeless families have been placed in units.
And we’ve worked hard to do right by our veterans. In addition to releasing a plan to better support all our veterans, I’m proud to say that my administration put in place the resources and a plan to end chronic veteran’s homelessness in the District by 2016.
In response to multiple issues identified with the District’s central shelter for families experiencing homelessness, I tasked my team to develop a plan to close the D.C. General Family Shelter. As I have said many times, a shelter is no place to raise a family. That plan, released earlier this fall, recommends a one-for-one replacement of the 288 units currently provided at D.C. General to be available in smaller, community-based, shelters. Under the plan, full closure of D.C. is projected by 2016 at the latest.
And our reform efforts don’t stop with homelessness. My administration implemented multiple reforms to the District’s child-welfare system including shifting from a focus on child removal to a focus on strengthening families and keeping them together while dramatically decreasing the number of children in foster care. We now have the lowest number of children in foster care that we have seen in decades.
And we’re on the cutting edge of human services, using a new social-service innovation – the Social Impact Bond – to further reduce teen-pregnancy in the District. This initiative will decrease teen pregnancy and increase educational outcomes for District girls, providing an evidence-based intervention for up to 8,000 at-risk high school students. Through an innovative public-private partnership, private funders will provide the upfront capital to deliver the intervention and the District will only pay for this project if its goals are achieved.
One of the accomplishments of which I’m the most proud is that we haven’t shied away from tackling difficult and persistent problems. In fact, we took them head on – tough problems like ending costly court oversight in a number of long-running legal suits – Petties, Blackman-Jones, Dixon, Evans, LaShawn A. and Jerry M. – that stemmed from past problems at District agencies. In the Petties case, the District brought to a close a nearly 15-year-long period of court oversight of the city’s transportation system for special education students and the process by which special education providers are paid — saving the District approximately half a million dollars annually. In the Dixon suit, the District brought three decades of litigation challenging the provision of mental health services in the community to a conclusive end in 2013. We also made great strides in improving patient care at St. Elizabeths Hospital under the settlement agreement in United States v. District of Columbia and, for the first time in seven years, the District’s inpatient psychiatric facility is no longer under federal oversight.
Moreover, we didn’t shrink from addressing major, chronic infrastructure problems that negatively affected whole neighborhoods. When a series of heavy summer storms caused repeated, severe street flooding in the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park communities, I created a task force to recommend ways to mitigate the problem. Now, a $600 million program is revamping the system to relieve pressure on an overstressed section of the Northeast Boundary Trunk Sewer line. Similarly, after a derecho knocked out power to tens of thousands across the District in the summer of 2012, I created a Power Line Undergrounding Task Force to recommend ways to address the problem. Through a collaborative process, the Government of the District of Columbia approved a multi-year $1 billion power line undergrounding project to help prevent prolonged electric service outages during significant weather events.
And we’ve tackled these tough problems while running the most open, accountable and transparent government in District history. For example, I made myself constantly available to the press. I held quarterly meetings with the chairs of our Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and our Boards and Commissions.
And we listened to our employees. That’s why I mended fences with labor and gave unions a spot at the table, reinstating the District’s Labor-Management Partnership Council and brokering a project labor agreement for the future D.C. United soccer stadium. I also am proud to have signed legislation that raised the minimum wage in the District, providing one of the highest and most progressive living wages in the nation.
My administration instituted a wide variety of reforms to make data and information more available and accessible to the public. In order to improve transparency and government performance, we created an Open Data Advisory Group and an Open Data Initiative featuring a new FOIAXpress system to strengthen government accountability by modernizing the District’s information-request process under the Freedom of Information Act. Coupled with an award-winning new DC.gov web portal and a first-of-its kind social media engagement program called Grade.DC.gov, the District has never been more open, accountable and tech-forward.
Perhaps the toughest challenge of all for District residents is our continued lack of full democracy. As you all know, I’ve always been a strong advocate for statehood and the rights of the residents of the District of Columbia. We are 660,000 strong, at last Census Bureau estimate, and growing by more than 1,100 new residents per month, and we deserve the freedom to govern ourselves and set our own legislative and budget priorities as well as gain voting representation in Congress.
I worked to bring more awareness to the topic early in my administration by joining with several Councilmembers and other District leaders to be arrested as part of a spontaneous demonstration against a congressional budget deal that violated the District’s right to spend its own local funds in ways District residents have approved.
Throughout my term, I met regularly with federal officials with oversight roles over the District, including with House and Senate Leadership and the relevant House and Senate committee chairs and urged them to support District autonomy. I also testified at congressional hearings on the District’s budget and autonomy – including the first to be held on a District statehood bill in more than 20 years.
Perhaps one of my greatest tests as Mayor was during last year’s federal government shutdown. I used my emergency powers and emergency funds made available because of wise fiscal stewardship to keep the District functioning during an avoidable federal shutdown. In fact, we went so far as to provide services on behalf of shuttered federal agencies, such as trash collection on the National Mall. And language has been included in congressional spending plans that, at least for the immediate future, exempts our city from a federal shutdown.
In part because of my efforts, President Obama included in several of his budgets language that would have granted the District budget autonomy. Although Congress did not adopt it, I remain hopeful that similar language will be adopted by a future Congress. And although I admit to being disheartened by Congress’s recent actions over the marijuana referendum, I cannot give up hope. Call me naïve, but our cause is too just – our goal too righteous – to be forever denied the basic democratic rights enjoyed by all other American citizens.
Recommendations for the Next Administration
Now, I have shared with you what can be accomplished in the District in just four short years when you assemble a great team, work with District residents, and roll up your sleeves and tackle tough challenges. This is what meaningful, inclusive change looks like – and as District residents, you are entitled to this same level of progress over the next four years.
Based on my experience as a Councilmember, Council Chair, and – for the last four years – your Mayor, I would like to offer a few specific areas where we cannot waver.
First, fiscal responsibility. No matter how hard the choices, the District must adopt structurally balanced budgets, spending no more than we take in. And we must resist any temptation to increase the debt cap. Taking on more debt than can be managed will lower our bond rating, increase the interest rates we pay, and generate debt-service payments that will soon eclipse other important budget priorities. If we do not maintain our fiscal health, everything else will suffer.
Second, we must continue to grow and diversify the District’s economy. We are long past the time of being able to rely on the federal government to run the engine of our local economy. We must continue to nurture and invest in emerging sectors like technology.
Third, as our city grows more prosperous, we must use every tool in our toolbox to preserve the District as a socio-economically and racially diverse city. This includes continued investments in affordable housing, tax relief for seniors, and education – especially early childhood education. It includes continued forward-thinking solutions like inclusionary zoning. And while we’re at it, let’s work with Congress to change the Height Act so that we can decide for ourselves whether to create more density in certain areas of the city and lower the cost of housing. If we fail to take these steps, the District will no longer be the vibrantly diverse city that draws us to it in the first place.
Fourth, we must not falter on school reform. After many years of hard work and investment, we are hitting our stride in education reform. It was never going to be an overnight process; change will come only if we are in this for the long haul. For our children’s sake, let us continue our resolve, make the hard choices when necessary, and continue to move the ball forward.
Fifth, governing a city requires making real and tough decisions; if your goal is to make everyone happy, you are in the wrong line of work. I urge our city’s leaders not to shy away from making tough, disciplined decisions when it is in the best interest of the District. Here’s a tip – the more emotionally charged an issue is, the more that calm, dispassionate and reasoned decision-making is required.
Sixth, our residents deserve unprecedented openness and transparency. As just one small example, for four years I held a press conference every other week and answered any question the media threw at me. It wasn’t always fun, but I believed it was important to have an open dialogue with the press – and the District was better for it. This kind of openness, accessibility, and accountability is the kind of tradition that should continue.
And finally, we must never give up the fight for self-determination for the District of Columbia. We’re not a federal enclave; we’re a vibrant, bustling city of 660,000. Our residents pay our nation’s taxes and fight our nation’s wars – yet we still are not allowed to elect a voting member of Congress. It’s archaic, unjust and undemocratic. We took some strides over the last four years, but, frankly, not enough. And even last week we suffered a setback. But rather than give up the fight or accept this injustice, we must find ways to keep fighting until we arrive at our final destination – real democracy for the residents of the District of Columbia.
And so, today, we celebrate another end. My circle has come to a close at the most fitting of locations – my alma mater, Dunbar High School. Now, of course, this was not the school building I attended. This new Dunbar opened just last year, and it’s a proud testament to the good work of the District government and my administration’s commitment to securing a bright future for our children. This is a school, like so many others in the District, which symbolizes the hope and promise of our city’s young people. And they, in turn, symbolize the hope and promise of our great city. And so it is on their behalf that I remind you that it is up to us – all of us – to continue to make the District a better, more just place to live, work, and play.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone whom I have worked with as Mayor. To my deputy mayors, agency directors and staff – I thank you for all of your hard work over the last four years. This has been an administration filled with many talented individuals. The women and men who have joined with me to move the District forward are some of the most gifted and dedicated people I know. They care deeply about the District, and I know they will go on to do great things.
And finally, and most importantly, I want to thank the residents of the District of Columbia for allowing me to serve as your Mayor. As many of you know, most nights I work late at the Wilson Building. As my eyelids grew heavy, with yet another memo or report to read, my mind would often turn to that sophomore at Dunbar, that single mother in Deanwood, that family in Petworth, that firefighter in Cleveland Park. You gave me the energy to go on, to continue to give my best for this city.
In two weeks, I will step down as your Mayor — but not as your friend, your neighbor, or your advocate. This is not a farewell. I look forward to seeing each and every one of you around the city.
I leave you with this thought: how fortunate we are to live in this great city, which has come so far in so little time. Given the progress we have made in just the past few years, it is clearer to me than ever that our potential is boundless. And if we stay committed, not only can we become the One City of which I dream, but we can also become be the 51st state of the United States of America!
Thank you all. Good night.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery