The D.C. Council failed to endorse a proposal to limit this year’s summer jobs program to six weeks.
The 7-6 vote came on an emergency measure introduced by Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry that would cut this year’s Summer Youth Employment Program from the nine weeks planned by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. (Emergency legislation requires nine votes to pass.)
In remarks introducing the measure, Barry called last year’s disaster an “embarrassment for the nation”—-this, of course, from a man who knows from national embarrassment.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray also spoke in favor of the bill, and spoke highly of Barry’s efforts to create and nurture the program, which, he pointed out repeatedly, has “historically” been six weeks. “I think we have an obligation to the young people in this city to show that we can make this program work,” he said.
Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander had more prosaic concerns—-why take up kids’ entire summers with work? “Let a child be a child,” Alexander said. “Let our children enjoy their summer!”
At-Large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown expressed skepticism at the Fenty administration’s claims that they had already identified jobs for all 22,000 registered participants in the program. “This is a joke,” he said. “I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night….Can we be real here?” He went on to take the Fenty administration to task for planning for a $40 million-plus program, when the current budget supports only half that.
Also voting in favor were Mary Cheh, Phil Mendelson, and Michael A. Brown. Barry still didn’t have enough votes.
“It is too late in the season for us to be changing the rules,” said At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania, who also took a shot at Barry’s pet program: “I don’t want to look through rose-colored glasses here: This program has never been perfect….The time has come for us to reinvent this program.”
Muriel Bowser, of Ward 4, got at the politics at play in her comments: “Truncating this program, in my view, doesn’t teach the children of the District of Columbia anything. It’s an attempt to teach the mayor of the District of Columbia something….It’s an attempt to criticize and deal a blow to the administration. I’m not going to get involved in that.”
A notable vote against the cut came from Harry Thomas Jr. of Ward 5, who broke traditional alliances and expressed concern as a parent looking for summer activities for his kids and as a ward resident concerned about a possible effect on crime. “I don’t often go against my mentor, my leader, my friend,” Thomas said, referring to Barry. “I’m not worried about the politics; I’m worried about the realities—-where the rubber hits the road.”