EDITORIALS FOR 1999-2000
Editorials for 1999 and 2000 are filed here, most recent date first.
QUICK SUMMARY OF 1999-2000 EDITORIALS
(12/00)GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS:--Half Full?
deals wth November's very good economic development news, poor progress in
of life, and half-baked long range planning and tax incentives legislation..
(11/00)IT'S TIME TO RIGHT A WRONG--America's
Capital City Deserves Better from Congress
deals with the need for Congress to start addressing those inequities that only
rectify--by improving and elevating its relations with DC.
(10/00)URBAN PRODUCTIVITY -- An Alien Concept?
deals with the need to come to grips with the revenues raised
the expenditures required in various areas of the city, noting that planning
cannot become a local prerogative if paying for it remains somebody
(9/00)DC Government Accountability: Essential--but No
deals with potential problems for the Mayor as he tries
invoke accountability among his top managers--and the consequences of failing to do
(8/00)DC's FY2001 Budget: The Unvarnished
commends the Mayor for adding resources to address
problems, and expand capital improvements, but deplores the lack of any substantive
to increase governmental efficiency, exploit economic growth, or reduce the welfare
(7/00)The Abuse of Political Oversight--When Overseeing
NARPAC tries to establish realistic bounds
acceptable oversight between the legislative, the executive, and the electorate and
concerns for apparently increasing abuses and the consequent decline in the ability to
(6/00)Scoring the Players, but Not Ranking the
NARPAC congratulates the mayor for establishing some sort of
accountability system for his senior staff, but laments the lack of any meaningful
ranking DC relative to other major US cities--and metro areas.
(5/00)Bellying Up To The Heart Of The Problem
--Or Dancing Around it?
Many recent news items touch on the major
of DC's embarrassing quality of life statistics. Virtually all the problem areas flow from
common source of debilitating poverty, concentrated in blighted residential slums.
Where is the
national, regional, and local leadership to belly up to this fundamental problem of blight
removal--common to DC and many other metro areas?
(4/00)DC 2000: First Quarter Earnings Report:
Too Many Politicians, No Statesmen
From the President and the
Congress to the Council and the activists, actions are favoring expedience over
DC's stock may be overvalued, not by any lack of capabilities by the mayor, but by a
structure of management elements with no common vision of the city's
(3/00) Keeping the Passengers Happy in Flight--
--While Fixing the Engine out on the Wing
restoring faith in DC
require better big-picture planning; government competence; more private investment;
regional cooperation; and a new national focus on metro areas
(2/00) Balancing Ideology and Reality
--The Finest of the Democratic Arts
problems with DC schools
particularly fine school board: 'value added' by the schools is limited--school
and largely neighborhood performance scores.
(1/00) Year Six in DC's
twelve general objectives and specific goals for the
2000--from better management and better planning, to better cooperation with the DC
regional authorities, and the Congress.
(12/99)Taking the Easy Way Out:
Board Does the Pussyfoot
serious problems still confront DC--it is
inappropriate for the Control Board to ignore problems in productivity, blight removal,
regional problem sharing. A 'good cop, bad cop' relationship with the mayor may be
effective than just 'good cop, better cop'.
(11/99)Neighborhood Inputs in Urban
Necessary but Not Sufficient
a great city needs the solid support
neighborhoods, but it must be much more than the sum of those neighborhoods: it must
a broad regional vision and judge special interests within that
(10/99) Sitting in the Mess They
who wins and who loses when the Congress, through its
counterproductive micromanagement, tried to play 'mayor superior' to DC's elected
(9/99) Washington, DC in 2010--Still an Urban Ecological
DC can never become a great city until its predatory
dysfunctional health, education, and police services are revamped--and this may
'industrial strength tough love' of receivers like David Gilmore.
(8/99) One Man Makes a Real Difference
health, bad crime, and bad education flow inexorably from
bad neighborhoods. Urban blight removal is a multifaceted task, but renovating DC's
subsidized housing is an important place to start, and DC's Housing Authority Receiver,
Gilmore, has done an outstanding job.
(7/99) OK Congress, It's Time to Take DC More
It's America's Capital City--not a Congressional
Congress has a major opportunity to celebrate the city's
bicentennial by upgrading and streamlining its oversight of DC, as well as other metro
suffering from America's most persistent socioeconomic problem--alienation between
cities and their more affluent suburbs.
(7/99) The Very High Cost Of
Congress, regional authorities, and even DC's own
consistently act in their own narrow self-interests to the detriment of DC's future--major
the city are estimated from each quarter.
(6/99) OK Congress, It's Time To Take DC More
(see above--an earlier version of the same
(5/99)A Proper Role for the DC
the DC Council seems to lack a clear vision or either its
unique or its
ordinary municipal responsibilities, or of how to carry them out. A set of specific
topics is suggested under each of five separate aspects of a broad citywide
(4/99) The Williams Expedition Leaves Base Camp
carrying a new map and old baggage
a litany of obstacles in the
as he attempts to scale the mountain of embarrassing problems facing the city is
with encouragement to keep trying.
(4/99) Developing the Mayor's Strategic
a dozen questions are posed to the mayor associated with his
acknowledged difficulty in maintaining a strategic focus in the light of near-term
(3/99) It's the Quality of Government,
excessive jubilation over balanced budgets and business
should be tempered by the continuing depressed quality of DC life, produced very
largely by a
depressed quality of local government. The city must establish some quantitative
how efficient local governments perform, not just by output measures, but by inputs as
(2/99) Color Commentary from the
the mayor is given cheers of encouragement, but the DC
given a few claps and some catcalls, and the Congress is loudly booed for their actions
opening weeks of the Williams administration. Lack of unrestricted support for the new
will make his job much harder.
(1/99) An Open Letter to DC's New
six major criticisms of the current DC Government are spelled
with the exhortation not to neglect tough long-term executive and legislative changes
term political expediency.
Click here for a Quick Summary
of 1997-1998 editorials
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS
Half Full, Half Empty, and Half Baked
NARPAC's monthly commentary on the state of affairs in America's capital city is often
split between reinforcing good news with optimism that the glass is at least half-full, and
chiding DC for not reducing bad news--pessimistically asserting that the city's glass
remains at best half empty. But there is a third and more troubling view. Some city
actions seem necessary to get things started, but not sufficient to
complete them properly. This "good as far as it goes" view brands some actions as half-
baked, or, more bluntly, half-assed.
November, 2000 brought far more good news than bad. DC's revitalization glass is
surely filling. NARPAC is delighted to see the economic spotlight swing at least
momentarily away from the northwest, out along the "dot.com" and "bio-tech" corridors,
to the southeast, towards and beyond Anacostia, gateway to the Southeast Quadrant of
the DC metro area.
DC has now committed $850M in investment capital to jump start several communities
east of the Anacostia. This is a vital first step, and is helped by renewed efforts to get
the Camp Simms redevelopment off dead center, and to find new tenants for the vacant
Buzzards's Point eyesore. The southern extension of Metro's Green Line will soon open
(ahead of schedule) paving the way for further economic growth--just as its northern
extension will contribute strongly to the rebirth of Georgia Avenue.
Equally important, large, hi-tech investments are now pouring into the Annapolis area.
Officially outside the Washington Metro area, Maryland's capital is only two miles further
from the US Capitol (by crow) than Dulles Airport, and absolutely key to the area's--and
But November also brought bad news: continued indecision about DC General
Hospital; spectacular inefficiencies in DC's Special Ed program; unresolved problems
for the mentally ill; more dysfunction in DC's workforce. The good news centers on
economic development, the bad news reflects DC's inability to improve its quality of life
by ministering to the 25% of its population that the Washington Post calls "the least
But NARPAC's major disappointments flow from DC's apparently half-baked long-range
planning. DC's planners show little if any overarching sense of DC as a) the nation's
capital city, and b) the essential core of a growing metro area. And there remains an
unfortunate predilection to bribe people and business to make DC their home through
tax incentives that indirectly penalize those that have come of their own free will.
If broad principles do not prevail over expedience, then mediocrity will
prevail over excellence.
IT'S TIME TO RIGHT A WRONG
America's Capital City Deserves Better from Congress
Over the past few years the following facts have been
o DC residents are capable of electing a professional, non-partisan mayor;
o The DC Government has established reasonable budgets and lived within
o The DC Council has enacted several key business, tax, and civil service reforms;
o The DC Control Board has relinquished most controls and plans to become
o Most court-mandated receiverships have been returned to DC
o DC political processes have made some wise changes in the public school
o DC has shed some state functions and backed away from coveting statehood;
o Federal Agencies are providing valuable assistance for many of DC's problems;
o DC is dead serious about wanting--and deserving--better representation in
But despite DC's own efforts and those of the Federal
o The major political parties remain unwilling to address DC's unequal political
o 4 Congressional subcommittees still meddle in DC affairs for personal political
o Congress has exhibited flagrant conflicts of interest in its DC oversight
o Congress has failed to inspire metro area cooperation to alleviate inner city
o The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress must act to provide DC
200 years after selecting our national capital city, it is high time for Congress to
reorganize and elevate its constitutional oversight of DC. Congress must stop
interfering in decisions that DC can make as competently as other US core cities.
And DC residents deserve the same voting rights as other American citizens.
Congress should start addressing those inequities that only Congress can
* provide DC residents proper representation in the US Congress;
* remove oversight conflicts of interest that make DC a Congressional whipping
* address urban/suburban inequities afflicting DC and many other US metro
* engage all Americans in restoring national pride in their capital city.
The key first step in this process is for the new 107th Congress to
establish a Commission specifically to address the long-range resolution of the
primary policy issues that keep the District of Columbia from fulfilling its national
URBAN PRODUCTIVITY--an Alien Concept?
Over the past five years the DC government has learned to operate within
balanced budgets, and not to exceed authorized personnel levels. It is also
struggling gallantly to introduce the concept of accountability into its
work force. But the notion of productivity--i.e., increasing output per
unit of available resource--seems an alien concept to many local agencies--including
planners. The use of performance goals relating accomplishments to resources
consumed is rare: there are none on the mayor's senior official 'scorecards'
or among DC agency goals in the FY01 budget.
Ultimately, DC's most limited resource is its usable land--in square
miles, acres, or city blocks. Correlating the 'yield' and the costs to
achieve it for specific available acreage--a well known approach in agribusiness--is
seldom addressed in urban areas, particularly at the ward or neighborhood
levels. DC's residents increasingly insist that spending taxpayer dollars
is a local prerogative, but that raising those tax revenues remains somebody
else's problem. Balancing the ledgers of such a diverse city by ward or
neighborhood is clearly impractical, but relying on neighborhood planning
is impossible if it completely disregards local productivity.
NARPAC believes that tax revenues can be identified at the ward and
census tract level, but doubts that expenditure data for schooling, public
safety, public health, or public works has even been sought. Properly
informed, responsible localities could clearly assess their demands for
local services and explore means for increasing efficiency in providing
the needed ones. They could slowly temper their natural urges to preserve
community status quo--or return to status quo ante--and accept the need
to increase revenue production right in their own backyards. Many local
and area-wide approaches are available:
Accept the notion of 'infill' for vacant neighborhood properties
by adopting realistic local zoning limitations, not exclusions;
Take the lead in enforcing the elimination and re-use of 'junk
properties' that produce no revenues and discourage the influx of taxpaying
Resist turning every outdated building into an historic site
as a petty subterfuge for defeating economic progress and community modernization;
Stop hawking 'gentrification' as an evil, when it is essential
to the city's revitalization;
Stop using rent controls and regulations as an entitlement or
social service, and foster home ownership and property improvement instead;
Accept the metro system as DC's major artery for economic growth
and encourage high density development immediately around existing stations;
Exploit Metro's flexibility by seeking new entrances where current
ones do not fully meet local needs, and recommend locations for added
lines and stations;
Seek added mono- and multi-modal parking facilities, to more
efficiently accommodate the most prized possession of American workers
and consumers-- their cars;
Eliminate special tax breaks for those businesses most reliant
on proximity to Capitol Hill and the Federal Government;
Consider graduated building height restrictions to permit taller
buildings away from the federal enclave and nearer the District's boundaries;
Find ways to encourage non-profit institutions and government
agencies to attract public benefit from visiting/using their tax-free
Oblige local and federal agencies to eliminate inefficiently
used facilities and space such as half-empty schools and hospitals and
surface parking lots;
Press federal agencies to either turn over hundreds of acres
of prime, mostly surplus, properties (viz., Bolling AFB) for DC disposition
or find highly productive uses for them;
Demand a level playing field for DC and its richer suburbs by
reducing major inequities in affordable housing, special education, medical
services and even park space;
Encourage residents to become as well informed on their city's
income and expenses as they are on their own household finances--for instance:
o Wealthy households (10 homes/acre) generate about +$250,000/acre;
o Middle income households (20 homes/acre) generate less than +$100,000/acre
o Public Housing households (100 units/acre) generate about -$3,000,000/acre;
o High rise offices or hotels (xxx) can generate up to +$6,000,000/acre
o High rise apartment houses (xxx) can generate up to +$4,000,000/acre
o Wealthy taxpayers each generate up to $16,000 more than they consume
o Middle income taxpayers each generate up to $2200 over consumption;
o The poor each consume up to $12,000 in local taxes (plus $9000 in fed'l
(*NARPAC estimates of net productivity--i.e., annual revenues less costs)
GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY IN DC: Essential, but No
In August, Mayor Williams required 1163 of DC's non-union managers
to choose whether to take a demotion and retain job security, or transfer
to the new Management Supervisory Service and risk dismissal for unsatisfactory
work with two weeks notice with or without cause. Most of the 963 who
have opted to remain supervisors will get pay raises of about 10% over
their current salaries--ranging from $69,000 to $109,000. The 'existing'
DC civil service system, unchanged from the federal system of the '60s
(when DC got home rule) requires almost endless intermediate warnings
and disciplinary steps. This revolutionary, but drastic, revision was
in the works before Mayor Williams was elected, but the funds needed for
the raises were omitted from the FY2000 budget!
Successfully getting DC's government managers to understand, accept, and
implement accountability will be as difficult as it is vital. Agreement
must be reached on satisfactory performance standards and on the consequences
of failing to meet them. Supervisors must be willing and able to be tough,
direct leaders and decision-makers, and workers must accept discipline,
criticism, and in some cases humiliation. Skills are required to both
exercise and respond cooperatively to authority. Such capabilities are
best honed in business. In various other walks of life, hard work is discouraged,
expressing criticism is unethical, and resisting authority a cultural
Developing meaningful performance standards is essential--presumably
for comparisons with other jurisdictions performing similar tasks
(particularly those competing for DC's residents). Output
goals must be related to key budget-limited input resources--
people, dollars, and time (viz., patients treated per nurse,
potholes filled per dollar, inspections made per
day). None such now appear for senior officials or DC agencies.
Efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and productivity may well be very
foreign concepts to both entry-level workers and entrenched higher
level civil servants. Government must evolve into a competence-based,
competitive business-like operation, rather than a philanthropic source
of employment--daunting though that this conversion may be.
Finally, accountability cannot be applied solely to upper levels of
management and governance. On what basis can the Mayor reward or
fire a non-performing manager if that manager cannot reward or fire
some or all non-performing subordinates? The unfolding debacle at
DC's General Hospital is a classic--but not isolated--case of "zero
accountability" from bottom to top: from its comparatively over-
staffed hospital work force, poorly skilled managers and run-down
facilities, to the greedy CEO and indifferent board of the Public Benefit
Corp; and from the top ranks of DC's Dept of Health and Finance
Office, to the failed oversight of the DC Council and seemingly
lackadaisical Control Board. Even DC's frenetic 'hyperactivists' failed to
highlight the impending life-threatening disaster for the city's
It is not obvious that DC will embrace accountability with open
arms and necessary comprehension. It is obvious that without
it, DC government performance will remain somewhere between
total dysfunction and embarrassing mediocrity.
DC's FY2001 BUDGET: the Unvarnished Truth
For most American governmental jurisdictions, the annual budget books are the
best record of recent expenditures and firm future plans. Ignored by most
constituents, including hyperactivists expecting instant reactions from the
bureaucracy, these books spell out exactly how existing programs will continue,
and how new programs will take wing. They also demonstrate the delays
implicit in the budget approval process.
DC's 2001 budget was drafted in late 1999, finalized (3 months late) in the spring
of 2000, modified by the Control Board and DC Council, and submitted to Congress
in early summer. Approval is unlikely before October. Only then--at the earliest--can
new programs begin to implement decisions (and promises) made since the
previous budget was submitted in early '99. Initial results may well not be visible
until mid 2001, and take one to three years to complete. The decision cycle is little
different for Star Wars, the new Wilson Bridge, or DC's fifth firefighter.
NARPAC has reviewed more than a thousand pages of stultifying numbers and
prose to find out where the Mayor and Council hope to take the city in the near-
Some of the news is good:
o Plans and promises to respond to neighborhood wishes appear to be
well covered in the budget, but in many cases, results will not begin to appear until
o The city has made great strides in laying out a 6-year plan for capital
expenditures that should eventually produce major improvements in DC's
o Specific economic development objectives are beginning to show up in funding
profiles, including a key new initiative for "brownfield remediation";
o "Performance goals" for many (but not all) agencies are included in
the budget documents, but it is too soon to compare past goals with actual
Some is bad:
o There is no proof that the city still plans to improve the basic efficiency of
providing city services. The clearly oversized DC workforce will continue to
grow faster than either locally- or federally-generated revenues;
o Although the city promises them better care, it projects no reduction in the very
large number of disadvantaged souls in the foreseeable future;
o The 5-year budget projections (normally NARPAC's favorite
bellwether) are essentially meaningless, except to demonstrate that a barely
balanced budget can be projected indefinitely under "business-as-usual" trend line
o Last year's promised "benchmarks" for comparing DC's governmental
efficiencies to those of other relevant jurisdictions have been delayed. They are
unlikely to be included--much less reacted to--next year for even half the city's
To the extent this budget commits to begin satisfying local neighborhood
interests in 2001, it is an encouraging document, but to the extent it fails to
demonstrate any firm intent to improve the city's economic foundations or the
productivity of its bloated, often non-responsive, workforce before 2002 or 2003
at the earliest, it is a great disappointment.
THE ABUSE OF POLITICAL OVERSIGHT
--When Overseeing Becomes Overstepping
American governance involves a remarkable set of checks and balances which
coalesce into a complex, 'closed-loop' system. It effectively prevents extremes:
from sudden and radical policy shifts, to long-term malevolence or incompetence at
federal, state, and local levels. This layered system could never collapse into
'anarchy'--in the classic sense. The real risk is a gradual failure to keep up with
inevitable socio-economic change by wasting more and more energies in "friction"
at the interfaces between the co-equal legislative, executive, and
elective functions. This systemic 'entropy' could eventually arrest our national
ability to adapt to changing needs.
Oversight is an essential ingredient in these interface exchanges, but it is not
direct supervision. There is a significant, often misunderstood, difference.
Dictionaries offer three separate definitions for "oversee" including:
"survey or watch over"; "inspect and examine"'; and "manage or supervise".
Surely the founding fathers' concept of the separation of powers did not intend any
branch to step into the day-to-day chain of command of another branch at will (i.e.,
in today's parlance, to "micromanage" those agencies). In fact, oversight
works both ways at each interface.
There are lubricants to keep this massive, but finely balanced locomotive moving at
the speed of, and in the direction of, the collective national will. They include:
informed participation in the business of democracy at every level; acceptance of
established rules of conduct; civility and maturity in public behavior, and knowing
when to relinquish a minority cause. At its best, oversight can add value to the
governance process across its boundaries--as a catalyst, provider, or reinforcer. At
its worst, it can generate polarization, delay, and stalemate. In between lies the
"rough and tumble" of American politics as elected lawmakers make their
"sausage"--the laws to be implemented by the executive for the benefit of the
Legislative oversight can provide substantial "value added" for the
executive, reacting to valid executive needs by offering incentives, financial
assistance and guidance. Sensing malfunction, they can intervene in many ways:
ask questions; with-hold funds; call investigative hearings; require independent
analyses and audits; appoint receivers, and so on. But they should not assume
Executive oversight can prevent legislative excesses--
offering more palatable language--or its own legislative agenda. Presidents,
governors, and mayors can "jaw-bone" from their "bully pulpits", often with the
strongest political voice. They can veto--or question the legality of--objectionable
bills, request referenda, and issue execu-tive orders. But they cannot order bills
be passed or shelved, or fail to abide by them.
The hierarchal balance is made more difficult by two basic legislative perroga-tives,
enacting a) the final laws of its jurisdiction, and b) the bills required to fund them.
Appropriations bill 'language' often qualifies as micromanaging (i.e., "thou shalt not
spend any of this money on xxx"), when it oversteps its "power of the
Abuses of legislative "oversight" can take many forms,
from applying partisan politics; demagoguery; pandering to special interests, and
power mongering; to exercising blatant conflicts of interest; usurping the functions
of others; and punitive demands for effort and data. Executive abuses
include ignoring the proper roles of legislators and valid interventions to express
concerns, develop new legislation, etc. Adding such entropy can result in adopting
unrealistic compromises, or killing needed legislation, thus stalling progress, and
degrading interagency goodwill and public trust.
Between government and the electorate, there are many ways for the
legislative and executive to watch over the condition, opinions, and compliance of
the electorate--from opinion polls and surveys, to extensive government data
gathering and analysis. Such data become the basis for passing new legislation,
and adjusting the administration--and funding--of current laws. And here, the
executive branch does have the authority to require that the electorate comply with
the laws of the land.
In turn, voters can "oversee" their elected representatives by watching
the news, voting intelligently, offering their views on new issues, and abiding by
existing laws. In extremis, they can petition the courts to recall an elected official
or take over a dysfunctional executive agency. But voters cannot order
legislators to do anything.
Abuses by the electorate include unwillingness to accept
majority rule or executive authority. A new form of anarchy can evolve if the
electorate simply ignores its duly constituted government. Special interest activists
often work tirelessly to impose tiny minority views, reverse unfavorable decisions,
delay decision-making and hobble enforcement. They enjoy harassing the
bureaucracy and "heaping invective" on duly elected officials, oblivious to their own
ignorance of government procedures. They frequently overstep the limits of
customary civility and the rules of the game.
There is little difference between Congress ordering DC not to spend its own tax
revenues on needle exchange programs or better voter representation, the DC
Council ruling on the most kids that can be in a school, or the least cops out on the
street, and activists inflaming racial paranoia. They may assume the right to do it,
but they are breaking the accepted rules of the game--and overstepping their
DC regularly falls victim to such abuses at federal and municipal levels--and the
2000 season is well underway. As participants overstep their roles more frequently
and more venomously, egged on by increasingly strident activists and superficial
media reporting, the engine of our national capital city's governance grinds down,
and our ability to adopt needed changes at home and across the metro area
SCORING THE PLAYERS, BUT NOT RANKING THE
Several major initiatives for DC were kicked off in May. 1) The proposed board for
the National Capital Revitalization
Corporation was announced by the mayor and the White House. It is chartered to
manage the development of major land parcels, and to operate others. 2) The Anacostia Waterfront Initiative project, a joint
effort by some 20 DC and federal agencies, held its first public meetings to get citizen inputs on
developing both banks of the Anacostia River to "world class standards". This would eventually
open up access to, and interest in, the least productive 40% of DC's land--its Southeast quadrant.
3) The DC Housing Authority presented its $118 million plan for razing and rebuilding DC's
largest remaining public housing slum, Capitol East. 4) The windows of the 161-year old Tariff
Building in the middle of downtown DC were "unboarded" as renovation began on converting
the property to a first class hotel. 5) Renovation also began on two historic neighborhood
theaters, and fund-raising continued for converting the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon
Square into a museum for DC. Economic momentum far exceeds that of municipal
And finally, the mayor kicked off his long-
awaited "scorecard" system by which his top lieutenants would be held accountable for
performing certain finite, quantifiable tasks by year's end. For instance, the Chief of Staff will
engage 4000 citizens in Neighborhood Action fora; the Police Chief will achieve a 65%
homicide closure rate; the Deputy Mayor, Safety and Justice, will board up 1,500 (more)
nuisance properties; the Department of Health will open 3 school-based teen health clinics. And
A disappointed NARPAC thinks the mayor punted on this key management issue. There is no
hint of the consequences of failure. (Just this month the interim fire chief was permitted to
resign--after exceeding his budget limits, and the CFO got transferred to an equal paying federal
job at DC's expense--after producing DC's budget 3 months late.) The scorecard tasks ignore
many of the city's most pressing problems (e.g., the head of DoH is not obliged to stop the
hemorrhaging at DC General Hospital). There appear to be no financial goals. There are no
accountability standards for: long-range planning (even for transportation); helping agencies in
receivership; stimulating DC Council productivity; improving regional cooperation; or
encouraging appropriate Congressional oversight.
But most serious in NARPAC's view is the lack of any meaningful scorecard for the whole team
effort. There are no output measures by
which DC governance can be compared to other regional, national, or foreign jurisdictions. DC
simply is not Cape May, NJ, or Tuscaloosa, AL. America's capital city is a national
embarrassment not because it has pot holes, poor folks, crime, and wasted kids, but because it
sits in the shadow of the nation's federal capitol, spending more local tax dollars, receiving more
federal aid, and hiring more municipal workers, but producing far worse quality of life statistics--
some near Third World levels--than its neighboring jurisdictions. And DC's performance pulls
down the rankings--and prestige--of the Greater Washington Metro Area relative to other US
The mayor's own scorecard is little short of a farce. Many agencies appear still to be missing ,in
part, presumably, due to the Control Board's continued authority--viz., public schools and
finance office. (And the DCPS does have its annual test
scores.) The mayor testified to his Senate overseers that he scaled back his scorecards
to exclude any task over which he lacked total control, and any comparative quantitative
measures which might not be totally "accurate". Contrary to promises, comparative performance
measures also appear absent from his FY2001 budget presentation. Perhaps the dog ate the real
Without reservation, NARPAC congratulates the mayor for starting the process of achieving
accountability at the top, and indeed, for stating his intent to seek a second term because he can't
accomplish his objectives in one. Clearly, his reach still exceeds his grasp. But as stark realism
continues to set in, a recalcitrant bureaucracy finds and exploits his vulnerabilities, and petty
resistance saps his energies, his goals may be further eroded--and the team won't even know why
it didn't make the play-offs.
BELLYING UP TO THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM
--Or Dancing Around it?
The early months of 2000 have brought an unusual number of news items touching on the major
sources of DC's embarrassing quality of life statistics. Virtually all the problem areas from poor
health and poor schools to high crime and high taxes flow from the common source of
debilitating poverty, concentrated in blighted residential slums.
The high costs of poverty can be measured in terms of wasted human lives: people who remain
uneducated, unemployed, unable to support themselves for life, if not for generations. Not only
do they prey on each other, but on those around them. And those around them often benefit quite
handsomely from ministering to their misfortunes.
The high costs of poverty can also be measured financially. 30% of DC's current population
receives some municipal or federal aid. Perhaps 40% of the city's budget is spent on the
disadvantaged. There are only 1.5 taxpaying households to pay the bills for each welfare
recipient. More than 30% of the city's payroll goes to ministering in some way to the poor. Only
two of the city's eight wards produce more revenues than they consume in these
Poverty is not, and should not be, a crime. Perpetuating it should be, but is not.
Bottling up poverty in sub-standard living conditions in isolated parts of an inner
city virtually assures that it will grow and become more difficult to dissipate.
Breaking the cycle of poverty and its consequences requires tough actions, both to eliminate the
concentrations of squalid neighborhoods--and those who benefit from them--and to assure the
availability of alternative living conditions which stimulate hope, ambition, and opportunity.
The availability of "affordable housing", public, subsidized, or private, throughout
the metro area, (not necessarily evenly distributed, but close to the sources of
realistic employment--and public transportation) is the sine qua non, coupled with
the elimination of isolated, dysfunctional ghettos.
The news stories appear, but NARPAC sees little indication of a groundswell to take
the needed tough steps to assure a major and permanent change:
1. DC's Housing Authority is soon to come out of receivership, ending a remarkable
revitalization of DC's public housing stock--but there is little assurance that it will
survive a return to business-as-usual;
2. DC has finally begun to spotlight the criminal negligence of dozens of DC slum
landlords, declaring some slum properties unfit for human habitation. But it seems to be
backing away from evictions as the liberal activists (and Council) side with the hapless tenants.
The city seems anxious to conceal the identity of the offending landlords and to lack the
legislative authority to confiscate the properties--even for non-payment of utilities
3. Eviction threats bring attempts to rekindle the racial paranoia of
"gentrification"--in which the poor minorities are expelled to make room for upscale
homes for richer whites. One prominent local minister felt obliged to warn the mayor that such
neighborhood upgrading could bring racial unrest to the streets this summer, even though some
of Ward 8's poorest residents are discovering the advantages of gentrifying their own
communities for their own use.
4. DC has also begun to focus on the thousands of dilapidated or abandoned
properties that provide the seed to propagate new blighted areas. There are now near-term
promises to raze some, and board up others as a "scorecard" item of two senior DC government
5. Increasing home ownership is one of the mayor's many goals--as a means of
neighborhood revitalization. Many organizations are working to improve the availability of credit
and other incentives. Nonetheless, DC is one of the last major US cities to retain rent controls,
and there seems to be no concerted movement to eliminate them--instantly or gradually.
6. Prince George's County, next door, has expressed alarm over the rising immigration of
DC's dispossessed. Its County Executive has called for a regional solution to what he now
recognizes as a regional problem. But the wealthier metro counties show little interest, and
provide very little affordable housing. And DC's mayor has yet to press openly for regional
7. The Metro Washington Council of Governments has called for the metro area to
accept the regional nature of poverty-sharing, but the governors of Maryland and Virginia are
unwilling to use their budget surpluses even on obvious transportation needs. Tax cuts appear
more likely than poverty-sharing, despite the impact of workforce shortages on their economic
8. The federal government has adopted a major new grant program (Hope VI) for
housing/neighborhood revitalization, but there are no apparent penalties for states that choose
not to pursue making affordable housing available. This tends to improve existing
neighborhoods, but not to redistribute those needing help and hope.
9. In Congress, DC's indefatigable Delegate Norton is introducing legislation that
would transfer to DC some federal revenues from taxes on income earned by commuters to DC.
This would help level the regional financial playing field, but mainly by facilitating DC's ability
to sustain the socioeconomic imbalance. However, DC's most powerful Congressional overseers
represent the richest neighboring jurisdictions, and they have repeatedly denied regional
revenue-sharing--to protect their own constituents. There is no indication that Congress is
willing to remove such conflicts of interest or its micro-oversight of the nation's capital
Where is the national, regional, and local leadership to belly up to this fundamental problem of
blight removal--common to DC and many other metro areas? Without it, we will keep dancing
around the issue, doing the shuffle, the half-step, the side step, and the pussyfoot.
DC 2000: FIRST QUARTER EARNINGS REPORT:
Too Many Politicians, No Statesmen
Some European countries require earnings reports from their corporations only once
a year. US stockholders demand an accounting on corporate profit and loss every
90 days, forcing business strategies to be much shorter term. Applying this same
impatience to DC, analysts would have to conclude that the current quoted value of
stock in the nation's capital city is overpriced compared to its long range outlook,
due primarily to lack of corporate cohesion and vision.
While 'product acceptance' and 'near-term sales' appear at present to be firmly on
the rise, private sector enthusiasm may well be sapped by public sector myopia.
None of the eight tiers of 'corporate management' influencing the mayor's freedom
of action show the slightest long-range vision for our nation's capital city:
The President made no mention in his State of the Union address of
the need to continue the
reforms started five years ago, nor did he mention the city's bicentennial (which
apparently will be celebrated by one circus parade, two pop concerts, and repairs to one public
The Federal Courts have again ruled that DC residents have no constitutional rights to
full representation in the US Congress. They have also saddled the city with several receivers who, unlike David Gilmore, the shining exception, have failed to use
their considerable powers to improve the dysfunctional organizations they preside
Congressional oversight is still performed by four
disparate subcommittees which show no signs of raising their sights to the common national metro
area problems of which DC is but a part. Partisan interests of the committee chairs are at
best slightly veiled. DC's non-voting delegate does a remarkable job in
getting some attention to DC, and is at least partially responsible for
many new federal funding initiatives. But like the institution,
her focus is on short-term, expedient initiatives seemingly unrelated
to any master goals;
State and County Governments continue to turn a blind eye to the long range needs of what should be the nation's
premier metro area, placing tax cuts ahead of essential long-range improvements in regional transportation, poverty-sharing, blight removal, health facilities, or even welfare. Fears
that some of DC's inordinate number of poor might seep out into the suburbs are paramount, and
contribute to their failure to provide affordable
housing for their own relatively few disadvantaged. The Council of Governments (and its DC representative)
appear almost totally ineffective;
. DC's Control Board is focused on keeping a low profile, and seems
unwilling to or incapable of providing any real
leadership. Its sole public objective appears to be to work itself
out of business. It espouses no positive vision of the future role of
the nation's capital city or its metro area;
DC's City Council is regularly showing its preference for local political grandstanding
at the expense of providing the city's new mayor with the basic legislative tools needed to cure
the deep-seated problems in his still-oversized municipal bureaucracy. Again, there is no visible
Council interest in forming or implementing any particular long-range vision for the city. Rather, it panders to small,
vociferous special interests, whipping up ad hoc emergency legislation with no foundation in any
recognizable long-range city plans or convictions. Its half-baked compromise on changing the
DC School Board is a case in point;
The City Government is led by a new kind of mayor with the best
of populist intentions but he now appears swamped
by the short-term problems that his staff--even with four deputy mayors--seem
incapable of resolving. It remains a mystery as to whether Mayor Williams
has a cohesive long-range strategy (beyond his commendable
Anacostia River initiatives now to be federally funded). But it seems
clear that the 'veneer of competence' within his bureaucracy--from finance
and public works, to health and public safety-- is very thin indeed. Few
problems appear to be solved outside his office--and few of his orders
followed. His seeming preoccupation with 'neighborhood
interests' will almost certainly circumscribe his ability to implement
any grand vision for a new kind of core city for a 21st century metro
area. There is no evident linkage between government objectives and the
need to improve the city's economic 'productivity'--by raising revenues and lowering
And DC's special interest activists continue to raise noisy objections to virtually every
decision made by their elected and hired officials. Never have so many been so unwilling to
abide by majority rule or executive authority--invoking the name of 'democracy' or 'human rights'
to the point of trivializing both. The notion that a cohesive, exceptional--or even competitive--
institution, be it a large business or a capital city, can be built on a foundation of negativism and
small, fragmented clusters of special interests, is simply insupportable. Even the city's
prestigious Committee of 100 (now well over 200) prides itself almost exclusively on the
proposed developments it has either stopped or compromised.
In short, DC's stock may currently be selling well above it sustainable level. Its true, lower, value
is set not so much by any lack of capabilities by the mayor, but by a top-heavy structure of
management elements with no common vision of the city's destiny.
KEEPING THE PASSENGERS HAPPY IN FLIGHT--
--WHILE FIXING THE ENGINE OUT ON THE WING
DC's somewhat funky new mayor gets through his hectic days with a sense of
humor and a penchant for metaphors. Some days he's leaving base camp to scale a
200,000 foot mountain. On others, he's playing pro ball.
NARPAC particularly sympathizes with Mayor Williams' analogy wherein he is a
senior pilot (of National Capital Airlines?), out on the wing of his aircraft (a DC-
2000?) trying to fix a dysfunctional engine--in full flight. In our view, he isn't
getting much help: Federal ground controllers keep sending him spurious advice; an
FRA inspector is looking over his shoulder; nearby airlines are withholding help
because they don't want some of his passengers; and his cabin crew won't give
him the tools he needs.
And what about the passengers--are they panic-stricken? Not according to a recent
inflight poll (Washington Post Feb
13). More than three quarters of the passengers think the pilot knows what he's doing,
is going in the right direction, and is improving their national image. Three quarters say they
wouldn't bail out if they could. The only disgruntled ones--besides a few noise-makers--are some
that had to leave their excess baggage behind at take-off, and others that fear theirs might be
jettisoned next. Only half claim to have any idea where's he's going, but a large majority like his
In fact, among most passengers, only three top priority concerns are heard--all short term. They'd
like him to fix the engine so they can a) feel safer; b) get better inflight educational programs for
their kids; and c) enjoy better cabin service for themselves. Strapped in, very few feel detached
enough to focus on longer-term issues like govern- ment efficiency, race relations, statehood, a
bigger voice in Congress, poverty, social services, traffic, balanced budgets, tax reform,
attracting residents, or national image.
But what about concerned persons watching from the ground--stockholders who want their
National Capital investments to grow and be respected worldwide? Less directly involved in the
ongoing trauma, their concerns are longer range: have they been polled too? No, but those at
NARPAC agree that a) the popularity and success of Pilot Williams should be heartily
applauded--supportive passengers are essential, but b) the airline's ultimate success in a free
market economy depends on more than the inputs of passengers and crew: it requires the
confidence of the American traveling public.
Restoring faith in the airline will require better big-picture planning; administrative and fiscal
competence; a strong appeal to voluntary private investment; more inter-airline cooperation; and
a few new national safeguards. Up in the air, they may still be preoccupied with fixing the
engine, but somebody should begin addressing the broader implications, now that this
mid-air crisis appears averted--by a truly unique pilot!
BALANCING IDEOLOGY AND REALITY
--THE FINEST OF THE DEMOCRATIC ARTS
Few Americans would rail against our democratic ideology. But fewer still would
claim it is the perfect management tool for curing all societal ills. The
deeper the illness, the more urgent the cure, and the less likely the normal
democratic process can fix it. In fact, that process has no parallel in
business, national security, public safety, medicine, science, religion--or even
Democracy is remarkably tolerant of deadlock, demagoguery, compromise, and
procrastination, as well as antipathy among candidates, indifference among voters,
dysfunction in government, and harassment by vocal activists. But
democracy is in no way undermined when skilled people are appointed
(by elected officials) to remedy serious problems. The first two
recipients of NARPAC's HATS OFF awards acted in such a role: the court-
appointed receiver of DC's Housing Authority, and the Congressionally-appointed
Executive Director of DC's 'Control Board'.
Contrary to local ideologists who fear the sky will fall if the elected school board is
disbanded, NARPAC thinks DC's democratic process is hard at
work. Nudged by their overseers, DC's elected mayor and Council are
slowly--and awkwardly--converging on a realistic plan to rescue the DCPS from
their predecessors' collective mistakes. DCPS 'output' is surely a national disgrace
needing emergency assistance, and justifying suspension of democracy's normal
cumbersome, all-inclusive process.
All DC--not just its school system--is turning mostly disadvantaged youth
into mostly second-rate adults unable to compete in our changing
national socioeconomic milieu. Were these 'products' toys, appliances, or cars, they
would be subject to mandatory recall. Were they chemical spills, they would be
subject to emergency remediation. DCPS needs all the professional, apolitical help
it can get from inside and outside DC. Such help can only be appointed. One
person must be in charge, accountable, and overseen. Everyone else must march
to that drummer, and accept his challenges
The first challenge is to appoint a broad-based board of truly
regional/national reputation for fixing troubled systems. NARPAC notes
that controversy over the mayor's UDC Board choices focused on the one clearly
political appointment, ignoring the more qualified appointees--none of whom would
have run for election to that job.
The second challenge is to set criteria for declaring when the crisis is
over and when more democratic control can be restored. Four years of
balanced budgets has been one realistic precondition for DC's Control Board to
become inactive. NARPAC suggests that 'normal' control of DCPS be reconsidered
when the average grade performance of all DC public schools has, for four straight
years, risen to the national average. Surely our nation's capital city should settle
for no less than the solid American norm--even though it is about 20% below that
of our own metro area's suburbs!
But the third--and certainly most difficult--challenge is to fully accept that
the "value added" to children by their school system alone is at best
limited, and is heavily influenced by factors in their environment outside
the school system's purview. Adding resources and expertise to the school system
and its budget, for instance, may be less productive than equivalent investment in
blight removal, affordable housing, public safety and health, family support, and/or
adult education and job training.
In reality, school performance scores are in large measure neighborhood
performance scores--an issue way beyond the capacity of a local
elected school board or the superintendent of schools. The whole city must
mobilize its resources to restore pride in its kids' futures. DC has all the democracy
it needs to do that, but it will have to agree to place reality above ideology for the
YEAR SIX IN DC'S REVITALIZATION
There is some question as to whether Jesus Christ was born exactly 2000 years
ago, some dispute over when the third millennium begins, and some disagreement
as to the 200th anniversary of the birth of our nation's capital. But there should be
little uncertainty that this is Year Six in the revitalization of our nation's capital
By this calendar, Years One through Four were directed by the Control Board. 'The
Authority' performed a very successful rescue; pulling DC from its financial ditch
and getting its management engine started without wreaking additional damage.
Year Five elected a new driver who has very successfully gotten in gear, turned
around, and headed up the road to recovery--with the Authority approving from the
Year Six will disclose whether the driver is heading along the shallower road toward
Mediocrity, or up the steeper path to Excellence. NARPAC hopes to gage his
progress past a series of milestones along that steeper slope. Twelve general
objectives and specific goals for 2000 are outlined below:
Coalesce Top City Management
stable top organization, few top personnel changes, clearly distributed
Energize Middle City Management
gain flexibility in hiring, firing, rewarding, streamlining, competing
Motivate the City Workforce
adopt/enforce 'scorecard' for both input and output measures of
Integrate DCPS into City Management
help revamp school board, add superintendent to Mayor's cabinet
Accelerate Urban Blight Removal
major continued efforts in both human and material blight remediation
Define Key Short-Range Economic Programs
clear development decisions on a few crucial tracts: NoMA; SBDC; St. Elizabeth's
Complete Long-Range Transportation Plan
major new plans for Metro upgrade, parking facilities, radial gateway
Initiate Long-Range Land-use Plan
Seek new, productive uses for large federal, municipal, and non-profit agency
Codify Formal Involvement of DC's Neighborhoods
institutionalize means to get balanced, serious neighborhood inputs on local issues
Demonstrate Mature Relations with DC Council
Devise procedures--and staff--to minimize grandstanding, histrionics on both
Establish Clear Regional Cooperation
Initiate specific projects for regional sharing of health, wealth, and poverty
Encourage Revised Congressional Oversight
press for higher-level oversight with focus on common/unique regional
GO FOR IT, MAYOR WILLIAMS, you've got the horsepower!
TAKING THE EASY WAY OUT:
DC'S CONTROL BOARD DOES THE PUSSYFOOT
DC's Control Board has quietly submitted its FY99 Annual Report to the Congress.
It is an artful task to report progress in exercising unwanted oversight over a hyper-
sensitive central city without doing more harm than good. But the Authority, as it
calls itself, appears overly focused on city finances, and too little concerned with
efficiently providing exceptional services. NARPAC finds several
The Authority states that it intends to shift its focus further towards economic
development. This seems somewhat opportunistic. The tough problems involve
dispersing widespread blight and increasing government productivity. NARPAC
sees a strong need to maintain a "good cop, bad cop" team relationship between
the mayor and the Control Board, not a "good cop, better cop" contest.
- The Authority does not refer to the impact of Congressional
micromanagement of DC affairs, nor to providing Congressional representation for
DC's "second-class" citizens. It asserts the out-year financial balance is still
'precarious' despite clear indications of economic recovery throughout the city. In
fact, recovery expectations appear to be already outrunning accomplishments. All
effect the long-term attractiveness for residents and businesses.
- The Authority implies that DC's financial problems should be solved by
revenue increases--not expenditure reductions. This ignores the key issues of
decreasing the number of poor, and raising the efficiency of services to them. It's
emphasis on raising revenues by increasing (hopefully taxpaying) residents--rather
than taxpaying businesses seems dubious--particularly if those new residents
increase demands on over-stressed city services, and need upscale places to
- The Authority says nothing about productivity in providing normal municipal
services, or the need for "Scorecard" indicators to compare their costs to other
cities'. This cannot help the city negotiate with its entrenched bureaucracies. It's
aims to get rid of all receivers and masters seems premature, particularly if only to
improve budgetary control. Restoring requisite services--and competence--may
indeed require continuing authoritarian actions.
- The Authority does not mention sharing of the burdens of poverty, safety,
education, and health within the metro area. Regionalism, once a staple of the
Chair's urban philosophy, appears to have evaporated. It also ignores the need for
controlling the helter-skelter build-up in economic development already underway.
Proper city- and metro-wide long range land use planning is not
NEIGHBORHOOD INPUTS IN URBAN
NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT
Although Congressional tinkering continues, and instances of municipal dysfunction
still surface, the outlook for our nation's capital city has become very positive. But
while the quality of life in DC is surely improving, progress beyond urban mediocrity
is by no means assured.
Current momentum benefits from enthusiasm for the mayor's focus on
neighborhood concerns, and a properly engaged electorate is certainly
necessary for making lasting progress. But local inputs must
be weighed in the context of developing the whole Washington area community, or
the city's growth potential will be wasted.
All too often neighborhood majorities are preempted by vocal special interest
factions. Local inputs often serve to perpetuate local inequities: poorer
neighborhoods work against gentrification, and richer ones against lowered living
standards. Renters contrive to keep property values low while homeowners try to
raise them. Racial biases are more easily inflamed locally, and activists tend
towards demagoguery. City authority can become the scapegoat for local ills.
Neighborhoods often feel threatened by developments out of scale with their
immediate locale, seldom welcoming broader streets, larger carparks, more metro
stops, higher density living, or bigger businesses. They organize to stop large
projects--often revenue-producers--but initiate only minor ones; demanding city
resources but accepting no responsibility for generating them. While extolling grass
roots democracy, they often fail to vote in local elections, then rail against those
Ad hoc urban development initiatives by city authorities clearly do not work
either, be they business, non-profit, municipal or federal facilities, road or parking
schemes. Major projects--and fresh ideas--presented outside some comprehensive
plan become justifiably vulnerable to neighborhood rejection. Suspicions of
pandering to unidentified special interests at the municipal or regional level can
quickly destroy hard-earned, but often fragile, confidence in city leadership.
A great central city must have solid support from its neighborhoods, and
NARPAC applauds the mayor's current initiative. But to excel, the city must be
much more than the sum of those neighborhoods: it must conform to a broad
regional vision accepted by a clear majority of its diverse stakeholders--inside and
outside city limits. That plan must prevail over local special interests and provide
the framework against which the merits of legitimate interests are judged. Only that
framework can provide the common purpose for a lasting, flexible and productive
structure sufficient to fulfill the vision of this region--as our
unique national capital metro area.
SITTING IN THE MESS THEY CREATED
It took four Congressional subcommittees and then one conference committee 6 months to
DC taxpayers should spend their own tax revenues. In the end the legislators approved the full
content of DC's $4.7B budget, added about $90 million in useful sought-after funds , but then
turned around and saddled the bill with a series of social agenda riders that are not law in some
of the sponsors' states.
Responding to DC home rule enthusiasts, the President vetoed the bill, citing infringments on
"local residents making their own decisions about local matters". NARPAC also urged him to do
so. At this writing, a petulant Congress is threatening to remove the funding they added, along
with some of the riders. They intend to move slowly on the revisions so that "the President
and Democrats can sit in the mess they created", according to earthy House DC
Subcommittee Chairman Istook (R-5th OK).
Who really benefits from this absurd process in which a few odd Senators
and Representatives try to play Mayor Superior to DC's elected government?
o a few junior members without good committee assignments who gain notoriety by twitting the
only US mainland jurisdiction lacking voting rights in their chambers;
o a few legislators who may curry favor with special interest groups by imposing on DC the
dictates they have not been able to codify nationally; and
o a few partisan Capitol Hill politicos who enjoy exploiting divisiveness with the White House
and between the parties.
And who loses out in this process?
o DC's disenfranchised citizens who deplore their enduring second-class status;
o DC's local leaders who deserve top-level attention on a grand vision for our national capital
city (and metro area) and the legislation to achieve it;
o A Congress that demonstrates its failure to address its major responsibilities; and
o Americans everywhere who are denied a sense of national pride in their capital
It is Congress that is sitting in the mess it has
And the nation should be ashamed of it.
WASHINGTON, DC IN 2010--STILL AN URBAN
What would your kids like to see Washington DC become--as the nation's capital,
as a central city, and as the core of a major metro area? This month, NARPAC kicks
off an essay contest among DC metro area high school kids, and the winning
essays will be posted here next April.
What the next generation wants, and what really happens ten years hence,
depends crucially on decisions made much sooner. Even though DC retains its
primary employment source (the Feds), its performance barely matches that of
several other older US cities, which have lost their primary industries. DC's urban
ecology has been distorted by voter-tolerated bureaucrats supporting their middle-
class lifestyles on the backs of those they were hired to succor. This predatory
cycle must be broken if DC is to achieve a quality of life profile better than that of a
below-average inner city--and closer to that of its world-class suburbs.
DC's overstaffed, but dysfunctional health system consumes resources that could
otherwise provide health insurance for the many needy at risk. DC's barely
functioning police department uses twice as many uniforms per capita as, say,
Pittsburgh, while still suffering a far higher crime rate--and incarcerating a far larger
share of its disadvantaged youth into its overstaffed penal system. And DC's
school system employs more staff per student to generate test scores 30-40%
below those of their suburban counterparts, and produces many more graduates--
and drop-outs--permanently lacking modern marketable skills. DC remains an
ecological morass that stifles production of the essential nutrients for healthy
Reconstructing our capital city's public school system is surely one central
prerequisite to changing DC's urban ecology. The recent bickering by DC's elected
school board, the passivity of the emergency school trustees and Control Board,
and the past indifference of the part-timers on the DC Council's Education
Committee, collectively present a national embarrassment. There is no better place
to start, and no more propitious time to start. Oversight, management, and
planning for DC's public schools must be overhauled, and the whole school
system incorporated as an integral part of the city's revitalized ecology.
NARPAC, Inc. recently awarded DCHA's receiver, David Gilmore, it's first HATS
OFF Award for dedication and sensitivity in eliminating blight from DC's housing
projects. The ceremony noted that his "industrial strength tough love" could only
be provided by a receiver, and not by entrenched bureaucrats or vote-seeking
politicians. The equivalent of court-appointed receivers are needed for DCPS--and
We will find out next April what thoughtful students want for their city, capital, and
metro area. We may not have to wait as long to learn what they are destined to
ONE MAN MAKES A REAL DIFFERENCE
"The city is about to enter one of the most exciting and critical periods in its
history. A reform mood abounds and the potential is real for our nation's capitol to
rise to its rightful place as the preeminent community- in the land. So too, can it be
said about the Washington DC public housing program. We are extremely well
positioned to help catapult the city to that lofty height, and to set an example of
leadership among our public housing peers." D. Gilmore, 1/15/99
On August 11th, 1999, NARPAC will present its first HATS OFF Award
to David Gilmore, the person at the operational level who we believe
has taken the most fundamental step in rehabilitating the nation's
image of its capital city.
Many factors contribute to the lack of pride in America's capital city.
Most basic are those that contribute to such poor living standards for
so many. DC's quality of life statistics are way below the American
average, even though the citywide data hide the extremes. Some DC
neighborhoods enjoy the finest living standards in the US, while many
others endure those of Third World countries.
There is no chicken-and-egg dilemma: bad health, bad crime, and bad
education flow inexorably from bad neighborhoods, not the other way
around. In medical terms these are cancers in the city's body--and
mind. In chemical terms, these are toxic waste dumps. In political
terms, these are "blighted areas"--once known as slums. DC's inner
city blight has had many obvious causes: white flight in the fifties; race
riots in the late sixties; declining government and blue-collar jobs in the
seventies; overly attractive welfare benefits awarded by a naive new
local government and the advent of truly affordable addictive drugs in
the eighties, plus remarkable suburban opportunities for a new life for
those blessed with mobility. But the largest concetrated- source of
blight has been the ill-conceived public housing projects into which the
city's least fortunate were drawn--and thereafter ignored.
Complete urban blight removal will be a multifaceted task,
first attacking drug-use; poverty; despair; bad schools,
seemingly endless rundown or abandoned properties; and dependence
on the public dole. And eventually the city must develop
bold, meaningful metro area-wide economic plans, and cooperative
poverty sharing with DC's extraordinarily wealthy, almost blight-free
suburbs. DC's new government has only begun to address some of
these goals. But the key near-term goal must be to restore
hope, self-respect, and pride to those dependent on public and
subsidized housing, and to provide both paths to--and incentives for--
home-ownership across the entire DC metro area.
Fortunately for the capital city's future, the DC Housing Authority was
the first local agency to fall into court-ordered receivership. Even more
fortunately, Judge Graae appointed Mr. David Gilmore to the
gargantuan tasks of uprooting, razing, rebuilding, redefining, and
reorganizing all DC's housing units, including some of the city's most
blighted properties. Although this process is inherently quite
undemocratic, this Receiver has handled his authority with great
Some four years later, Gilmore's task is approaching completion,
though his key recommendations to the City Council for new legislation
to assure DCHA's independence remain "in committee". Nonetheless,
he has made enormous tangible strides in the most
fundamental long-term aspect of restoring pride to America's capital.
NARPAC proudly awards him its first HATS OFF award.
OK CONGRESS, IT'S TIME TO TAKE DC MORE
It's America's capital city--not a Congressional hobbyhorse
OpEd reprinted from "THE HILL", July 7, 1999
Our Constitution obliges Congress to "exercise exclusive legislation over
such District as may....become the Seat of Government of the United States". It
does not empower Congress to: let DC become a national embarrassment; keep it
financially isolated and overtaxed; deny its residents voting rights; or manage its
affairs through four separate subcommittees composed of the "dregs" of
Next year is DC's bicentennial. The city is under new management. Its
Control Board is very satisfied with its financial recovery. It no longer receives
direct appropriations from Congress. It deserves more respect and encouragement
to become a symbol of successful American metropolitan life.
As part of its disposition of DC's Y2000 budget, Congress should establish
clear preconditions for removing itself from micromanaging the city's affairs. It
should lay the groundwork for replacing those counterproductive subcommittees
with a single Joint Committee of the Congress in 2001.
This Joint Committee should raise its sights to focus on DC's unique
problems of "statelessness", and on generic urban problems of growing American
metro areas as well. Congressional action and inaction both contribute to the
present lack of pride in America's capital city:
o It is demeaning and disheartening for those working to govern DC to be over-
ruled by the quirks of individual members of Congress, imposing laws and
regulations not applied in their own jurisdictions. Why should a Senator from Texas
set DC Council salaries, or a Senator from Illinois determine DC's income tax rates?
o Congressional controls extend to approving mayoral appointments, and even
to how many days (seven) the DC Council can deliberate before forwarding them.
Many petty rules like these make the tasks of DC's fledgling new government more
difficult, and should be eliminated;
o Mayors and city councils find it tough enough to manage American inner
cities with 'help' from their state governments (or Control Board). Four additional
bodies exercising conflicting prerogatives can make DC's difficult job impossible.
Surely one joint committee should be able to keep our national capital city from
o It is "unAmerican" for a half-million DC residents to be subject to capricious
outside legislative forces without representation in those same legislative
o It is inappropriate for subcommittee members with explicit jurisdictional
conflicts of interest to deny DC the pursuit of equitable sharing of both the
problems and the resources of America's premier metropolitan area. Why should
representatives of DC's under-taxed suburbs dictate the revenue policies of their
over-taxed core city?
o Congressional laws dictate city inefficiencies: DC must perform non-
municipal functions such as national guard and mental health; accept inefficient
land productivity due to building height restrictions; and exempt various
Congressional personnel and federal appointees from city taxes. How do such
abnormalities help DC, much less make it a model American city?
o The District--in fact the entire metro area--benefits greatly from hosting the
Seat of US Government, but it incurs substantial uncompensated costs in city
services and revenues lost to property tax exemptions. Why shouldn't the federal
government pay some form of "rent" to its host city?
o Over half of DC's land acreage is tax-exempt for federal, municipal, foreign,
or private non-profit use. There is as much federal land as taxable acreage in DC.
Congress has made no effort to evolve public land usage that would contribute to
DC's financial well-being. Why, for instance, should federal agencies--and jobs--be
contributing- to suburban sprawl, rather than expanding into DC's empty, federally-
owned eastern banks of the Potomac and Anacostia?
o Failure to level the playing field between inner cities and their suburbs is
arguably America's most persistent socioeconomic problem--as well as DC's.
Congress has been slow to provide incentives for neighboring US jurisdictions to
seek regional solutions to regional problems (such as preferential regional federal
grants for welfare or public housing). Many American inner cities would benefit
from revised federal policies. Isn't this a proper role for Congress?
Congress has a major opportunity to help restore pride in America's capital before
DC's 200th anniversary ends. Why pass legislation obliging the DC government to
operate inefficiently for yet another year without the promise of greater national
appreciation ahead? Establishing Congressional intentions to upgrade and
streamline DC oversight would herald a truly new era of respect, empowerment--
and accountability--for American citizens disenfranchised by living in their nation's
THE VERY HIGH COST OF SELF-INTERESTS
Published in Northwest (et al) Current, August 4, 1999
Washington's world-renowned monuments inspire visitors to our nation's
capital with the hope and promise of the American dream. But the inner city that
hosts these symbols reflects the dangers of political inequities. This very uneven
political playing field helps explain why one of our richest core cities still produces
some of the worst US health, crime and education statistics. DC's diminished base
of resident taxpayers is as highly taxed as Americans anywhere, yet revenues and
expenditures are badly skewed by costly accumulated conflicts of interest.
Congressional subcommittees consistently deny DC the right to tax
non-resident income earned, contrary to practices in virtually every state. A two-
percent tax on non-resident wages would bring in more than $400M.
Almost half of DC acreage is exempt from real estate taxes, as are the wages of
some Congressional employees and Presidential appointees. Compensatory federal
payments to DC in lieu of such taxes would reach $600M.
Congressional building height restrictions limit the productivity of DC commercial
structures. Relaxing such height limits towards the edges of the city could increase
land productivity by $375M per floor, per 100 acres.
Regionally, suburban jurisdictions have isolated their core city, leaving
DC with 12% of the metro area's wealth and 60% of its certified poor, at a yearly
cost of $1800M. Sharing the poverty burden equally could save DC taxpayers
The effects of concentrated urban poverty on health, education, and safety have
caused some DC taxpayers to emigrate. With regional poverty-sharing, a net influx
of 50,000 upscale households could produce $750M yearly in local revenues.
At the local level, the DC Council places self interest above DC's overall
welfare. To retain some claim to "statehood", DC still spends over $300M
annually on non-municipal functions such as a state college and state-level mental
The Council has ignored DC Tax Revision Commission advice to tax service indus-
tries comprising a good share of DC's GDP. Taxing law firms, accountants, et al.
could raise $210M, but some Council members work part time for them.
In a recent Post OpEd, the Council asserted its newfound independence "as
an institution working for the betterment and future of the citizens of DC". It
says it "knows how to collaborate with the mayor, the financial authority,
Congress, the president and the surrounding governments in the region to achieve
mutually shared goals".
Time to get started, Council members.
OK, CONGRESS -- IT'S YOUR TURN TO HELP OUR
Under very different management, DC has now submitted a new kind of city
budget for approval by its Congressional masters. It was produced by DC's
newfound, if immature, democratic processes. It is a great improvement over past
efforts and holds promise of getting even better. No direct appropriations are
required or requested, and there is no need for a detailed authorization or
Congress has a clear opportunity to demonstrate that it too can accept the
challenge to restore national pride in America's capital city. It should:
1. Short circuit the outdated and bizarre habit of micromanaging DC's elected local
government. Approve DC's budget as submitted, without grandstanding or
imposing personal quirks on the only US municipal jurisdiction that no full member
of Congress represents. Our nation's capital should not be treated as some sort of
private Congressional plantation;
2. Put its creative energies to work on a) providing a practical mechanism to give
DC's quarter million voters proper representation in the US Congress--like all other
Americans--and b) ridding all American inner cities of urban blight. Some of DC's
circumstances are clearly unique, but many others are common to inequities in
metro area growth across the US; and
3. Announce its intentions to replace the four competing "dregs" subcommittees
with a more prestigious single Joint Committee of the Congress. It should focus on
major systemic urban problems and be composed of senior members free from
conflicts of interest in developing a properly balanced, exemplary American capital
metro area. While DC may well lack any rationale foundation for seeking
statehood, it clearly should not be denied the right to pursue 'metrohood'.
DC's bicentennial ends on December 31st, 2000. The 107th Congress will be
installed a few days later to begin the new millennium. By then, the nation's
capital city deserves a level political playing field for pursuing its new determination
to become America's first city.
A PROPER ROLE FOR THE DC COUNCIL
The DC Council has recently come under fire in several reports that describe
an organization almost as dysfunctional as the former Barry bureaucracy. Three
mayoral candidates Williams defeated still hold powerful committee chairs, and
appear bent on slowing down or reversing his budget initiatives. The new mayor,
trying to make sweeping changes throughout his administration, has shown little
inclination to accommodate Council idiosyncrasies. The current debate over
possibly premature tax cuts is a case in point. If the city is to succeed in the long-
run--and become a model for other American central cities--a stronger sense of
collaboration must emerge, and the sooner the better.
The Council seems to lack a clear vision of either its unique or its ordinary
municipal responsibilities, or of how to carry out either set. It is not sized, staffed
or organized to do a first-class job. Whereas the mayor has reached out to his
counterparts elsewhere to learn how better to do his job, the Council has not.
More basic, the roles of American central cities are changing nationwide. It is
not enough for DC to catch up to others' past challenges--it must get out ahead of
the new ones. As NARPAC has pointed out repeatedly, many of DC's long-range
problems flow from inadequate local (and federal) legislation. New or revised laws
are needed in many areas.
Concerted efforts should be made to pass such "landmark legislation" before
the end of the city's bicentennial next year. Here are NARPAC's suggestions for
Council legislative topics, grouped under various elements of a broad
As unique host to the nation's capital, DC should aspire to
being the nation's
pre-eminent central city, reflecting America's national and international
o engage national expertise to improve the professionalism of the local
o adopt relevant national or regional norms as minimum city performance
o provide incentives for international participation in future municipal land use
Without normal state-level administration and oversight, DC must
alternative means to gain professional 'checks and balances' in a unique, but
o seek suitable regional, federal agency
o work forcefully to earn and codify alternatives to current Congressional
o establish formal review of DC election practices and Council
As the core city of a model American metro area, DC should
regional coop-eration to more effectively provide regional services and solve
o specify targets for regional sharing of municipal tasks,
education, safety and justice, procurement, maintenance, welfare;
fund, and staff regional analytical and operational
o require regional competitiveness in workforce performance, welfare
As a normal American municipality in changing times, DC must
enunciate its business and residential goals within its evolving metro
o commission and ratify some sort of 'regional charter of natural
laying out both urban and suburban priorities for attracting businesses and
residents, using COG, NLC, or other recognized experts;
o undertake a major urban planning and re-zoning effort to increase the
productivity of all city assets, independent of land ownership and special
o reorganize the oversight of overlapping municipal functions such as schools,
community development, and police activities;
o mandate prudent, balanced fiscal actions to modernize municipal taxation,
spending, business and rent controls, tenancy rights, etc.;
o do not require regional tax parity: proximity to the federal government is
o establish priorities in shedding the many remaining non-municipal
As a conglomeration of neighborhoods and special functional entities
(embassies, non-profits, national institutions, etc.); DC must balance local and city-
o establish quantitative goals for neighborhood modernization and
consolidation--with incentives to increase local productivity;
o establish a meaningful Council conduit for receiving neighborhood views, but
act consistently and in the context of city-wide interests;
o provide the mayor broad powers for local blight removal;
o require formal review of the propriety and extent of every special tax
privilege citywide--and identify means to generate appropriate revenues from
THE WILLIAMS EXPEDITION LEAVES BASE CAMP
carrying a new map and old baggage
VIEWPOINT OpEd in Northwest/Georgetown Current, May 5 1999
The newly-elected Williams-led expedition has left base camp to scale the mountain of problems
embarrassing the nation's capital city. Mayor Williams has declared his mission is not to adjust
the base camp's airconditioning but to restore pride in America's capital city by conquering the
This slightly quirky team leader starts his climb with: a new, albeit incomplete, route map; a
mixed bag of green and seasoned guides; and a huge army of sherpas, long accustomed to
carrying the same old baggage. (70% of DC's 5000 teachers have toiled over 20 years). DC2000
budget lays out both his dreams and his impedimenta.
Gamblers studying the baggage manifest could easily conclude the odds for reaching the top are
not much improved by adding $279M to an already bloated $2.87B local budget, or by keeping
almost 24,500 full time equivalent sherpas on the local payroll. But before predicting failure,
speculators should grasp the new master plan as well as the near-field obstacles astride the
o A skeptical, impatient electorate demands immediate fixes. Heroic nearterm efforts require
energizing the inplace workforce to fill potholes, clean streets and walls, kill rats, and raze
o Hypersensitive racial re-activists swirl up suddenly like blinding snowstorms, turning well-
intended forward steps (like UDC) into energy-consuming detours;
o Defeated mayoral candidates still chair key DC Council committees and threaten rockslides,
but show little heart for passing reform legislation or strengthening the executive's
o Five committees of overseers hover above with little urban reform experience: a Financial
Control Board ill at ease with quality of life issues; and four part-time Congressional
subcommittees, some with regional conflicts of interest. Williams' desired budget is disguised as
an alternative--just to meet outdated dictates from masters with authority but no accountability.
o The defensive, oversized bureaucratic work force, largely patronage-founded, has few
incentives, little training, and no role models for converting itself--OJT--into a
competitive merit-based team. The Williams plan provides long-neglected training
and workplace upgrades, realistic job descriptions, and a promise of suitable
pay rewards--whether or not unionized--for competitive performance.
Williams' sherpas belong to 38 separate bargaining units within several militant
unions. They must be convinced that capable workers will be treated fairly in any future actions.
The DC Housing Authority's new 3-year contract sets a very encouraging precedent, basing
employee rewards on unit (not individual) performance against agreed targets.
o The work force has had no means to measure its own performance. To become America's pre-
eminent city, what better guide than how other US peer cities perform? Williams' first budget
starts this process: virtually every DC budget activity is now obliged to set and publish such
[Example: DC Fire stations serve only 1.9 sqmi vice 8.5 for the 5-city peer average, and use 33
employees per 10,000 residents v. 14. Why should the DC2000 budget add $7M and 64 people?
To bring service up to neighborhood expectations first -- and to
taxpayer expectations later.]
o Increased capital investment is basic to conquering DC's mountainous problems. DC's new
budget proposes near-adequate capital spending for six years in every applicable budget activity
(viz., $620M for public schools, $130M for police, and $23M for fire and rescue).
o Alarming crime and education statistics prevent building a viable resident taxpayer base.
Williams' budget adds substantial funding for school improvements, teacher pay raises, and
police modernization. But it also adds long-range funding setasides to fix the kids'
neighborhoods from which the problems stem. Small in dollar amounts, the eventual payoff
can be huge.
Similar small initial investments are intended to eventually produce major changes in health care
coverage and costs, and in small business tax relief. These too are not part of the budget
to overcome initial obstacles. They are part of the plan to get to the top of the
Godspeed, Mayor Williams, You're going to make it.
DEVELOPING THE MAYOR'S STRATEGIC
When Washington's new Mayor took office on January 1, he stressed his intention
to focus for six months on gratifying near-term needs of the citizenry. A few
weeks later, having nudged out the Control Board's Chief Management Officer,
Mayor Williams announced he would serve as his own Chief Administrative Officer
for some period of time. A NARPAC editorial fretted that preoccupation with the near-term
problems would defeat his longer-term, more lasting objectives.
In a recent press interview, the mayor acknowledged that he is having trouble
juggling the two responsibilities and that maintaining a strategic focus is
proving to be difficult. Hence hiring a city administrator--and a new financial
officer--have become, he says, top priorities for the District and for his own
well-being. And for the well-being of our nation's capital as well, Mr.
We offer a dozen questions whose closely intertwined answers could shape the
mayor's strategic focus:
1. Are you willing to use heroic bureaucratic measures to turn DC, a city
that ranks "average" among the nation's worst inner cities, into national pre-
2. How will you induce the Congress to exercise its constitutional
mandates over the DC without micromanaging the city into perpetual, voteless
3. Can you get DC's suburbs to share the costs of leveling the
socioeconomic playing field, and if not, will you oblige them to share the
4. How do you foster the emerging imperative of intra-metro area political
cooperation when the US Congress is basically structured around states'
5. How do you reshape the "urban image" to achieve a forward-looking
balance of urban dwellers, urban workers, and urban visitors--based on free market
6. Do you also intend to create a productive international presence in DC
to reflect the city's role as the world ideological center for free market
7. How do you hope to convert an almost dysfunctional Council into a
forward-looking legislature focused on the whole city, not just parochial parts of
8. How do you plan to convert DC's bureaucracy, founded on patronage
and largely unionized, into a merit-based role model for other American central
9. How can you substantially improve the ratio of "revenue producers"
to "revenue consumers" (welfare recipients) to better match national taxpayer
10. How do you "recall" and "recycle" about 100,000 nearly illiterate,
seriously dysfunctional, people produced by failed education and criminal
11. Are you willing to re-zone the city to achieve better revenue
productivity from your limited space, including untaxed/federal properties?
12. How can you attract free-world businesses to locate within the city
limits while still deriving needed revenues from their presence?
NARPAC has been wrestling with each of these basic issues on a hypothetical
basis, but they must soon be addressed by real-world practitioners.
IT'S THE QUALITY OF GOVERNMENT, STUPID
If the District's energetic new Mayor needs a simple slogan to guide his
actions, the above might fill the bill. If the DC Council wants to
become pro-active, it could rally around the same slogan. If the Control
Board wonders why it should stay active, this provides a clue. If
the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments needs a catchy
theme, this is it. And if Congress needs a simple way to look at its
obligations to the nation's capital city and metro area, this will do.
NARPAC sees a major danger lurking in excessive jubilation over
budget surpluses at the municipal level, the regional level, and the
federal level. These were caused by the economy (stupid), not by
quality government (Federal Reserve Board excepted). Government actions, national and local,
have kept DC's financial situation from getting any worse. But they surely have
not produced a quality of life for capital residents that is either high
enough by national standards, nor level enough by regional standards.
The newfound DC FY98 surplus, only recently calculated to exceed
substantially the city's remaining short-term accumulated deficits, is of
course splendid news to the bookkeepers. But it means the city
missed two of its goals: DC's burdened taxpayers paid even more per
capita than they should have, and the DC government again spent less
than intended to improve the quality of city life.
In the non-governmental sectors, there is no lack of optimism, business
growth, or voluntary cooperation. The Board of Trade is awash in
regional economic enthusiasm. Even the recently concluded national
political trauma has done little if anything to decrease the enormous
magnetism of living within commuting distance of our nation's capital
with all its remarkable, unique, drawing cards.
But what drives existing residents away (and keeps new ones away) is the depressed quality of
DC life, produced almost entirely by a depressed quality of local government.
Perhaps 70% of the problem derives directly from self-inflicted
municipal incompetence; 15% from regional non-cooperation; and 15%
from unenlightened Congressional oversight. And those regional and
federal failings are ultimately related to DC's own dysfunction as well.
Many pressures are now in place (including a few "contact sports events") to reform the DC
government. DC residents have elected a new and different kind of mayor, and some DC
Council members with greater potential. Young residents' natural
emigration may once again be more closely matched by an inflow of
optimists. Reform momentum is growing---with some inevitable
traumas along the way, as those who should, feel the pinch.
The issue is surely not whether the mayor "is black enough", as
some discontents allege, but whether the city bureaucracy is smart
enough to adopt contemporary municipal work ethics. Can it be
converted from a patronage-based failure to a merit-based success?
The new mayor's littany of city embarrassments that he hopes to
remedy within six months provides a simple proof of past malpractice.
It is high time to establish a longer-term, quantitative list of input action
targets and output indicators of what constitutes an exemplary
government-based quality of life for America's unique capital metro
area. While NARPAC cannot be the final word in such goal-setting, it
is willing to take the first step. We herewith provide a straw man list of 75 quantifiable indicators, indicating target values
for "passing grades". If nothing else, it shows how far DC has to go to become an average US
city. We hope it will produce a more challenging set of goals embraced by the major
decision-makers in DC's future.
COLOR COMMENTARY FROM THE STANDS
This town is known for its pundits and
commentators. But for the task at hand, we don't need people up in the booth doing color
commentary, or in the stands cheering or booing. We need folks down on the field, blocking and
tackling, maybe getting sacked, but getting up and helping us advance the ball a yard at a time as
we move toward victory. That is my message today: C'mon out of the stands, people. Suit up.
Get in the game. Let's win this together.
While NARPAC, Inc. tries to figure out how to suit up and
find a place in the game, we find ourselves continuing to react to the progress on the field:
Tony Williams, Jan 2, 1999.
Cheers of Encouragement for the New Mayor
The scrimmages have only just begun, of course.
Nevertheless, we find the following actions by Tony Williams deserve applause:
Sporadic Clapping and Catcalls for the DC Council:
An inspirational inaugural address which should
dispel any remaining fears that the mayor is only a quirky, bean-counting nerd;
Sponsoring--and reading--a detailed set of
'transition reports" which seem to compare favorably with the Control Board's consultants'
A willingness to listen to the near-term needs of
DC's citizens, and to set up a set of near-term "tangible benefits" goals;
A promise to work closely with DC's grass roots
Earning the trust and confidence of the Control
Board from Day 1,
Early indications that he will work with his
counterparts in the suburbs for the common goal of a first-class metro area;
Putting the municipal bureaucracy on notice that it
must perform as well as the private sector in delivering services;
Bringing in "outsiders" to help energize the
reluctant agency upper management;
Encouraging participation over punditry...;
...(But hushed silence over his apparent rejection,
not so much the incumbent, but of
the Office of City Manager
, and of planning to double in the role of city
administrator, even if only temporarily);
The Council has partially shuffled its deck of committee
chairs, but has clearly favored seniority over a) committee importance, and b) demonstrated
performance of the chairperson. Seniority of the unsuccessful mayoral candidates should have
been ignored. Hence our reactions are mixed:
(Claps for the positive moves:)
(Catcalls for the negative moves:)
Appointing new faces to chair the Local, Regional,
Federal Affairs Committee and to represent DC to the COG;
Moving the irrepressible Carol Schwartz to the
public works chair where her particular style and predilections may just work wonders;
Appointing Sharon Ambrose to the key position of
Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Chair;
Leaving Charlene Drew Jarvis on the Economic
Development Committee, and Sandy Allen on Human Services;
Sustained Boos for Congress
Leaving Chavous on Education, the single least
productive agency in the DC government;
Moving Brazil to Judiciary, where the police and
emergency services are the second least productive agencies in the DC government;
Leaving Patterson on Government Operations
instead of moving her up to Education, and replacing her with new blood;
Appointing Evans to Finance and Revenues where
his business ties may provide a strong conflict of interest in the essential tax revision arena;
The new Congress and its new leaders, preoccupied with
the extraordinary troubles in the presidency, have clearly lost a significant opportunity to
lead--rather than lag--the revitalization of our nation's capital by:
Based on the state of play so far, it appears that neither the
Council nor the Congress are likely to provide the unrestricted support the new mayor deserves--
particularly while he lacks a full team.
Perpetuating the myth that Constitutional
responsibilities to oversee the District require four diverse, amateurish subcommittees instead of
a single House/Senate Joint Committee of the Congress;
Assigning the two appropriations subcommittees
chairpersons with limited or no municipal, urban, or regional experience, to preside over a
financial process that no longer applies to the District of Columbia;
Reappointing the most influential DC subcommittee
chairperson, who retains a clear conflict of interest with DC suburbs, and has now taken on more
important additional House duties that will further limit his attention to DC.
AN OPEN LETTER TO DC's NEW MAYOR:
NARPAC, Inc. congratulates you on your election victory.
From Day One, we hope you will keep in mind that America is watching, and shares your goal to
restore pride in our capital city. But this cannot happen as long as critics can justifiably claim
The Washington metro area is the permanent theater
showcasing our national and international public life. The District provides the orchestra seats,
and they should be selling at a premium price, not bargain rates. Americans have a right to
expect the best--and are surely willing to help you achieve it. Don't settle for less.
Don't neglect the tough long-term executive and
legislative changes for near-term political expediency.
DC wants to "bribe" people and businesses through
tax incentives to live and work within its borders, even before exorcising the root causes which
make it unattractive, i.e., urban blight, crime, poor education, and business antipathy--not taxes;
DC continues to plead for unmatched federal
subsidies when DC is still arguably one of the nation's least efficient municipal governments,
with more than 30,000 employees for 500,000 residents;
DC is asking for federal compensation before it has
taken any real initiatives to unify and level the socioeconomic playing field within its own metro
area. DC has few cooperative and no revenue sharing programs with its suburbs;
DC continues to skew its limited tax base by
subsidizing some of America's least admired service businesses while overtaxing the few
productive ones: lobbyists go tax free, while small, hi-tech industries pay high taxes;
DC perpetuates barriers to gentrification and
urbanization while offering excessive benefits that attract less productive residents--keeping
outdated rent controls and residential zoning, while overpaying employee and welfare benefits;
DC is still so distrusted by Congress that its
residents cannot vote and its laws can be overruled by four oversight subcommittees. Full
citizens' rights and minimal oversight can only flow from vastly improved local government
Continue back to 1998 and prior
This page was updated on Jul 5, 2002
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