Prior months' editorials for 1997 and 1998 are filed (or referenced) here. This month's new
editorial will be found at
(12/98) A Very Long Way to Go
DC's On-Year Election--Are We Really Cooking--
So Far, So Good......
DC, Regionalism, and the Council of Governments
An Open Message to the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich
Open Memo For: All 1998 DC Political Candidates
Congressional Steps Toward Making DC Whole
Getting the District Ready to Celebrate its Bicentennial
This Is the Time to Reconfigure DC's Control Board
The Best Medicine for Urban Ills: Trickle-Down or Super-Fund?
Damn the Snipers, General Becton, Full Speed Ahead
Mr. President, It Takes a Nation to Raise a Capital
The Fy98 Die Is Cast for DC--The Start of the Beginning
Looking for Scapegoats
The "DC Rescue Plan": Good News and Bad
A VERY LONG WAY TO GO
DC'S ON-YEAR ELECTION--ARE WE REALLY COOKING--
The job ahead is as big as the vision of the new leadership in all five centers of authority and influence. There are more than enough near-term nitty-gritty problems to consume officials with myopic vision, and more than enough kibitzers to obscure and delay decisions. And there are too many superfluous players. The questions are:
The Congress would do well to relinquish its pastime of tinkering in DC day-to- day affairs--replacing the four superfluous subcommittees with a single future-oriented Joint Committee of the Congress for DC would be a good start.
New appointments to the Control Board (and Emergency School Trustees) are complete, and the Chair's stated aims of returning more power to the mayor is encouraging--but not if simply because the Board lacks the time or inclination. Returning the dysfunctional DC schools to a still-dysfunctional elected School Board could prove disastrous. Returning a stronger CMO, CFO, and IG to the mayor's new team is key.
The Control Board should focus on a long-range framework for a self-sustaining inner core of America's capital metro area. Shedding responsibilities is surely not the top priority per se, but empowering the mayor probably is. There is also no hurry in removing the best of the city's independent receivers.
The mayor-elect has sent mixed signals about his agenda, indicating a near-term focus on "nuts and bolts" (another CMO?) while dismissing "strategic planning" as "mumbo jumbo". He accused the CMO of focusing too much on "offering a vision", but urged those not sharing his (vague) new vision of the city to "get off his trolley".
The new mayor will soon find himself with over 30,000 city employees--most in charge of at best one nut or bolt--a big jump from company to division commander. He needs to co-opt the Control Board and his own immediate staff by providing what they cannot--a unified set of goals, and a clear strategy for attaining them.
The new DC Council holds promise but no guarantees. The three new members surely have more potential than their predecessors, but the continued presence of four voluble members defeated by the mayor may encourage foot-dragging and mischief-making. The school system--and increased regionalism--may well be most at risk. The re-elected Council Chair's choice of new committee chairs is crucial. Their past inclination to posture, micro-manage, and equivocate could remain troublesome.
The DC Council must provide the legal basis for a fully functional city government, properly integrating its branches--including education--and assuring participation at grass roots and regional levels. A total change in committee chairs is warranted.
Finally, there is no change in the hordes of local activists who inject their own solutions to every problem--and objections to every action. The notion of inducing progress through protests, placards, suits, and court orders dies hard. In conjunction with local judges no better versed in "ordering" solutions to practical problems, opportunities for counter-productive mischief abound.
The activists would do well to focus their efforts on developing a fully functional system of constructive grass-roots political influence on the Mayor and DC Council.
Each of these centers of authority and influence has the power to contribute to restoring pride in America's capital, or to dissipate the efforts of those elected to reform the city government and to earn DC's place in the national capital metro area.
The entire community of concerned public officials, appointed or elected, would do well to concentrate their efforts on reinforcing, not diluting, the Herculean efforts required of Mayor-elect Williams.
The importance of the November elections should not be underestimated. The next four years--and particularly the first two--could well determine just how good a national capital city Americans can hope to see. If the electorate does not vest in its new leader a clear mandate by going to the polls, then the new mayor's ability to lead will be diminished.
And if the candidates underestimate or misrepresent the difficulty of the years ahead, or their ability to address them realistically, the electorate will be ill-prepared to support the tough--but necessary--actions that lie ahead. Bloated election promises; voodoo economic claims; outdated panaceas, and rabble-rousing oratory will be dangerous to the city's future health.
Major new strategies must be developed and implemented in three distinct areas. Only the full-time, elected city government can sponsor such plans. And only the mayor's office can lead the city forward--not part-timers on the Control Board and Congressional subcommittees, or independent court-appointed receivers.
There will be no better time to institutionalize these basic changes--and their supporting legislation--than during the city's fast-approaching bicentennial year.
DC, REGIONALISM, and THE COUNCIL OF GOVERNMENTS
NARPAC, Inc. believes strongly that long-term solutions to DC's systemic problems require far greater regional cooperation. To this end, we have inquired into the Metro Washington Council of Governments--and DC's role on it--and conclude that:
Those interviewed accept shifts towards regionalism as the wave of the future: suburbs and core city must both be successful for the region to be competitive. Help is available from the suburbs--if DC cooperates with COG to get it.
Some DC officials have felt rebuffed by the suburbs. But the suburbs feel strongly that the District has not sought their help, and has not participated in COG working committees beyond occasional "grandstanding". DC ignores available cooperative opportunities such as common procurement. Suburban jurisdictions will not force themselves on the DC if their assistance is not sought.
The COG itself has several problems. Board members routinely have three jobs, very little time, and frequent rotation. Creativity suffers accordingly. The COG may be over-managed by politicos focusing on jurisdictional "turf", and under- represented by executives simply seeking greater operating efficiencies.
Other avenues exist for regional cooperation. The Board of Trade is often seen to be more pro-active than COG. Joint programs can be carried out by smaller 'coalitions of the willing'. There is strong interest in federal incentives to foster regional solutions, and some for seeking new programs timed to DC's bicentennial.
These findings lead NARPAC to offer the following recommendations:
At the beginning of your term as Speaker, your lofty rhetoric about the importance of restoring national pride to our capital city was encouraging to many Americans. Since then, however, your actions have belied your words. Although the DC Revitalization Act of 1998 began the important process of restructuring the capital city's roles and missions, the FY99 budget process is again showing the absurdity of having four Congressional subcommittees primarily seen as meddling in, second- guessing, and weakening through compromise, the actions of the DC Council and Control Board.
FY99 is the last year in which DC receives a direct appropriation from the Congress, and the last year for which there can be any justification for an authorizations/appropriations process in the Congress. Ahead lie the far more difficult tasks of rebuilding DC's operational structures and democratic processes. It is surely none to soon to begin the tough work of forging a solid framework for our 21st century capital city.
NARPAC urges you to pass legislation before the end of this session--perhaps as part of the FY99 DC Appropriations measure--to establish in the 106th Congress a single:
Joint Committee on the National Capital City
to oversee the development of--and passage by the end of DC's bicentennial year-- the landmark legislation needed to eventually transform DC into the vital core of America's foremost metro area. The existing joint House/Senate committees include two that oversee other national institutions: the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office; and two that oversee national matters too important to leave to normal Congressional sausage-making: economics and taxation. This new Joint Committee would replace all four current DC subcommittees and have four major functions:
OPEN MEMO FOR: ALL 1998 DC POLITICAL CANDIDATES
(published as VIEWPOINT in The Northwest Current ,et al, August 5, 1998)
The accomplishments of DC's elected officials during their next term in office will be crucial to restoring national pride in America's capital city and its metro area. NARPAC's positions on six major issues are outlined below. We hope each of you will enunciate your own positions on these for DC's electorate:
o DC Is An American Symbol
DC's residents must respect their home town as the nation's capital city and an American symbol. More Americans will then help them pursue the American dream;
The DC government will need outside help to become as good as the nation would like it to be. Many of those still living here are pre-occupied with influencing the federal government on special interests and hold little allegiance for their adopted home town;
DC's cultural/economic demography is changing noticeably--towards a more nationally representative mix. False perceptions of DC as a mostly black, mostly squalid, backwater must be dispelled.
o DC Home Rule Must Be Redeemed--and Dignified
DC's home rule was not "snatched away in the night": it was lost by irresponsible, duly-elected municipal officials who abused their mandate and must earn another;
DC must prove itself deserving of far less day-to-day federal oversight, but recognize Congress's constitutional rights to assure certain state-like checks and balances;
DC must continue to press for greater representation in the Congress, but statehood is not a realistic option;
o Democracy Must Be Improved at the Local Level
DC's elected City Council needs to prove it can exercise local democracy maturely by such actions as: adopting run-off primaries to restore confidence in the value of the individual vote; creating obligatory links to neighborhood leaders to revitalize the ANC system; and recognizing that democracy does not provide unbridled freedom to determine its own form of local governance;
DC politicians must stop fanning the flames of racism. Demagoguery and civil rights style activism do not solve the remaining problems of class discrimination and neglect;.
o Local Home Rule Government Must Become Fully Professional
Government employees must work efficiently, responsibly--and accountably--for the community good, not as if welfare-to-work beneficiaries. The city manager approach will result in a more professional, less politicized, municipal work force;
The city's Control Board and several receivers are effecting much-needed changes which should be adapted and perpetuated under home rule;
The city's worst problems (ignorance, poverty, crime, and despair) flow together from its blighted neighborhoods and will only respond to systemic, across-the-board action;
The all-important school system should be integrated into other professional city management efforts: it cannot be cured--or its past failures reversed--in isolation;
o Balancing the DC Budget, per se, Does Not Cure DC's Basic Ills
Across the board, DC municipal services must be greatly improved, and the city should continue to rid itself of extra-municipal functions (and associated expenses);
DC expenditures and revenue sources must become regionally competitive. Cutting bureaucratic costs requires continuing work force reductions. Adopting the recommendations of the DC Tax Revision Commission can substantially Increase revenues;
DC should be reimbursed for the tangible costs of hosting federal agencies and their attendant tax-exempt organizations (non-profits, embassies, etc.), but the real and intangible benefits of the federal and international presence must be acknowledged;
o DC Is the Vital Core of America's Most Important Metro Area
DC must take the initiative, and tough actions needed, to induce its suburbs to share equally in the costs and benefits of regional progress. Intra-jurisdictional cooperation and a level regional socio-economic playing field are key to balanced growth in the capital metro area as well as other American metropolitan centers;
Regional organizations (like the MWCOG) are already in place and can be given substantially increased responsibilities to develop common standards, planning, and privatized services (such as procurement and equipment maintenance).
CONGRESSIONAL STEPS TOWARD MAKING DC WHOLE
For the seventh year in a row, Representative Ralph Regula (R-OH), who spent several years on the House DC Subcommittee, will place in the hopper a bill which would commit the District of Columbia to reunion with the State of Maryland, from whence it came. And for the seventh year, it will get no support beyond its handful of co-sponsors.
While NARPAC, Inc. shares the Congressman's heartfelt interest in the future of the District of Columbia, it must be clear by now that DC's problems cannot be solved by any single act of Congress--or anyone else, for that matter. A series of actions are required that will collectively--and gradually-- "make DC whole". Many of these actions must be implemented at the local and regional levels, but many of those can be helped by federal incentives.
Here are NARPAC, Inc.'s specific objectives and some notional actions Congress might take to achieve each:
Improve DC's fiscal competitiveness with surrounding jurisdictions:
GETTING THE DISTRICT READY TO CELEBRATE ITS BICENTENNIAL
(Published in the Bethesda Gazette , on April 15, 1998)
Right now we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remodel our national capital city as an example of--instead of an exception to--the successful American dream. DC's latest era of home rule has self-destructed, buried in charges of incompetence, dysfunction, and failure so serious that Congress has temporarily suspended some of its democratic privileges. A truly progressive metropolitan area, however, will require a thoroughly new construct, based on the area's extraordinary growth.
Fortuitously, conditions which drove DC residents to the suburbs are beginning to abate. Professional new brooms are sweeping city agencies and schools. A new sense of fiscal reality exists, and the heaviest Congressionally-imposed financial burdens have been removed. Even city politics are becoming less lop-sided: voters are more likely to cross party lines; the approaching racial balance will reduce the risk of demagoguery; the civic mindset is turning away from the paranoia of aging civil rights activists; and fantasies of statehood are disappearing.
DC could become a very attractive regional asset and partner--with concerted national effort. Like many "central cities", DC lacks the resources, experience and skills to resolve all its problems--exacerbated by the overpowering, constrictive federal presence, and by total estrangement (without alimony) from its prospering natural partners. Major legislative changes are needed locally, regionally, and nationally to refocus the region's governance on the greater metropolitan good, equitably merging responsibilities and benefits, to the greater advantage of all.
o Federally, Congress must stop micromanaging this "orphan city" through four independent subcommittees with little municipal experience--and considerable regional conflicts of interest. It must provide DC residents Congressional representation equivalent to that of other citizens, and continue to reimburse DC for major services rendered and revenues denied.
o Locally, the District must adopt accepted municipal practices--like the civil service revisions and business regulation changes now being made, and the revised election practices it still needs.
o However the real progress is to be made regionally , based on proximity, affinity, history and economic interdependence; plus burgeoning wealth, energy, and skills. But local jurisdictional prerogatives--and attitudes--will have to be realigned to the new social, demographic and economic realities. Ignoring, outrunning, or exploiting inner city decrepitude are not viable options, as the inner suburbs--and state capitals--are discovering. Many long-standing administrative fiefdoms are now obsolete and hindering maximum (e.g., balanced) socioeconomic growth.
Besides transportation, water, sewer, and environmental actions; cooperation and integration in many other areas can bring efficiency, economies of scale, and, most important, a level regional playing field for further growth. These include: shared child, adult, and vocational education projects and facilities; combined safety, rescue, medical and correction services; normalized rules for welfare and medical payments, gun control, drunk driving, and sentencing; common government procurements, business licensing, inspections, and regulations; and cooperation in tourism, economic development, subsidized housing, and even revenue-generation. Congress must help overcome reluctance to such new approaches with appropriate budgetary incentives.
Some of our country's finest counties envelop one of our lowest performing inner cities--which in turn enfolds our national capital. How can we neglect not just its viability, but its symbolism? How can we expect the rest of the country to do more when the region is free-loading?
DC's bicentennial celebration throughout Yr2000 provides a target date to complete the basic framework for an exemplary new metro area. NARPAC believes it is incumbent on concerned citizens of the Greater Washington Metro Area to work creatively to make this vision a reality.
THIS IS THE TIME TO RECONFIGURE DC's CONTROL BOARD
(Modified version appeared in Northwest Current , May 20, 1998)
A unique opportunity exists right now to take an important step in assuring the best future for DC, the central city of our capital metro area. This is probably the only remaining chance to reconfigure the Control Board. Under the circumstances, It has made a good start in restoring fiscal solvency and a functional government, but there are compelling reasons for expanding the Board to about ten members rather than simply refreshing it with two or three new faces. These include:
1. the Board's responsibilities have been greatly expanded -- sadly with little help from local elected officials or activists. To maintain continuity and cover all city functions, several new and seasoned municipal practitioners are needed;
2. the time horizon has been shortened by the unexpected-- if not premature--balancing of the 1997 city budget. In all likelihood, less time than expected is now available to do more work than initially expected. Clearly, balanced budgets all by themselves will not assure a greatly improved and sustainable quality of city life;
3. the School Board should be represented on the Control Board. A major, well-coordinated management effort is required between schools, housing, welfare, public works, and human services to "recycle" DC's most embarrassing blighted areas. It is essential to minimize the outdated separation of the two functions;
4. the newly constituted Board must plan from its outset to transition back to democratic control by the end of the city's bicentennial celebration--and hopefully, to greatly reduced Congressional intervention. It should be enlarged to include two or three elected local officials; and
5. the Board must aim to raise regional cooperation and responsibility . Two members from DC's suburbs should be added with recent hands-on experience at the county/state levels. The central city can never become the vibrant core of what should be the nation's most forward-looking metro area unless it develops far closer cooperation with its burgeoning suburbs. DC must make the overture, and with full and enlightened Congressional encouragement.
It would be tragic if the city's many masters let this unique opportunity pass by default--or through ignorance of clear national and global geo-economic trends.
THE BEST MEDICINE FOR URBAN ILLS: TRICKLE-DOWN OR SUPER- FUND?
The following quote is taken verbatim from the introduction of Chairman Colin Powell's recent "VIEWPOINT" article in TIME magazine, entitled "Everybody's Children", exhorting support for his worthy project, America's Promise--the Alliance for Youth .
"One of the most frightening scenes in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to the yet unredeemed Ebeneezer Scrooge two ragged and wolfish children-a boy and a girl, cowering in the folds of his robe. Even the flint-hearted Scrooge is intimidated by the sight of them: 'Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.'154 years and nine generations later, the Whole Society has yet to solve the problems of Ignorance and Want --largely centered in urban despair. Nowadays, when a US inner city falters, pundits suggest lowering taxes to increase spending to increase jobs to increase payrolls to increase tax revenues to improve the urban environment--giving no thought to how long that cycle might take, or how it might be defeated. "Trickle down economics" is the way to go. So goes the Kemp/Norton philosophy for improving the lot of Washington's less fortunate, many of whom have been doomed by well-funded, but utterly failed local school, housing, and crime prevention systems. It hasn't worked, but advocates keep pushing it.
Yet when we suddenly discover--or even suspect--the existence of toxic waste, contagious disease or natural disaster in our backyard, we mobilize national resources and our American spirit to root it out, recycle or otherwise neutralize it, and restore the area to its pristine condition. No expense to the federal government, and no inconvenience to the local residents is too great to immediately address the danger. Superfund to the rescue. So went the farce of ridding fashionable Spring Valley in Northwest DC of suspected 70-year old chemical warheads three years ago. High tech equipment, special troops and contractors, bunkers, and helo pads were installed. Police and firemen emptied houses and blocked roads each day. No effort was spared to save from extinction Ward Three's richest blue-haired residents, most of whom have second and third homes elsewhere.
So imagine what would happen if we were to discover, say, twenty toxic waste dumps around DC that were suspected of killing children, maiming the minds and souls of many others--young and old, and spreading toxins across the city and into the suburbs. Without doubt, a major mobilization would be ordered forthwith with virtually unlimited federal funds. A coordinated, multifaceted, systematic program would: seal off each area; evacuate all nearby residents; find, remove and neutralize the toxic sources; search for victims; heal the wounded; repair the damaged infrastructure; restore the damaged neighborhoods to better-than-new condition; and award restitution to anyone even remotely touched by the toxins.
Tragically, human Ignorance and Want , even when caused by the failure of DC's most essential local institutions, are not classified life-threatening, dangerous, or contagious. Our preferred cures for urban blight do not call for focused obliteration but rather gradual alleviation by trickle-down procedures: flat tax for the wealthy; lower capital gains taxes for investors; downtown BIDs (which create jobs fencing the disadvantaged out); attracting more tourists; or building more museums, parks and monuments as the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) proposes.
And what might the superfund approach entail, particularly if the root problems are located on government-owned property, in government-owned housing, to persons primarily dependent on government-paid subsidies, caused by government failures?
o Setting up special temporary grade schools, trade schools, and adult education schools in high- risk housing areas, maybe using volunteers (see DC's Criminon effort );
o Re-housing kids and their parents in temporary "university-like" living facilities while providing both with compensatory education (see Urban Family Institute );
o Bringing in simple government-supported industries (similar to those being closed at Lorton) to provide income, basic skills and experience in the work place;
o Tearing down the worst public housing and offering title vouchers for the land to the tenants dispossessed therefrom--if they complete rehabilitation courses;
o Building new higher-income housing units and income-producing units on site-- using local labor-in-training where possible (like a Depression-era WPA project);
o Offering to re-locate the certified graduates to higher-income housing either on site or in better neighborhoods throughout the metro area;
o Providing higher education opportunities for qualifying graduates (viz., GI Bill);
o Giving tax breaks to firms aiding the rehab process (viz., enterprise zones);
o Involving retired people with important skills as teachers, mentors, family counselors, etc. (e.g., SBA and Peace Corps small business experts);
o Using active/reserve/guard military disaster-relief personnel to provide key "nation-building" elements (viz., discipline, sanitation, security, or self-esteem);
And so on. A superfund to "recycle" urban blight would be far less costly than one to reroute the highways and railroad tracks now spoiling the southern view of the capitol, and far more effective than trickle-down fall-out. And we could redeem national pride in our capital city--and ourselves--at the same time.
DAMN THE SNIPERS, GENERAL BECTON, FULL SPEED AHEAD
Welcome to the real war, General. You have met the enemy, and they is us. The inmates, if not fully in charge, are surely loose in this asylum. And only naturally, they are sniping at you for:
o not committing funds you didn't have;
Now you know the lay of the land, but your job is still to move forward. You are charged with producing employable, law-abiding adults despite the community's insistence on their inalienable rights to dysfunctional school management--and apparently to generations of wasted kids. As you trudge ahead, you should think about four broad strategies:
1. Your prime objective must surely be broader than patching up and papering over the extant physical and human infrastructure. It must soon be almost totally replaced with a leaner, meaner new system able to compete in the next century.
2. Your AOR (area of responsibility) is completely surrounded by successful suburban school systems. Don't be too parochial to call on them for guidance and assistance. They clearly know more about successful schools than the inmates.
3. You can only achieve your prime objective through joint operations with the DC agencies responsible for the input condition of the kids you're trying to educate. Under the command of the Control Board, downgrade the school and trustees' boards and form a Joint Task Force with DC's Housing, Welfare, Health Services, and Criminal Justice System agencies to fix the educational environment.
4. Morally, you should not stand down your operation until you have tried to mop up two generations of refugees produced in less than 30 years of misdirected DCPS "organizational culture". If past failed students were reclassified as toxic chemicals , you'd have a spill in your AOR of superfund proportions--and a clear charter to restore a healthy human environment at any cost.
Go for it, General.
MR. PRESIDENT, IT TAKES A NATION TO RAISE A CAPITAL
As the new year dawns, our nation's capital city is only 3 years, 36 months, or three legislative cycles away from completing its bicentennial celebration year-- as recently legislated by the Congress in HR 2607. The District of Columbia now stands naked under the scrutiny of its Control Board, temporarily stripped of the home rule powers it so badly abused, with new warts still surfacing beside old scars, and still divided on where its future lies and how to get there.
Old-school activists are still in the forefront demanding more hand-outs, criticizing their receivers, but refusing to accept accountability for their past, or responsibility for their future. A larger, more rational, new-school group exists as well, people who recognize that democracy and economic prosperity are a life's hard work, not entitlements. But few seem willing to step forward to challenge those who embarrass them. Until they do, self-esteem will remain beyond their grasp.
In fact, DC's future as a proud, first class American inner city will remain in doubt until it accepts responsibility for its predicament and establishes a sound framework for its revitalization. It badly needs a leader willing to cry out: "let's stop whining and blaming others, and get to work" ".
But even such a leader, given only inner city resources, cannot succeed in the 21st century goal of making DC the prosperous, emblematic core of America's most important metropolitan area. Raising up this metro area capital city requires the full and equal involvement of the federal government, the neighboring state governments, some new regional authorities, and a mature municipal government.
Major new legislation is required before DC can become what President Clinton claims to want: "a place that every single American can be truly proud of". Such landmark legislation will take time, and it is not too soon to start. The prospects for its enactment--perhaps conditional on improved local performance--can provide major incentives for a more rational cohort of local leaders to step forward.
Legislation is needed at federal, state, and local levels to accomplish three interrelated objectives; regionalization, rehabilitation, and representation:
o Regionalization is essential to level the playing field across the metropolitan area and provide equality of life and opportunity for all. The inner city cannot survive without legally sharing the area's economy, skills, workforce, and inescapable governmental costs--including the overwhelming federal and international presence. New era core cities must re-learn how to play a prominent and unique role in their region, but should not be constituted to arbitrarily fence in or out any particular social or economic sector.
o Rehabilitation is necessary for the complete fabric and structure of the inner city's public sector. This will require the assistance of the entire region, if not the whole country. DC must almost totally renovate its city government agencies and services; its school system; its physical infrastructure; and the overall ecology of its public/subsidized housing sector. The city should become as good as all Americans can make it, not just as good as it can be made by its remaining residents, some overly possessive and others quite cynical.
o Representation of the city's permanent residential population in our nation's political processes is fundamental. It must be made just as complete and just as effective as it is for all Americans--no more and no less. Washingtonians must be granted the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens, even if the special character of the nation's capital requires some unconventional solution. Surely Congress has just proved again it should not try to manage our national capital!
At his December 16th press conference, President Clinton was asked about criticism that he "hasn't done enough for the city" and for his thoughts about future actions. To NARPAC, Inc. his response was totally inadequate. While willing to be "pushed" further, and wanting to redeem DC folks' passionate love of their city, his sophistry that "in the end, a city is formed and made by the people who live in it and shape its life day in and day out" seems disingenuous. There is no way that DC's residents can cure themselves permanently without major and innovative cooperation from the Congress, the federal government, and the neighboring states whose capital metro area suburbs are clearly the major beneficiaries of proximity to the US seat of power.
Let's get with it, Mr. President: use your State of the Union message to acknowledge that it takes a nation to raise a capital , and that you intend to finish the process you have wisely chosen-- but only started --to restore pride in America's capital.
President Clinton was kind enough to answer NARPAC's January editorial as follows:
Thank you for sharing a copy of the open letter you submitted to the Washington Post . I appreciate your specific concerns regarding the District of Columbia, and I have shared your letter with my staff in the Office of Management and Budget.
THE FY98 DIE IS CAST FOR DC--THE START OF THE BEGINNING
No American inner city can be expected to function competitively with four school boards, seven mayors, and no cooperative suburbs. But several important impediments were removed in November that make possible the start of the rebirth of the District of Columbia, and that reinforce NARPAC, Inc's belief that major additional changes will be needed.
o First , the two least useful "school boards", Parents United and Judge Christian, have stopped showboating and moved off center stage. Now we can watch the appointed School officials try to undo years of tragically incompetent leadership from the largely inert elected school officials. New personnel, a new academic plan, and new standards to measure performance of principals, teachers, and students are in place, and it may be possible to start repairing the human and physical infrastructures simultaneously, as well as the "damaged goods" still on the K-to-12 production line.
But what can be done to repair the damage to perhaps 100,000 adults produced by the school system over the past two decades; what size and kind of school (and college) system is needed for DC's long-term future; and how can the attitude of the present and future students be fixed if their living conditions and parents' attitudes remain impoverished? These questions are still under the city rug. Furthermore, the possible (though probably secondary) impact of charter schools and school voucher programs remain undecided due to external forces at play in the political arena.
o Second , a "balanced budget" for the District has been approved for the first time in years, though much of the deficit from the past still persists. The inner city is rid of several (but by no means all) of its "state functions", and the appointed government (not yet completely in place) can begin to concentrate on developing a new human and physical infrastructure out of the wreckage left by two decades of incompetent elected leadership. But it will soon become evident that a balanced budget, per se, does not assure a viable, forward-looking, proud jurisdiction.
What constitutes "adequate" expenditures for this inner city; what constitutes "fair" revenue sources (including a continued federal payment for services provided); and what constitutes a "proper" contribution from the suburbs that live off their inner city? These fundamental questions have all been pushed under the Congressional rug. Instead, we have focused on the extraordinary machinations of an inept Council, a pathetic elected mayor, a surprisingly naive Control Board chairman, four diverse Congressional subcommittee chairmen often pulling in opposite directions, and a House Speaker who had to upset "normal" reconciliation procedures to obtain an "acceptable" House/Senate compromise appropriations bill. The detrimental role of these politicos, trying to provide meaningful state-level executive and administration leadership at some lowest common political denominator, while exposing conflicts of interest within their own metropolitan area, remains a matter of national embarrassment.
o Third , it is becoming increasingly obvious that the diseases of the inner city can easily infect the well-being of the neighboring jurisdictions. Whether it is increasing crime, declining schools, obsolescing transportation and utilities, increased welfare demands of the inner city's emigrants, or uncertain real estate values, the suburbs can ill afford to let the problems of their inner city go unattended. Sooner or later, they will inherit the consequences of such indifference. And the larger community of the United States may wonder why it must pay the freight for the free ride by America's wealthiest suburbanites.
o Lastly , there appears to be some awakening to the need for responsibility in the local democratic process, and in the use of checks and balances to keep the "tyranny of the minority" at bay. It must also be becoming apparent that it is not the lack of two senators and a fully-ordained representative that have caused the problems in the school system or in the municipal government. Nor is it the federal government's fault that local regulatory policies are driving business out of the city, or that DC's police force cannot contain the crime rate. And surely the problems have not been caused by too little government funding: more likely the opposite is true. Improving the democratic processes in--and around--DC is an essential element in any long-range solution to increasing pride in America's capital.
LOOKING FOR SCAPEGOATS
The more one reads (and retypes) the litany of deficiencies in the government of our nation's capital, the harder it is to maintain objective analysis and the more tempting to look for a more sinister explanation, involving some master conspiracy based on politics, class, or race:
o Are the privileged few in Northwest trying to do in the less fortunate in the rest of the city?
o Is the rest of the city seeking revenge on the privileged few?
o Is Congress trying to make the city fail?
o Is the city trying to prove it should be a state?
o Is the city doing its city functions well and trying to shirk it's state-like functions?
o Are some shadowy elements of the body politic prospering by exacerbating the plight of their less fortunate neighbors?
o Is the city on some sort of giant protest demonstration to prove that it needs two senators and a fully ordained representative?
o ...Or that it needs massive additional federal hand-outs?
o Are the suburbs trying to strangle their inner city?
o Is some external force still trying to quash home rule?
o Is this some foreign intrigue against the capital of this planet's leading "first-world" country?
No such convenient exculpatory excuse emerges. The nature of the DC government's problems are so pervasive rather than focused, so clearly coupled to incompetence rather than calculated intrigue, so debased rather than purposeful, that it is impossible to visualize any master hand. Rather, there appears to have been a steady, consuming failure of the democratically elected leadership (mayor, city council, school board and ANCs) to exercise its legal authorities; to recognize its civic responsibilities; to perform its given functions; to instill pride and competence in its work force; to exercise rudimentary financial controls and planning; to balance its operational and capital expenditures; to practice preventative maintenance on its infrastructure; or to provide elemental inner city services to its most needy constituents.
It appears that the once-proud administrative "community" of the DC government has simply degenerated through self-indulgence, indifference or ignorance into a bloated bureaucratic slum. It is a national disgrace to patriotic Americans nationwide, and a regional disgrace to the metropolitan area within which it festers. But most of all, it must be an overwhelming disgrace to the voters who have perpetuated it, the employees who have tolerated it, and to the underprivileged who have drawn their increasingly meager existence from it. The irony is that DC's government has been perpetuated by those who are dependent on it, but least well served by it. But the process of rectifying the out-of- control problems in this symbolic American inner city is now partially engaged. At last the American system is working--after its fashion: clearly, it is the DC system that is broken and become dysfunctional.
Three additional observations flow from these analyses:
o First, among the myriad problems that now beset the DC government and those who depend upon it, virtually none of them have been occasioned by--or could be magically eliminated by--the addition of two senators and a fully-ordained representative in Congress. The problems have grown within the democratically elected institutions controlled by the local government.
o Second, no evil spirits or constitutional rapists took democracy away from the District. Our mature American democracy is exercising its rights and obligations to keep a wayward local jurisdiction from destroying itself and those around it. The American system does not forever encourage, tolerate, or ignore political excesses and socio-economic distress. It is now at least partially engaged in the process of rectifying the out of control problems in this symbolic American inner city.
o Third, the process is far more awkward when the strongest, albeit less visible, tier of government in the American system is absent (i.e., the state governments--which originally transferred only limited authority upward to the federal government they designed, or downward to the counties and cities they control). The inability of our Congress to effectively perform state functions has clearly allowed DC's problems to grow needlessly into a national embarrassment.
This page was updated on March 5, 1999