Building a Black Nation, One Post at a Time


December 2011

Fix Education and Everything Else Will Follow

After 16,000 new people moved into the District last spring, its population rose to more than 600,000. Buildings in some of the most impoverished parts of the city had major face lifts. The Smithsonian Institute, U Street, and Adams Morgan attract those hungry for culture and knowledge. The nightlife still entices Wizards and Redskins to this day. If you are a young professional who wants a promising future in a thriving city, the District is for you. At least, until you want to start a family of your own.

In a recent Washington Post article, Lisa Ann Sturtevant, a researcher with the George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis called education “an Achilles heel of the District’s growth.” Enrollment in DCPS has steadily decreased for almost 40 years, especially with the establishment of charter schools. The University of the District of Columbia, the District’s only public university, sees an annual graduation rate of 8%. Jimmy Carter was the only American president to enroll his child in a D.C. Public School. After he spoke against school vouchers for impoverished families, President Obama enrolled his daughters into Sidwell Friends; a private school in Northwest D.C. DCPS consists of the highest costing yet lowest performing schools in the country. For many, this is not a place to raise a child, especially in tough economic times when a quality education is even more important. For the few who graduate from a D.C. public school and leave the District, it’s hard to come back.

There is worry that the revolution that put the District on the cover of magazines is slowing down. Fortunately that is not the case. Mayor Gray’s budget for fiscal year 2012 sees a combined $73 million increase in the combined public and charter school budget. Equipping longtime residents and their children with the tools for success must take priority over attracting implants and increasing population growth. Mayor Gray must see that improving education comes hand in hand with solidifying population growth. A job at the new Wal- Mart sounds good, but a government job or a job in a private sector sounds even better. For District families who want to give their child best, UDC must truly be the best and most affordable alternative to any other school of their choice. Attracting new comers sounds nice, but what about securing a bright future for those who already live here?

 While it has not entirely bounced back from a population deficit propelled by increase of criminal activity in the 1980’s and 90’s and flight to the suburbs in the 90’s, city officials still tout this as a major achievement for a city that’s changing its image. There is a lot to celebrate, but the fact remains that people are RENTING and not BUYING. The District is forging a future for those who will have no affiliation with the District in the long term. Education has long been the answer to the complex question of how to make implants stay and improve the quality of life in the District. There is no greater incentive for an implant to raise a family here than to see the people who already live here leading great and prosperous lives beyond the confines of their neighborhood. To Mayor Gray – let’s make education the focus for 2012. Fix education and everything else will follow.


New Ethics Reform for an OLD Ethics Problem

Harry Thomas (D- Ward 5)

The biggest scandal out of the District these days  surrounding Councilmember Harry Thomas (D – Ward 5), has definitely been a distraction for Mayor Gray, who has struggled to overcome his own allegations of unethical behavior while uniting a divided city.  Initial reaction to Attorney General Irvin Nathan’s civil action suit against Thomas in early June was lukewarm. Thomas  has not resigned from office and Gray has tiptoed around the issue.

However, the local media and angered community members spoke out against Thomas’ misuse of city funds until there was no choice left but to address the issue head on. The federal raid on Thomas’ Northeast home last Friday and the D.C. Council’s move to enact ethics reform marks a new chapter in the Thomas ethics fiasco.

On Monday evening, the Ethics Panel met without Thomas to work on what would become the final product.  The bill, as presented by Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D – Ward 4), has a few parts that stand out:

  •  extending the terms for the members of the new Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to six years
  • reserving one of three seats for a minority member
  • lowering the signature requirement to place the recall of an at-large council member
  • disqualifying mayors and council members convicted of felony offenses while in office

As of now, there are doubts as to whether the bill will have enough support to leave the panel and go to full council, even as the call for ethics reform grows louder in the District.  The core argument of those against it is that it does not cast a wide enough net for elected officials who engage in unethical activity that is often overlooked – accepting donations from corporate sponsors and spending constituent service money on sports tickets.

Sam’s Take

While this argument is acceptable, one must wonder if these voices truly understand what opportunity is in front of them right now. Government corruption goes hand in hand with the District of Columbia for many reasons, among them a man whom all are very familiar with: Marion Barry.  Currently Ward 8 councilmember and known to residents of the District as ‘Mayor for Life,” the city has seen some of its darkest times under his leadership despite his rapport with generations of Washingtonians.

Marion Barry (D - Ward 8)

Let’s not overlook a $285 million deficit in his first term in the late 1970’s and 1980’s as well as the embezzlement among members of his administration, Employment Services Director Ivanhoe Donaldson included. The District suffered in the wake of the crack epidemic under his watch.  An avid cocaine and alcohol addict, Barry himself was a victim of the epidemic which resulted in a six month prison sentence. In the 1990’s, the District’s budget problem spiraled out of the control to the point that the newly created District of Columbia Financial Control Board took over the city’s day-to -day spending and fiances. Even as a council member, Barry continues to display questionable ethical behavior among them, backing his son, Christopher Barry, to replace him after serving two more years. Young Barry, 31,  has also had run-ins with the law including charges for possession of marijuana and PCP and assaulting a police officer.

Mayor Vince Gray can be just a large a local figure as Marion Barry, if not bigger. His roots are east of the river. He has

Mayor Vince Gray

the ability to talk to residents in the poorest parts of the cities as well as the corporate big wigs and government officials. His promise to bridge the gap and unite the city is in jeopardy as long as there are no mechanisms in place to check unethical behavior in the District. Scandal after scandal threaten to become big distractions that take away from the business of the people. This bill is the first step in bringing accountability back into the District. Increasing confidence in public officials is  the first step in bringing the city together and creating opportunities for the underclass in the midst of the District’s economic boom.

While the Council has taken steps to prevent future ethics violations, the creation of an independent ethics committee among them, more must be done to create a culture of accountability in the District of Columbia.  Doing that takes digging deep within the depths of the problem to find its source. The current bill might not be what all people want but it is the FIRST step. Solving the problem in increments is the only way. Waiting until everything in the bill is ‘perfect’ only means that it may never come to be totally perfect. Not that the system is perfect now anyway.

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