- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

It's a major betrayal. It's the political flip-flop most associated with the previous administration. Now District residents are coming to expect it from Mayor Anthony Williams. It underscores why residents east of the Anacostia River don't believe that they will ever see improved municipal services or equitable distribution of resources and programs to their area.

During his mayoral campaign, hoping to demonstrate his resolve to serve an oft-overlooked area of the city, Mr. Williams promised to build a technology high school. The new facility would help bridge the digital divide and prepare public school students most of whom live in Wards 7 and 8 for jobs in the new economy. Further, the school could be a vehicle for linking communities east of the river with the revitalization of Northwest, enhancing the overall image of far Southeast, frequently marketed as the haven of urban pathologies.

But Channel 9's news anchor, Bruce Johnson, broke the story this week that the Williams administration, outgoing D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and the D.C. Council have decided east of the river can wait. The new technology high school is going to the mostly middle class Ward 5.

According to Mr. Johnson's report, verified by this writer, Ward 5 council member Vincent Orange began lobbying Mr. Williams soon after the election, engaging a local architectural firm and the nonprofit D.C. Link and Learn in his battle. The group prepared feasibility studies to bolster its claim that Mr. Orange's community was the better location. New York Avenue had been identified as the city's technology corridor, a new Metro station is being planned at New York and Florida avenues, and there is a vacant school three blocks away, touting 22 acres. Mr. Orange also got 10 council members to endorse a resolution calling for a tech high school at McKinley. Ward 7's Kevin Chavous and Ward 8's Sandra Allen were among the supporters; which begs the question: Whose interests are they advancing?

In her defense Ms. Allen says she wasn't voting to "take away" what had been promised to her constituency. She thought she was endorsing the creation of a second tech high school. Help us.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Ackerman turned all eyes from Southeast. She claimed building a new tech school there would force the closing of either Ballou Senior High or Anacostia Senior High both are operating at 50 percent capacity. McKinley became the sole contender. In a letter to the mayor dated April 13, 2000, she wrote "I believe that effective use of McKinley for multiple educational purposes may serve the needs of a larger segment [of] our community."

That sealed it, says Abdusalam Omer, the mayor's chief of staff: "Initially we resisted. The mayor said, 'Hell no.' " But then we looked at the rationale, and it made sense. Besides what can we do when here is the school system and the superintendent completely against it." As a compromise the administration offers crumbs to residents in Wards 8, 7 and 6: $5 million to enhance the current technology program at Ballou; the other $20 million of the $25 million in capital funds goes to the McKinley project.

This is the second time Mr. Williams has permitted other constituents to gain favor over those in far Southeast. He promised last year to conduct a study to examine the possibility of relocating the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to some undetermined site east of the river. Then, it was UDC President Julius Nimmons among others who resorted to racial, class and other unflattering invectives, frightening the mayor off his mission.

The "dissing" of residents east of the river isn't new. "[It] seems to be the place of broken promises," says Mr. Johnson, who has covered local politics for 24 years.

"In politics you do what is right," asserts Mr. Omer, admitting that the change is a "promise broken." Then, flippantly and dismissively, he asserts, "I think you are having a slow summer."

Of course Mr. Orange who also is pushing for an associate degree program, perhaps a satellite of UDC or Southeastern University, and a conference center at the McKinley site doesn't see it as betrayal. "In my view it was a bad proposal initially. It didn't make sense not to place our kids in a setting where the school could survive," he continues. "Here, we have the New York and Rhode Island avenue Metro stations; the kids are going to be close to the technology businesses and they could get jobs and internships." Which ignores the reality of the technology industry: You don't have to be on the scene to benefit.

"I think we should applaud the mayor; he was strong enough to modify his plan," says Mr. Orange, who is doing quite nicely keeping his campaign promises a new technology high school, and the relocation of the D.C. public access cable television offices in the old Brooks Mansion in Northeast.

"Clearly there needs to be development and opportunities east of the river," he continues. "We have to find ways of doing that."

To which folks east of the river ask: How many times have we heard that verbiage?

Jonetta Rose Barras' column for The Washington Times appears on Friday.

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