- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, at a national meeting of municipal leaders downtown yesterday, said government can’t solve all the problems facing American cities.

Mr. Williams’ remarks came one day after 13-year-old Michael Swann of Southeast became the District’s 21st juvenile killed this year.

“The government cannot, in and of itself, solve this problem, and we’re lying if we say it can,” Mr. Williams said after a panel discussion hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC) at the City Museum in Northwest. “It cannot stand in the place of families and communities.”

Mr. Williams, first vice president of the NLC, said faith-based organizations are crucial to fighting the “negative group psychology” of “reckless abandonment” that he said plagues many youths, and that the federal government needs to increase funding for these groups.

The focus of the NLC event was the “American Dream.” Two-thirds of Americans think it is becoming harder to achieve, many minorities don’t think it is achievable, and a rising number of Americans think government is an obstacle to their pursuit of the American Dream, instead of a help, according to a recent national NLC survey.

The survey of more than 1,000 respondents found that 45 percent of Americans think the government hinders financial stability and freedom. That is an increase of 11 percent since 2001, when 34 percent said government is a hindrance.

In 2001, 54 percent of respondents said the government helps achieve the American Dream, compared with 41 percent this year.

“There is an overall mistrust of government right now … this sense that government is getting in our way,” said Karen Anderson, past president of NLC and the mayor of Minnetonka, Minn., a city of 51,000 located 13 miles west of Minneapolis.

Others who participated in the panel discussion included NLC President Charles Lyons, a selectman from Arlington, Mass.; Don Plusquellic, mayor of Akron, Ohio and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors; and Alex Padilla, Los Angeles City Council president.

Mrs. Anderson and other officials said the main reason for public distrust is a lack of cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal governments. The lack of cooperation produces a maze of red tape instead of a solution to residents’ problems, she said.

“There’s a lot of buck-passing,” she said.

Mrs. Anderson, a Republican, said raising taxes is still necessary to provide services. In Minnetonka, officials are raising taxes by 4.9 percent next year. But, she said, “It is our responsibility to … provide the environment to achieve, and then get out of the way.”

The American Dream was defined by study respondents as financial security and living in freedom. Those ages 18 to 29 emphasized freedom, while those 30 and over emphasized financial security.

Fifty-three percent of blacks said they are not living the American Dream; 36 percent of Hispanics and 32 percent of whites have the same view.

The District’s population is 60 percent black, and many youths are at risk. Even as homicides in the city have decreased this year, the number of slain juveniles has nearly doubled to 21, up from 12 last year.

Michael’s slaying came two days after 16-year-old Ashley F. Walker of Southeast was found fatally shot in a stolen car.

D.C. police said yesterday that Pernell P. Wood, 20, of the 2500 block of Pomeroy Road SE, surrendered and was charged with second-degree murder in Michael’s slaying. Police said they think Mr. Wood was negligently handling a gun in his girlfriend’s apartment on Douglas Place SE when it went off. The bullet went through a wall and struck Michael.

Several panel participants also noted that the war on terror and the focus on homeland security, while necessary, has diverted significant attention and resources away from important domestic issues, like job creation, education and crime, particularly gang- and drug-related crime.

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