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Gray to ask U.S. for cash to help cover Occupy costs

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D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray says he will ask the federal government to reimburse the District for police costs associated with the Occupy movement.

The city has incurred about $1.6 million in expenses related to Occupy protesters encamped at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza since October, Mr. Gray said.

As the seat of the federal government, the District is routinely reimbursed for costs it incurs by hosting protests, marches and rallies on a range of national issues. But Mr. Gray said city-borne costs are mounting from protesters based at the pair of sites controlled by the National Park Service.

"So we're actually going to take steps to say, 'Listen, federal government, we want to be a good partner in all this, but you guys are the ones who made the decision to do this at these two sites. We need to be reimbursed for our costs because this is not something over which we have any control,' " Mr. Gray said Thursday in an interview on NewsChannel 8.

The comments come less than a week after Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, sent a letter on Dec. 12 to the Department of the Interior asking why the Occupy DC protest has been allowed to continue.

The movement began on Wall Street in New York City and spread to cities across the country, meaning it is not a D.C.-specific event, such as the protests that accompany the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Federal control of the encampments' land and permits is key, Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro said.

Other cities with Occupy protesters "were able to deal with this," he said. "We can't deal with this. There is zero we can do."

Mr. Ribeiro declined to say whether the mayor would try to evict the protesters if they occupied city land instead, but he reiterated that the federal government should provide financial relief because of their authority over the situation.

Mr. Gray noted "increasing frustration" with the Occupy movement because there has been no articulation "of exactly what the issues are and exactly what it is the people want as an outcome."

The Metropolitan Police Department and U.S. Park Police have thus far taken a relatively hands-off approach to the occupiers, who have taken to the streets to denounce corporate greed. So far, the city has not engaged in the evictions and crackdowns taken against camps in other cities, citing the right to exercise free speech in the nation's capital.

Last month, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier said her department may change its tactics because protests had become "increasingly confrontational and violent," notably during an incident in which protesters were struck by a car outside an event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in early November.

Police made arrests after protesters entered the vacant Franklin School building in Northwest on Nov. 19 and when occupiers built an unlawful wooden-frame shelter in McPherson Square on Dec. 4. Sixty-two protesters also were arrested on Dec. 7, after they blocked a busy downtown intersection.

Despite growing unrest with the movement, Mr. Gray praised four Occupy-linked protesters who are using a hunger strike to highlight the District's lack of autonomy from Congress.

Rep. Keith Ellison, Minnesota Democrat, said on the House floor on Thursday he would deny himself food and water for 24 hours in solidarity with the strikers. He addressed his colleagues as part of a segment of time allotted to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to discuss the District's limited autonomy.

Their comments come at an eventful crossroads for District-congressional relations, as lawmakers on Capitol Hill tried to avoid a government shutdown that could negatively impact day-to-day activity in the city.

Mr. Issa said he is committed to forging a bill that gives the District more autonomy over its own spending, allowing it to avoid the tumult tied to wrangling over federal appropriations. D.C. officials rejected an initial proposal by Mr. Issa last month, citing a provision that makes permanent a ban on the city from using public dollars to fund abortions.

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