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Gray wants Occupy D.C. out of McPherson Square

- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is pressuring federal park officials to address the Occupy D.C. encampment in McPherson Square, suggesting protesters should "at a minimum" be consolidated with an anti-war camp on Freedom Plaza "for elimination of the rat infestation, clean up and restoration" of the downtown park.

Mr. Gray sent a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on Thursday that outlines health and winter-related concerns about the camp that took root in early October, part of a nationwide effort to highlight the so-called "99 percent" of Americans who feel marginalized by government policies and business practices.

The missive comes nearly one month after Mr. Gray, Democrat, asked the National Park Service to reimburse the District for costs associated with the encampments, because both are on federally controlled land.

D.C. Department of Health Director Mohammad Akhter inspected both camps and discovered that conditions, especially at McPherson Square, "are particularly a threat to the health and safety of both protestors and District residents," Mr. Gray said in his letter.

Mr. Gray's primary concerns include rats, food-borne illness, the improper disposal of human waste, the risk of hypothermia in the dead of winter and carbon monoxide poisoning from makeshift heaters at the camp.
He also noted child cruelty charges filed on Wednesday against a man who allegedly left his infant alone in a tent at the McPherson camp.

House Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, echoed Mr. Gray's concerns in a statement late Thursday, accusing the park service of being "more interested in making excuses than protecting the public."

Mr. Issa, chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the park service has until Jan. 24 to respond to his own inquiries about the camp.

It remains to be seen if the Occupy D.C. camp will face a mass eviction —New York City officials swept out Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in November, citing health concerns — and consolidation with other demonstrators in the city.

Protesters calling themselves October 2011 Stop the Machine convened at Freedom Plaza — a large, stone-surfaced space across the street from city hall on Pennsylvania Avenue — around the time the Occupy DC movement arrived in McPherson Square. If the mayor has his way, they may be joined by the occupiers.

"Freedom Plaza is the more organized site between the two locations, with a greater attempt being made to adhere to good sanitary practices with waste disposal and food preparation," Mr. Gray told D.C. agencies in a memo. "McPherson Square is less organized."

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