- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Mayor Williams gave his first State of the District address Monday night at Ballou High School. It was, in many ways, inspirational. Calling his proposed FY 2001 budget an "educational budget," the mayor promised to put families first by pushing for additional money for public and charter school programs and facilities, safer streets, urban renewal, responsible social service programs and more and better out-of-school programs. As the mayor said, "Wages are up, crime is way down, housing sales are up, budgets are balanced and (the) bond rating is back up."
Indeed, the state of the District is far better than it was a decade ago, when deficits, the status quo, poor schools and alarming crime rates pushed blacks, middle-class taxpayers and big business into the suburbs.
Take finances. In 1995, when Congress established the control board to take over the city's disastrous affairs, the District faced a $722 million deficit, couldn't meet its payroll and procurement obligations and was persona non grata on Wall Street. Today, the city not only has a considerably easy go on Wall Street, but is paying its bills and paying its bills on time. Much of the credit for achieving those arduous accomplishments is due Mr. Williams, who was chief financial officer at the time, the D.C. Council, which tossed its rubber stamp out of city hall, and the much-maligned control board, which Congress granted considerable power. Together they stared down the deficit and forced important reforms on a reluctant D.C. bureaucracy. But, in haste during those early days of government reform, the city's elected leadership lost sight of an important element people.
Remember, it was not long ago that jobs were the administration's priority. For example, the D.C. government grew from about 41,000 workers in 1985 to more than 47,000 in 1989. By the end of that fiscal year, deficit projections were so fluid that the only thing stakeholders could agree on was that it would be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Today, the results are broken families, high poverty and unemployment rates and pocket after pocket of shameful neighborhoods. What lies east of the Anacostia River, where many of the city's poorest neighborhoods are situated, is simply disgraceful. Homelessness, abuse and neglect cases are rising. Violence against and by youths is overwhelming and the federal courts, over which the District has no control, are making those bad circumstances worse by driving not only policies but the budget as well. At the same time, while infant mortality rates decline, teen pregnancies remain a big problem as do dropout rates, meaningful recreation programs and juvenile crime.
To that end, Mr. Williams is right on target by enlisting the business community and clergy and other faith-based groups to help make the District "a great regional economy rather than the empty center of an expanding ring." He is encouraging those influential groups to lay on hands, so to speak, to heal the social ills plaguing families. The mayor pledged to build new recreation and computer learning centers, inject a sense of urgency in school reform, revitalize poor neighborhoods with major economic developments and continue to reform the bureaucracy.
At this juncture, as the city moves toward prosperity, embraces tax cuts and reckons with failed family-oriented issues, it seems Mr. Williams just may be on to something, something beyond government control. Because the simple truth is government, in and of itself, cannot "fix" the aforementioned pathologies. Government can help, but it takes the good will of District citizens to mend the social fabric.

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