- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2000

You stroll into Room 2154 at the Rayburn Building. The place is packed; you're wowed by the attention the District's Child and Family Services (CFS) agency and its court-appointed receiver, Ernestine Jones, are getting. Then you realize that most of the people plopped in the straight-back chairs are bureaucrats, there to shuffle papers, pass answers and generally ensure their bosses' behinds are covered; others are contractors with similar, vested interests. For far too many people on the scene, it's mostly about money a paycheck until retirement kicks in, or a way to ratchet up visibility and move a notch higher on the food chain. The idealist in you wants to believe otherwise; but every time it's the cynic that brings reality to the battlefield.

You missed the tongue-lashing given to Mrs. Jones by House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Rep. Thomas Davis, Virginia Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on the District, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Their written statements offer a flavor. You can't help wondering what happened when Mr. Davis said, "I believe it is a miracle every time this city makes it 24 hours without the death of a child," or when Mrs. Norton asserted that, even after the death of 23-month-old Briana Blackmond, she and the other congressional representatives are "unaware of any policy or operational changes that would prevent a similar loss of life or injuries to children."

While you arrived too late to enjoy these displays of righteous indignation, nothing the receiver says during her testimony or during the question-and-answer segment causes you to dispute congressional conclusions: CFS is a mess. What's worse, Mrs. Jones is trapped in bureaucratese the language of those caught in the paper cycle so long, they have forgotten that humans, in this case young lives, are attached to those numbers and nebulously described court orders and program outcomes. Anyone listening would have to ask, "What crisis?" The sense of urgency in the CFS has been AWOL for five years. You don't blame Mrs. Jones for the first three years of apathy and stagnation, but hang the last two around her neck and parade her on the sidewalk. Adults with callous and insufficient regard for the welfare of children should be put on exhibition. Maybe they should be tried for criminal negligence and misuse of the public's trust.

You and others are heavy into a private rant session fueled by handwritten notes passed across the table, when suddenly the buzzer signals that members have to vote. Dan Burton, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, the parent body for the subcommittee, is the first to walk out. Then Mr. Davis announces he is leaving and passes the gavel to Rep. Connie Morella, Maryland Republican.

It hits you. Mrs. Norton isn't moving. She can't vote. Reality smacks you in the eye like an abusive husband. Have mercy. Here are representatives from Virginia, Maryland, California and God-knows-where-else, sitting around telling District residents and a federal court-appointed receiver what to do about CFS. But the city, through your representative, Delegate Norton, can't say diddle about what happens in those states or even the rest of the country. OK, she can say whatever she wants no one stops the infamous "wild woman." But what's the difference between Mrs. Norton and the others? She is just as intelligent, politically savvy and government-operations smart. Why is she relegated to the voting sideline? The insult is enough to send you through the roof. No wonder the D.C. Democracy Seven Karen A. Szulgit, Martin Thomas, Steve Donkin, Debby Hanrahan, Bette Hoover, Tanya Snyder and Queen Mother Shema Yah decided to disrupt congressional activities that day; each member of the group faces a $500 fine and/or six months in jail. The group's jury trial starts today.

Unlike WAMU's political commentator Mark Plotkin, you don't find the road to statehood in every argument. And it doesn't bother you that Congress acts as the state legislature for the city's local government. But this thing about nonvoting congressional representation is an oxymoron that slays you. A half million people, who pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year ought to have a voice, a voting member in the House and the Senate like the rest of the country. Why isn't anyone else in the audience as perturbed as you, you wonder? Which is a dumb question. Why don't District residents vote in local elections? Why haven't they converged in huge numbers on Congress, demanding voting representation? Why are they so passive? What would have happened to the civil rights movement if its leaders simply petitioned the government through the courts and then went home to watch "Good Times"?

You try to calm yourself. You're not here for voting rights, you're here for children's rights and safety. Just as you're are getting refocused, Mrs. Morella says she has to go; it's not usual protocol to pass the gavel to a minority member, she says. Mrs. Norton smiles, starts to say something flippant, and then restrains herself. Too bad; this is one time you'd welcome the wild woman. You're thinking, maybe you should make it Democracy Eight. Where is number nine?

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