- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2001

Police rescued Mayor Williams from nasty jams twice this week. There the mayor was Wednesday evening, trying to explain the harsh realities of the city's health-care crises, when police had to protect him from being ambushed by a den of hecklers. Wednesday night's was a nasty scene and more than a bit embarrassing considering it occurred inside a house of worship. Yet it came as no surprise.

"Over the years," the mayor told about 500 folks gathered inside Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia, "we've made a lot of mistakes when it comes to D.C. General. The only viable proposal is the one we're presenting to you today. You need to listen to real facts, not rhetoric." What the mayor said, as he has tried to say for many months, is the doors to the city's public hospital would shut entirely unless alternative management plans are in place and unless the unhealthy trends gripping the city are reversed. The mayor did the right thing by holding his meeting in Southeast, and he said the right things, too.

But the angry crowd had made up their minds long before the Rev. Willie Wilson's church agreed to open its doors to the mayor. The rhetoric about genocide, racism, Nazism, bloodied hands and constitutional rights had already overwhelmed the facts. By the time the mayor entered the lion's den, the New Black Panther Party had had its say, followers of the radical Lyndon Larouche had had theirs, and still other baiters, including bumptious politicians on the D.C. Council, had decried the mayor's plan as an assault on the poor and sick.

It's all blasphemy, though, because the District really does face two health-care crises. While the city's public hospital has been a major fiscal concern for two decades, many residents are "walking around ready to drop dead," Director of Health Ivan Walks said.

Indeed, the District, a city of barely 550,000 residents, is a city of many sick people troubled by such chronic illnesses as diabetes, heart disease, nerve disorders, cancers, tuberculosis and obesity, as well as high rates of infant mortality, HIV infection and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, influenza and pneumonia, hepatitis, alcoholism, heroin, methadone and crack cocaine abuse, teen pregnancy, and large numbers of small children suffering with asthma and constant ear infections and substance abusers suffering from arthritis and bursitis and gout. Moreover, two in five residents is either uninsured or underinsured, which means they mistakenly think their primary care physician is D.C. General Hospital.

Yet, the hecklers, a mixed breed of knowns and unknowns, refuse to acknowledge these troubling issues and continue to distract, as they also did Thursday night during the mayor's State of the District address in the Lincoln Theatre. Rude as all get out, they booed, hissed and disrupted Mr. Williams throughout his well-spoken remarks. One malcontent repeatedly screamed he "just couldn't take it anymore" until uniformed officers, including Police Chief Chuck Ramsey, carted him away.

The mayor, whose keen sense of timing proves he was home-schooled on how to disarm critics without really trying, remained unbowed about his ambitious health-care proposals, which expand health insurance for the needy and privatize inpatient services. "I know there is disagreement on this issue and there should be in a democracy," the mayor said. "But you didn't elect me just for my dazzling personality. No, you elected me because you knew I'd confront our most challenging problems head on, make the tough choices, and do the right thing. That's what I've always done for this city, and that's what I intend to do. We've had two years to debate this, and every day we argue is another that poor residents and people of color suffer and die at the hands of the status quo. They deserve more. It's time to stop debating. It's time to get it done."

The ovations proved that at leads the mayor might now have D.C. citizens pondering an all-important question: Which is more important? Saving a sick hospital, or healing sick people?

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