- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, saying increased government surveillance is a reality of the post-September 11 world, told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday that he thinks the District needs to follow the lead of cities such London and Sydney, Australia, and expand its camera system.
"We are in a new … really dangerous world now, and we have to maintain a higher level of security," Mr. Williams said while downplaying concerns of civil libertarians who have questioned whether the proposed expansion of government surveillance is seriously impinges on constitutional rights. "There will be trade-offs," Mr. Williams said.
The mayor said he backs the Metropolitan Police Department's plan to link hundreds of cameras in the city to a central command center, a plan that critics have denounced as nothing more than government spying on law-abiding American citizens. The outcry over the city's plan has caught the attention of Congress, where Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, plans to hold a hearing March 22.
Mr. Williams said concerns about privacy and abuse can be addressed, and he predicted that Washington eventually will have a surveillance system comparable to those in place in England, where the government operates more than 2 million surveillance cameras in airports, train stations, streets, neighborhoods and parks.
Washington also can learn, he said, from Sydney, Australia, where the information gathered by surveillance cameras is controlled by citizens groups, not police departments.
"In Sydney, they identify the crime hot spots, the residents are notified, and signs go up to let people know they are being watched," Mr. Williams said.
Surveillance is just another part of modern life, the mayor said. "Every time we go to the ATM, airport, banks and major office buildings, you are on camera," he said.
Mr. Williams, who is so far unopposed in his bid for re-election in November, has been touting his accomplishments as mayor in forums around the city, most recently during his annual State of the District speech Tuesday.
He told editors and reporters at The Times that the city has turned around during his tenure.
"It's a good time in the District frankly, under my leadership. The situation in the city is very strong, and we have much more to come," Mr. Williams said.
He said the city is well-positioned to weather the current budget crisis, a crisis that finds the D.C. government facing a shortfall of almost $200 million in the current fiscal year. Critics of the mayor blame the red ink on overspending by the mayor's department heads.
Mr. Williams said the problems can be traced to spending on special education and mental health programs and mismanagement of Medicaid services. The management problems can be solved, but it will take time, he said. That is why, for now, the costs for special education and mental health are necessary and will have to be paid, he said.
"I am asking for money for schools, mental health, and child and family services," Mr. Williams said.
D.C. Council members, meanwhile, have said they expect the mayor to rein in spending on the current budget and in the 2003 budget, which is due to be presented to the council in 11 days.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, recently told The Times the mayor's plan is to increase funding for agencies by what they overspent. He said the mayor would use all $50 million of the tobacco settlement, stop the $98 million tax relief and cut municipal services by $32 million.
"What we want to do is borrow from the tobacco fund for health programs, which is what the money is for anyway," Mr. Williams said.
He said schools already are being asked to cut spending by $35 million.
"Any more than that," Mr. Williams said, "would take us back to the days of furloughs, schools not opening on time and interrupting the education of the District's children."
The mayor also defended his proposal to postpone tax cuts included in the Tax Parity Act of 1999, an idea the council rejected this week. The act rolls back income-tax rates over five years. The council voted Wednesday to maintain the scheduled income-tax cut of 8.7 percent.
Mr. Williams said council members and residents should be patient.
"When I talk to residents, what I hear is, 'Pick up my trash, cut crime on the streets, slow traffic and take care of my children,'" Mr. Williams said. "No one has asked me to cut taxes."
Mr. Williams said he still thinks tax cuts are good for the city.
"They stimulate the economy, attract new residents and development," he said. "All I am saying is we should wait until we can afford it."
If the school district can't bring spending under control, he said he will create a task force to take over the system, cut costs and fix the District's lawsuit-plagued special-education program. The creation of more charter schools, he said, would allow the school district to find the savings needed to fix other services, such as special education. And the mayor said he will be making efforts to attract schools to the District with expertise in special education services.


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