- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said the District faces a $325 million budget deficit next fiscal year, the largest the city has seen since the mid-1990s.

Beginning Oct. 1, the start of fiscal 2003, the city will have to cut spending and use its large cash reserve and high bond rating to borrow, while doing everything it can to avoid layoffs, said Mr. Williams, who announced the impending deficit during a debate yesterday.

"It is irresponsible for any public official to say they will never lay off employees," Mr. Williams said, adding that fear-mongering about the budget would be equally reckless.

He added that the District will have a slight budget surplus at the end of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The budget occupied much of yesterday's debate among the six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor. The final debate before Tuesday's primary vote was held on the "Political Hour" program of WTOP Radio, which sponsored the debate with George Washington University.

The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, a write-in mayoral candidate and pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast, wasted no time in criticizing the mayor for the deficit, which he said could be much worse in years to come.

"This from a so-called finance wizard," said Mr. Wilson, "and over the next two years, the deficit could reach $500 million."

But the Rev. Douglas E. Moore, the front-runner among the four candidates whose names are on the ballot, said he "doesn't buy" any of Mr. Williams' revenue figures.

"My first order of business would be to ask the U.S. General Accounting Office to study the budget," said Mr. Moore, a former D.C. Council member.

Officials in the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer said there will be a deficit, but that budget figures being cited in debates lack certainty and are without supporting evidence.

The finance office is more than a week away from finishing its report on the city's revised revenue estimates, said officials, and that office will release its official report on the deficit on Sept. 17.

Despite the bleak fiscal news, Mr. Williams yesterday received endorsements from 10 Democratic members of the D.C. Council. He already had garnered support from the business community, labor unions, former mayors and council members.

Mr. Wilson has received the endorsement of former Mayor Marion Barry and council member Sandy Allen, Ward 8 Democrat.

Mr. Moore has received the endorsement of the Ward 8 Democrats — the only candidate to receive an endorsement from any of the city's eight ward Democratic committees.

Mr. Williams and Mr. Wilson are considered the front-runners in the primary contest, even though both are running write-in campaigns.The other candidates — James W. Clark, Osie L. Thorpe and Faith — have run in previous elections with little success.

Mr. Wilson yesterday said the Williams administration had not been able to "organize" residents to protest before Congress and demand voting rights.

Mr. Williams said the efforts of local residents are not enough. "We have to figure out a way to get a national presence on the issue to build a consensus," he said.

Meanwhile, some D.C. Republican leaders have begun urging members write in at-large council member Carol Schwartz's name on the Republican primary ballot.

If Mrs. Schwartz were to win her party's primary, she would have three days to accept the nomination.

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