- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2003

2003 was a fairly good year for Washington — despite the pickpockets in City Hall and school-system headquarters.

In areas such as health care, public safety and economic development, the Williams administration and the D.C. Council can pat themselves on the back for policies and legislative action that bolstered economic development and strengthened some aspects of public safety. On the economic development front, for example, the construction of new housing, office space and retail shops means more than job opportunities for veterans and the unemployed. It also means the nation’s capital now ranks No. 1 for national and foreign real estate investment.

In the health-care arena, Mayor Tony Williams and D.C. Council got mostly negative results. The rates for teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, STDs and HIV/AIDS, and patients undiagnosed with cancer, diabetes, heart ailments and other chronic diseases remain at frightening levels. On the positive side, the District’s child-immunization program is highly effective, since school officials threaten to suspend any student whose shots and shot records are not up to date. Also, the city had one of the lowest numbers of uninsured people per capita. Meanwhile, the mayor and the council are working with Howard University to open another privately run hospital — mostly to placate the critics who wanted D.C. General Hospital to remain precisely as it was — a costly safety net. At some point next year, officials must put into practice health policies that help prevent chronic illnesses and get people into the habit of visiting their doctors instead of a hospital emergency room —lest the “old” D.C. General become the “new” Howard hospital.

We would have given the mayor an A- for 2003 but for a pivotal ssue: public education. From deficit spending and bloated payrolls to declining test scores and grade tampering, school officials gave D.C. politicians a plethora of reasons to chatter endlessly about fixing the system. Yet it was the mayor who perfectly (and very publicly) positioned himself from the start of 2003. “I am going to keep fighting to fix our schools,” he stated in his inaugural speech. Indeed, the mayor urged parents and other individuals to become more involved in education, supported vouchers and pushed for more oversight. Several D.C. lawmakers appear to be as determined as the mayor to shake things up. But in recent weeks, the mayor has been quiet amid new data that underscores what all is wrong with D.C. Public Schools.

We give the mayor a B- and hope that he does in 2004 what he promised to do in 2003: Stand up with conviction and “keep fighting” on behalf of D.C. youths.

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