- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jobs, jobs, jobs

No one disputes that D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. favors jobs for city residents.

“The city is in desperate need of good jobs,” his office said in a December press release about a proposal to build a Wal-Mart in his Ward 5 district.

So it struck us as odd last week when Mr. Thomas — who in 2007 introduced the Jobs for D.C. Residents Amendment Act that required that D.C. residents receive increased preferences for employment in the city government — cited legal precedent to interpret the District’s Human Rights Act as protecting out-of-state residents from employment discrimination in city jobs.

The issue arose during last week’s hearings on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s personnel practices, when council member David A. Catania raised questions about whether it would be beneficial to hire as a community-outreach specialist a person who had actually lived in a D.C. community.

But Mr. Thomas, in defending one of the administration’s excepted-service hires, took issue. He quotes the act and insisted it was illegal for the city to discriminate against out-of-town workers.

We hope you’re listening, Maryland and Virginia. You, too, Wal-Mart.

Pingpong protest

A pack of vocal protesters barged into the D.C. Council chamber Tuesday with a gift for Ward 4 Democrat Muriel Bowser.

Walking straight to the dais while the council was in session, they presented Ms. Bowser with a bag of pale yellow pingpong balls with hand-drawn “frowny faces,” a tongue-in-cheek play on the Wal-Mart logo, to voice their opposition to a plan that would bring the big-box store to a site at Georgia and Missouri avenues in Northwest.

The sudden disruption caused several council members to ask them to stop, as the pingpong balls scattered along the chamber floor. Security guards escorted the group out of the John A. Wilson Building.

The dozen or so protesters identified themselves as Ward 4 residents who think Ms. Bowser considers the Wal-Mart plan “a laughing matter.”

One of them, Brenda Speaks, said the plan “would totally destroy the fabric of the neighborhood.” Another protester said the intersection near the proposed Wal-Mart site is already fraught with problems and cannot handle delivery trucks and increased volume.

After the hearing, Ms. Bowser said she represented the entire ward and not several attention-seeking residents. She said people have the right to protest, but they should follow the rules instead of interrupting a legislative body. Their actions, she said, may highlight the need for tighter security at council meetings.

“I thought it was a little bizarre,” she said.

First with the facts

D.C. Council member Jim Graham was vocal Wednesday about his concerns with human services cuts in D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s proposed $9.6 billion spending plan.

The Ward 1 Democrat decried planned cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding and $1.5 million in savings that would be achieved by suspending the Interim Disability Assistance Program that provides temporary assistance to those unable to work because of disability.

He was one of a majority of council members who either objected to Mr. Gray’s plans for tax increases or criticized his proposed service cuts.

But one thing about the budget that Mr. Graham liked: The mayor, himself the former chairman of the council, hadn’t leaked the budget to reporters before sharing it with legislators.

“This is the first budget I’ve seen before the media,” he said. “It’s refreshing to not be reading about the budget in the morning paper or on the TV.”

Disposable income

Facing a government shutdown Friday afternoon, Sen. Mark R. Warner told reporters that in the event of the closure, he would have forgone his $174,000 annual congressional salary.

He wasn’t the only one to make such a statement. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton pledged she would donate her salary to nonprofit organizations working for D.C. voting rights and statehood.

While we applaud the symbolism in Mr. Warner’s proposed sacrifice, we question whether withholding his pay would have provided any incentive for him to work with his colleagues toward a compromise.

After all, the Virginia Democrat has a personal fortune estimated to be about $200 million. So by our count, the government would have had to be shut down for 1,149 years before he really needed the paycheck.

Tom Howell Jr., Meredith Somers and Paige Winfield Cunningham contributed to this report

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