- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Acknowledging the “natural nexus between education, economic development and jobs,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Monday unveiled his vision of short- and long-term economic development prospects, which brings to mind the parables and lessons in Mark.

With the Anacostia River rolling in the background, the mayor announced that several major initiatives are on the drawing board to the east, where, in Ward 8, poverty, joblessness, crime and chronic illness are mainstays and, increasingly, families of little faith are losing hope in receiving a hand up.

Mr. Gray’s agenda includes plans to bring big-box retailers and small businesses to barren commercial areas in Wards 5, 6 and 7 as well as huge projects, including new headquarters for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Coast Guard and thousands of affordable housing units, creating jobs for tens of thousands of public and private employees.

Now comes the key question: Who’s in the boat with the mayor as it begins to cross to the other side of the Anacostia?

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, chairman of the powerful Committee on Finance and Revenue, didn’t attend the mayor’s announcement.

Phil Mendelson, a Gray ally who oversees public safety, didn’t attend either.

Michael A. Brown, chairman of the Housing and Workforce Development Committee and, like Mr. Evans, a member of the Committee on Economic Development, also was absent.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown was there, though, and that’s important to note, too, because he chairs the Committee on Economic Development, the panel chiefly responsible for overseeing every aspect of stakeholders’ quality of life - from international and business affairs to tourism and cultural policies and residential and commercial real estate.

A handful of other lawmakers, including Marion “It’s about time” Barry, are onboard, mostly because as ward bosses they stand to gain voter content if Mr. Gray delivers on his promise to tie economic development to jobs to poor, unemployed and underemployed residents.

But the devil, so to speak, will be in the detailed questions lawmakers should pose in the coming weeks and months as contractors line up.

How, for example, will the D.C. government ensure that immigrants working for contractors and new businesses are legally documented by E-Verify, the easy-to-use Internet-based system?

Also, the mayor said the reconstituted Workforce Investment Council will play a “vital role” by providing “robust and stringent oversight of local job-training programs.”

Isn’t it about time, with the city’s year-over-year unemployment rates reflecting the failure of the Adrian M. Fenty administration and the D.C. Council, to hold job trainers accountable?

Now, keep in mind that Mr. Gray laid out his agenda as City Hall tries to conduct business under several political storm clouds and as a handful of lawmakers, including Michael Brown, Mr. Barry and Mr. Evans and council members Yvette Alexander and Muriel Bowser gear up for re-election.

Are they already on board with the mayor?

Will they rock the boat?

Or will they ride out the wind?

At first blush, Mr. Gray’s agenda has the potential to become the defining chapter of his embattled administration if the council understands the message.

Thanks, for now

David A. Catania, chairman of the Committee on Health, said Monday that he has scheduled three public meetings to “further refine” his South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2011.

The ill-conceived and morally bankrupt legislation mandates school-based mental health evaluations and assumes that all children are mentally ill.

Perhaps Mr. Catania and supporters of his legislation should be directed to read (or reread) the Gospel of Mark.

*Deborah Simmons can be reached dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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