THERE'S AT LEAST ONE elected official from the District of Columbia in touch enough to recognize why the package of bills designed to rescue that city hasn't prompted widespread citizen protest.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's non-voting congressional representative, offered this explanation of the plan, according to the Washington Post: "It is very hard to see this bill as anything but a win for the District. I am convinced in any case that the District government cannot be reformed from the inside out."
Until now, the five-member presidentially appointed financial BTC control board has attempted to work through the duly elected mayor of D.C. But under legislation passed this week by Congress, the volume on urgency has been turned up. The board has essentially been put in charge of most of the city government for at least four years. That represents a sharp curtailment of the limited home-rule powers the city gained in 1973 -- at the expense, most notably, of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, who fumed about democracy "raped." His message has been echoed by others who allege Ms. Norton's acceptance of the plan constitutes some sort of abandonment of her long-standing support for the rights of D.C. residents.
But what Ms. Norton and other cool heads recognized was that the district had become such an embarrassing failure that Congress and the White House could no longer ignore the situation. The plan may indeed be the best compromise possible now, offering hope for those who haven't fled the city that potholes may be fixed, garbage picked up, corruption ended in the prison system and the Medicaid program for the poor made workable.
With its infusion of financial aid for the cash-strapped district, the rescue plan comes not a moment too soon. That residents have not already taken to the streets to protest years of mismanagement should come as no surprise. They have known for some time that the nation's capital is headed for disaster because of the dual problems it faces: a bloated city bureaucracy utterly incapable of providing much-needed public services and resources insufficient for even a leaner, more efficient bureaucracy to operate.
Pub Date: 8/02/97