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Government and People
GOVERNMENT OF THE DISTRICT OF
|OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS||ONE JUDICIARY SQUARE
441 FOURTH STREET, N.W.
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20001
|Text as prepared for delivery
March 1, 2001
|Contact: Lydia Sermons
(202) 727-6161 (after 4 PM)
Building a City that Works for Everyone: Neighborhood by Neighborhood
I'm honored to join all of you tonight at the Lincoln Theater -- surrounded by the echoes of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald and the young artists we just heard who are following in their footsteps. Let's give them all another round of applause.
I told my mother that, once I got up here, I might be tempted to sing myself. She reminded me that I'd soon be counting on many of you to pass my budget. Suffice it to say, I won't be singing.
But I do want to talk about voices - namely the voices of residents who are rebuilding our city, neighborhood by neighborhood. We hear the voices of our seniors who are here. We hear the voices of our young people, represented so well by the Youth Mayor, Crystal Williams.
We hear the voices of our community leaders - and our Neighborhood Service Coordinators and Planners who are helping to solve the unique problems of every neighborhood. I especially want to thank the folks who are on stage with me tonight. It is their commitment, and yours, which has made the state of the District all it is today.
And we also hear the voices of our civic leaders - including the person who is our collective voice in Congress. No one fights harder than Eleanor Holmes Norton for this city. It's time to give her a vote. I also want to thank Congresswoman Morella, who is a great friend and neighbor to the District. Her colleague, Congressman Joe Knollenberg, and his wife, Sandie, are here - and I want to thank the Congressman for working to end the days of playing politics with our budget.
We are all indebted to Chairman Rivlin and the entire Control Board. The only thing better than having them here tonight is knowing they won't have to be here for the next State of the District.
And to Chairman Cropp and all of the Council: Sure, we may not always see eye-to-eye, but, time and again, I have seen your leadership and extraordinary service to your constituents and our city. And all of us thank you.
I've brought along with me tonight the best Cabinet a Mayor could ask for: Can you folks stand? And, of course, I am blessed every day by the best wife, mother, and daughter a man could ask for: Diane, Virginia and Asantewa. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for supporting me. And yes, thank you, at times, for tolerating me.
Now, I can't start this speech - without thanking the Ali family for feeding us for 40 years at Ben's Chili Bowl. You've seen it all - the good times and the tough times. And now, you are rebuilding Shaw -just as we're doing with this historic theater, an our entire city.
Since I was a little boy, I've been fascinated by the process of building. Even now, I like to stop at construction sites to watch the transformation of a simple blueprint into something beautiful that will outlast us all. And, it always starts with the same thing: people who look at what's in front of them - and imagine what could be.
Remember how hard it was to imagine what could be when the `pundit industry' was calling us the murder capital of the world, and our most effective snowplow was the sun? But, even during those dark days, we believed we could turn our nation's capital into our nation's greatest city. A city where government works for us all. Where every neighborhood is a place people want to live. Where all children can go as far as their dreams will take them.
That is the city we saw in our mind's eye -- and we developed a unique blueprint to build it. I say unique because it wasn't drafted alone by some bow-tie wearing, policy wonk. It was created by people of every color and faith, men and women, children and seniors, gay and straight, the fortunate and the forgotten - all of whom call Northeast and Southeast, Northwest and Southwest by the same name: home.
One by one, you invited me into your homes and places of worship. You spoke out at my citizen summit and town hall meetings. You talked about crime and education, potholes and phone manners. And your hopes became our building plan -- the basis for our budget and our goals.
Now, there were people - even some on my staff - who thought that I was crazy when I started talking about publishing goals. "Everyone will know if we fail," they said. That's the point. People should know when we fail. They should know when we succeed. And they should be proud of all the progress we've made.
When I became the CFO in 1995, I found a $484 million deficit and years of people's tax checks lying in buckets on the floor. Now, we live in a city with a $464 million surplus, more than $3 billion in private investments, and 2,238 new private sector jobs. We went from a city with a junk bond rating to a city that is now making the grade on Wall Street. And, yes, when we balanced the budget for the fourth consecutive year, we earned our autonomy back two years ahead of schedule.
Remember when our School Board couldn't agree on who its President was, let alone how to help our schools? Well, we fought to have the power to elect and appoint a great school board - and we got it. I'd like to ask our new School Board, our President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, our new Superintendent Paul Vance, and Josephine Baker who is here on behalf of our charter schools, all to stand. These are the people we are counting on to make our schools work for all children.
Remember what it was like at the DMV, when we almost needed a new hotel for all the people who were spending days in line just to have their cars inspected or registered? Now, you can get it done in a half hour. And a lot of it, you can even do over the Internet.
Remember when you had to call all over the city to find the right number - and, if were lucky, you'd even reach a human being. Now, you can call one number - 727-1000 - to get the help you need.
And remember what it was like when our police department couldn't even afford gas for its patrol cars? Now we have a new fleet of police vehicles, and more than 200 additional community police officers who are getting to know residents and helping them solve their problems.
We've met almost 70 percent of our Scorecard goals. And how does it show? There are some 700 more blocks of city streets repaved; 700 more young people with year-round jobs and training; 1,200 more people who can get drug treatment; 1,700 more high school seniors who can now afford a college education anywhere in the country because they're paying in-state tuition; 2,400 homes that have been built or restored more than half of them East of the River; 3,500 more children who have access to quality child care; 6,000 new trees; 8,000 seniors who received a million meals; and 17,000 more adults and children with health insurance.
Our city is working better, lives are changing, and -for the first time in a generation - people are moving back into the District of Columbia. Ladies and Gentlemen: the state of the District is the strongest it's been in decades.
But, this is a foundation to build on -- not rest on. I don't intend to rest for the next two years - and I know you don't either. Because we cannot rest when too many residents have not yet felt the benefits of our economic progress - and too many neighborhoods have not seen government work well enough for them. And we cannot rest when so many children must still battle the twin evils of poverty and racism, watching doors shut that should be open to all.
We must listen to the young people who spoke out at my Youth Summit. What did they say? "Make the police part of the community, not the enemy," one student told me. "Reward and recognize good teachers," another said. We must listen to Joseph Garnett, a 10 year-old boy who wrote to me, and is up here with me tonight. He wrote: "When I walk out the door I see people using drugs. I am sick of young people getting hurt. I am sick of everybody throwing their trash on my porch. Mr. Williams, can you please clean up our neighborhood?"
I say we must listen to you, Joseph, because the city we build today - is the city you will inherit tomorrow. There isn't time for excuses. There isn't time for those who would rather play politics than solve problems. There isn't time for anything but rolling up our sleeves, and getting the job done.
So, tonight, I want to focus on three critical ways we must rebuild our city - improving education for all children, improving the well-being of our most vulnerable residents, and improving the quality of life in every neighborhood.
Let's start with schools. I'll never forget meeting Duane Ross, the wonderful young principal at Hendley Elementary School, who is on stage with me tonight. He told me how he and some teachers and parents had come in over the summer to scrub the film off the windows and repaint the walls this bright yellow and green -- because they knew their kids would learn better in cheerful, sunlit classrooms.
Imagine if our principals, teachers and parents could use all of that energy educating their kids - instead of making up for the failings of our school system. It's time for us to stop dreaming - and start working to repair and rebuild our crumbling schools.
Yesterday, I toured Kelly Miller Junior High in Ward 7. I saw broken windows and sunken floors in the classrooms where children ought to be learning algebra. I saw debris and pigeon waste in the gym where children ought to be playing ball. When Kelly Miller closed down in 1996, the young people of Lincoln Heights were promised a brand new, state-of-the art school in a few years. Some five years have passed. Millions of dollars have gone unspent. And that abandoned building is still wasting away - like the promise made to those children.
Kelly Miller was a mathematician - but what's happening to his school - and too many like it -doesn't add up. And here's the amazing thing. It's no longer a question of resources. Between the Counsel and my Administration, we've dedicated $777 million for school renovation and modernization - $169 million in this year alone. It's no longer a question of accountability - we have new committed leadership.
It is now a question of will. And so tonight, I challenge the School Board and Superintendent, I challenge the Council and I challenge myself, to make sure that this time we keep our promise to the children of Kelly Miller. Just as we must keep our promise to the young people who should attend McKinley Technology High School in 2003. And just as we must keep our promise to the children of the 80 schools we said we'd fix in the next 9 years - even if that means changing our approach to managing school construction. Tonight, let's keep our promises to all the children of the District.
If we are going to keep our promises, we must continue to support UDC. I want to thank Dr. Julius Nimmons, who is here tonight, for all he did to increase enrollment and lead us through some rough times. And I know the new board of directors will ensure that UDC's best years are still to come.
But, if are going to keep our promises, we must also fix what goes on inside the classroom for every child, every year -- starting this year with our lowest-performing schools. I want to be clear: This is not about doing less for our best schools. It's about doing more for the children whose skills aren't being developed, and whose dreams are being deferred.
We are so grateful to our teachers of the year - Dr. Elizabeth Primas and Mary Penn-Beveney, and our Principals of the year - Dr. Gwendolyn Bryant, Maria Tukeva, Dr. Veda Usilton, and Yvonne Morse. They are all here tonight. And they know better than anyone why it's so important to put more good teachers in our classrooms, where they can lift up our schools and our children's lives.
Last week, First Lady Laura Bush joined me to announce that we are recruiting our first 100 Teaching Fellows, professionals from other fields who will begin their new careers in our classrooms this summer. And my budget will include $1.2 million to prepare them to be outstanding educators.
But, frankly, if we want to see real change, we simply must change the way some schools are run. And there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. The right way is refusing to let any school fail a child. The right way is giving parents more choices among public schools, including charter schools.
And I believe the right way includes teaming up with proven educational entrepreneurs to reform our most troubled public schools. They've improved reading scores at some of our public charter schools. And they can do the same with other schools - working within the existing school system. Now, some may disagree with this approach. But, I would rather be criticized for trying and failing - than for failing to try to improve the way we teach our neediest children.
Because, whether we succeed as a city, and even as human beings, will be determined not by how we care for those with the most, but by how we care for those with the least. And that leads us to the second way we must rebuild our city - by improving the well-being of every resident.
I feel this so very strongly. As a foster child, a parent, a mayor: Nothing matters more to me than providing fundamental human services. When we got here, our safety net had huge holes in it. So we started knitting it back together stitch by stitch. We are now transforming those agencies that care for abused and neglected children, and people with mental illnesses. But we have only just begun.
You don't have to look any further than our parks and street corners to see the homeless men, women and children - who all of us have a moral imperative to help. And you don't have to look any further than the grim statistics, to know there is a health care crisis in this city. And we know the status quo is not working.
When the life expectancy of our African-American men is 10 years less than the rest of America. And when this country's highest rates of infant mortality, diabetes, and HIV infection are in our own backyard, it is time to fix health care in Washington, D.C.
Since the day I took office, I've worked to do that - and it's often been a lonely crusade. Two years ago, I went to the Council with a plan to expand health insurance. And it was shot down. "Not enough information," I was told. Then I put together a commission of everybody -- physicians, nurses, academics, civic leaders and citizens. And based on their findings, I presented a more detailed plan. It was shot down, as well. "Too ambitious." So, the Council, the Control Board and I agreed to let our city's private providers offer us a solution. And that's where we stand today.
Two plans and two years of trying. And all that's changed is that our health care crisis has gotten worse. Part of the problem is the number of uninsured, which is still a shocking 65,000 people. Many of them have told me how they work two or three jobs, and still live one illness away from bankruptcy. That is wrong. So, tonight, I'm pleased to announce that as part of the health care network we're creating, we will immediately provide HMO-style coverage to all of our city's uninsured. And in my budget, I'm making a $1 million guarantee to residents without insurance - you will get the prescription drugs you need.
But this crisis goes beyond insurance. As the Health Commission made clear, we must create a health care system rooted in primary and preventive care, so that people have a family doctor who treats them with dignity, and helps them solve health care problems before they require emergency care. At my town hall meeting last night at Union Temple, there was a doctor who asked: "Are we teaching our children that the best they can expect is a trauma center when they are shot?"
Now, I know that some still have great concerns about what we've proposed - and I heard from many people last night who have a lot of fear - and, quite frankly, even some anger. They know the current system is broken, but they fear the unknown even more. And I understand that. I respect that. I know how hard uncertainty is -- especially when it comes to our families' health. But I wouldn't be standing up here supporting this plan unless I truly believed it was the best way to improve health care for our residents.
Ladies and gentlemen: We are not closing a hospital. We are opening the doors of care to the people who need it most. We're keeping our current clinics and adding 100 health care centers to the network. We're providing access to 1,000 more doctors and nurses. We're providing 24 hour trauma 1 care at Greater Southeast. And we're working with local health care providers, people who know the District, know its residents, know what it means to meet our needs East of the River.
I know there is disagreement on this issue - and there should be in a democracy. But you didn't elect me just for my dazzling personality. No, you elected me because you knew I'd confront our most challenging problems head on, make the tough choices, and do the right thing. That's what I've always done for this city. And that's what I intend to do here. We've had two years to debate this. And every day we argue, is another day that poor residents and people of color suffer and die at the hands of the status quo. They deserve more. It's time to stop debating. It's time to get it done.
And that's the approach we must take when we improve the quality of life in every neighborhood - which is the third, and final way, we are rebuilding our city. And here we don't need fancy new programs or lots of new spending. We need to get back to the basics. We all know what a good neighborhood looks like: There are more trees, not trash, lining the streets. Houses and parks that are well kept. People who don't have to leave the community to buy groceries, get a job, or start a business.
All over the city, there are grand opening signs where there used to be abandoned lots. Just take Ward 5. Tonight, I'm pleased to announce that the District's first Home Depot is coming to the Brentwood neighborhood, bringing nearly 200 new jobs, and ensuring that our dollars are spent in our communities. And this is on top of the K-Mart and the Giant that are already coming to that neighborhood.
But how are we are going to ensure that this economic prosperity reaches every neighborhood and resident? First, we must support our local, small and disadvantaged businesses. And that's what we have done these past two years by increasing our contract awards almost 500 percent - from $68 million to $311 million.
And second, we must do more than talk the talk of welfare reform. I remember the pride in Anita Tolliver's face when I handed her the certificate for the CVS pharmacy apprenticeship program. Anita used to be on welfare. Now, she's supporting her children - and working to fulfill her dream of becoming a pharmacist.
This is a real life story of one of the 445 people who have now exchanged welfare checks for paychecks in our city. But, sue must make every welfare story a success story. Because in a year, 2,700 families will lose their federal benefits. We can't control that. But we can and must ensure that the end of welfare leads to a better life, not a worse one. We can provide the job training, child care, and other tools people need to move from welfare to work.
And we can do something else: We can make a commitment to improve adult literacy. Imagine. Right now, nearly 40 percent of adults in the District can't read or write well enough to get a good job. They should never be embarrassed. We should be embarrassed that we aren't helping them learn.
Let's also get back to the basics with better housing. We all know how much it means to a family to raise a child in one's own home, to have dinner in one's own home - to be part of a larger community. Next week, I'll introduce comprehensive legislation to help make this city first in the nation in new homeownership. That means protecting affordable housing and creating new housing for all people, regardless of income. It means stabilizing our neighborhoods, so that the residents who made them great aren't pushed out, as home values rise. And it means converting thousands of empty and run down buildings into new homes for our people. My initiative will include real resources. And I look forward to working with Councilmember Ambrose and Councilmember Brazil to make this happen.
Let's get back to basics with safe streets as well. Last year alone, homicides dropped to their lowest level in 14 years. Theft dropped by 4.4 percent. Auto thefts by 5.9 percent. And burglaries by 7.6 percent. The statistics are saying it. Our residents are feeling it. We are a safer city.
But, everyday, we are reminded of how much more needs to be done. Despite our progress reducing youth violence, there are too many young people dying on our streets - too many children dodging bullets to get to school. Every statistic is the story of a young person who will never put on a cap and gown, or a parent who will never walk a child down the aisle. We owe it to them - and to every District resident -- to close every homicide case and bring every perpetrator to justice. And I want to thank Councilmember Patterson for her leadership.
It's time to get back to the basics in every neighborhood. When I met last year with some of our snow removal folks, one plow driver told me how grateful he was to finally have the right equipment. Well, he got the chance to use it when it snowed last week. And, this time, our workers stayed on the job for some 48 hours; and used 125 trucks to plow and salt most of our streets.
Now, clearing the snow shouldn't be news. It shouldn't be news when we repair potholes on time, or sweep the streets regularly, or continue to make progress in the way people are treated when they call their city. government. That should just be the way things are in the District. So, let's make good government services just the way things are. Let's make keeping the grass cut and the pools open just the way things are this summer. Let's make quick responses to 911 calls just the way things are.
And let's make clean air and clean water just the way things are in every one of our communities. Just look at the Anacostia River. We can clean it up - and rid the area of poverty and violence. We can make the river that once divided us a symbol of our unity and the engine of a thriving waterfront. If San Antonio did it. If Baltimore did it. If Cleveland did it. We can do it.
Think about the new Adopt-a-Block program, where the Fannie Mae Foundation and UDC are helping to clean up our communities, and turn litter into landscaping. Think about the 39 neighborhoods which are coming together to create new blueprints for their communities. We can build a city that works for everyone - neighborhood by neighborhood. But let's be clear: we cannot do any of this unless we keep rebuilding trust in our government.
The fact is, while the rest of America's cities are treated like adults, our Nation's Capital still has parents: over-protective parents. Meddlesome parents. There was a time, quite frankly, when we acted a bit like children. But we're all grown up now. We have good credit. We have money in the bank. We're solving our own problems. And we need Congress to be our partners - not our parents.
When I met with President Bush, I was encouraged by his concern for our city. He genuinely cares about education. He understands how we feel about re-opening Pennsylvania Avenue. As his speech on Tuesday night showed, there's a lot of common ground upon which we can move forward, working together. But, when the issue is our democratic rights, there can be no compromise.
You know, it was a great day when we put on our new license plates a few months ago. But it'll be an even greater day when we can take those license plates off. From Africa to the former Soviet Union, we've worked to bring democracy to the rest of the world. I say it's time to bring it home. It's time for our votes to count in Congress. And it's time for our budget to be debated in Council - not on Capitol Hill.
Of course, there are some who worry that if we are running the show, we'll return to the days of our reckless youth. But, we will prove them wrong. We will prove that we can continue making tough decisions - even unpopular decisions - when they are the right decisions. We will show we can maintain the fiscal discipline that brought us to this day. And we will show everyone from Wall Street to Main Street -- that we can work together as a city by offering the only proof that matters: results. Real results.
It's an interesting time to be talking about sacrifice and change - given that Lent began yesterday for some of us. I've been asked a couple of times what I'm giving up this season. The Council crossed my mind. The press crossed my mind too - depending upon what they say tomorrow. Lately, a few people have hinted that I should give up my two-bedroom condo.
Now some, of course, will say that I should give up mistakes. But, I can't. None of us can do that. Looking back, there were certainly some things I wish I'd done differently - or said differently. But, it's easy not to fall, when you don't reach. We've all done a lot of reaching these past two years. I intend to keep on reaching - keep on building -- and yes, to fall a few times along the way. So no, I can't promise I'll give up mistakes. But I can promise you this. I can promise you I won't ever give up trying to make this city work better for every single person who lives here.
You know, as I think about how far we've come, and how far we have to go, I'm often reminded of the Biblical story of Nehemiah. If you recall, Nehemiah was heartbroken to hear that his beloved city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. So, he went to the people and leadership of the city and asked for their help rebuilding it. There were skeptics then, as there always are, who ridiculed his plan, saying it was too much work, that it couldn't get done. But the people who knew better, came together and cried out to Nehemiah: "Let us rise up and build." Let us rise up and build.
And so too must we. We will surely face more obstacles. We will face people who would rather point their fingers than roll up their sleeves and get to work. And there will no doubt be times when we are scared, when we are tired or tempted to turn away. But we did not come this far to stop now.
One by one, the Bible lists those who helped rebuild their city: The high priest, the men of Jericho, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, all working side by side. It is now the same with us: We are neighborhood activists and teachers, city workers and city leaders, doctors and nurses, men, women and children, from every neighborhood, every race, every religion, every age. We have a vision for this great city that we call home. We have a foundation built from the sweat and tears, the hopes and dreams of all our residents.
Now, let us repair the broken schools and broken lives, the broken neighborhoods and broken promises. Let our Capital be a symbol of what is possible when people imagine what can be. My friends, let us follow in the footsteps of Nehemiah and his people: "Let us rise up and build."
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the District of Columbia.
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