2004 State of the District Address
February 5, 2004
Members of Congress, Members of the Council, Citizens and other distinguished guests: Thank you all-and welcome.
Before I begin, I want to thank all the folks who have entertained us and inspired us this evening:
My religious advisor, Dr. Susan Newman who lifted our hearts and spirits.
The DC National Guard Honor Guard, who dedicate their lives to our city and country.
Paul Heflin, Conductor Virgillio Joven and the DC Youth Orchestra, whose beautiful music filled this Theater, like the legends that have graced this stage.
As some of you know, I come from a musical family-witness my mother. And, yes, my piano teacher probably wonders how that talent skipped a generation. But I've been trying ever since I was a kid, when I played the organ during Mass at our church.
One day, I was practicing and I looked up and noticed a mysterious door. So, I did what any self-respecting 11-year-old boy would do. I opened it. There was a staircase that led all the way up to the bell-tower, which had this sweeping view of the entire city.
So, I started a bell-tower club. My friends and I would meet up there for a power lunch every school day. And we had a great thing going-until the principal caught us in mid-sandwich one afternoon. I was almost expelled. But that's another story, and one that I'd rather tell when my mother isn't here.
The fact is, I still take any chance I get to climb to the top of a building or mountain, especially here. It doesn't matter if it's the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral or Saint Elizabeth's: if you up go high enough, you will see our city from an entirely different perspective.
Instead of the sharp lines that too often divide us by neighborhood, by race, by income, you can see the big picture: how interconnected we all are; how far we've come as one city; and how much more we can accomplish if we all stand together.
That is why we have gathered here tonight. And it couldn't come at a more fitting time.
Two days ago, voters in seven states made profound decisions about our future by punching holes in ballots, touching computer screens and, yes, writing-in names (something I'm a little too familiar with).
Of course, they were not the first to make a choice in the 2004 election. But neither were the people of New Hampshire. Or even the people of Iowa.
Last month, it was the District of Columbia that held the first Democratic primary in the nation. And, with our votes, we said it is long past time for the world's symbol of democracy to finally bring democracy to its own people.
That was the dream of our own Mayor Walter Washington, whose recent loss we've all mourned.
I'm never going to forget the day he lay in state at the Wilson building as residents came from around our entire city to pay their last respects.
They came to honor the father of home rule, and a father figure to so many of us. They came to honor the activist who picketed the shops on this street 70 years ago. And they came to honor the courageous Mayor who prevented untold bloodshed after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. The federal government told him to shoot the rioters, but he said "no." And then he walked down 14th street-without armor, without airs-and simply asked people to go home.
It was Mayor Washington who started our march up that mountain to secure fundamental rights for our citizens.
Now, it is time for us to finish that climb.
It is up to all our elected officials, past and present.
And let me recognize our former mayors Sharon-Pratt Kelly and Marion Barry who have both helped guide this city-and me-through good times and hard times. Thank you both so much.
Thirty years after we chose our first leaders, I want to thank their successors on the Council for their tireless dedication to the people we represent.
And let me especially recognize Linda Cropp, a great Chair and partner in improving our city for all its citizens. Let's give her and the entire Council a hand.
It's up to members of Congress. And I want to thank Congressman Tom Davis for being here and for giving us more autonomy, more respect and, yes, more funding.
Many times over the past year, I have seen off our city's sons and daughters as they left for Iraq. We now have more than 500 soldiers there-and Darryl Dent used to be among them. He was a dedicated member of the National Guard. But this summer, he was tragically killed by an explosion in Baghdad. He was 21.
All of our young people in Iraq are risking their lives every day. They have our prayers and they have our unwavering support. But they also deserve our promise. The next time Congress is contemplating war, we all must have a
say and Eleanor Holmes Norton must have a vote.
It is up to our public servants because we won't finish Mayor Washington's climb without them. They don't do it for the glamour. God knows, they don't do it for the love they get from the media. But we should give them a lot of love here tonight so they know just how much we appreciate them.
Please stand as I call you. Members of my Cabinet. Members of our School Board and its chair, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Our acting Superintendent, Elfrida Massie. Our police chief Charles Ramsey. The chairs and members of our Boards and Commissions. Our ANC commissioners. Thank you.
Of course, there is one place in DC where the climb toward democracy never really got off the ground. And that's my house. It is more like a monarchy-and, no, I am NOT the monarch. But I do consider myself lucky beyond words to share my life with three of the strongest and most wonderful women I know: my mother, Virginia; my daughter, Asantewa; and the First Lady of our city, my wife, Diane. Thank you.
But in the end, it is really up to one powerful person to finish Walter Washington's climb up that mountain.
I'm talking, of course, about YOU, the citizens of the District of Columbia.
I'm talking about the thousands who came to our Citizen Summits and town halls, the people who call me on radio shows and approach me on the street.
I'm talking about the faith leaders who bring us closer to God and to one another.
I'm talking about the seniors who give their time, their wisdom, and their great talents.
I'm talking about the neighbors who give their nights and weekends to clean up our streets.
I'm talking about April York, our youth Mayor, and all the other young people who give us a reality check about the present and hope for the future.
And I'm even talking about the critics who challenge me every step of the way-they, too, are an integral part of our march up that mountain. The truth is, I'd much rather have people love our city so much that they yell at me, than silence themselves because they don't care.
These recall supporters might call themselves "Save Our City." That's fine. They are entitled to their view. They have the right to protest.
But let's talk tonight about what we've all actually DONE together over the past five years to save our city.
Imagine, for a minute, that you just returned to Washington, DC, after being gone for those five years. Think about all you'd find missing.
The massive deficits? Gone. The receiverships gone. Two thousand abandoned properties-gone. Snow on the
roads gone on time. The control board-gone early. And decades of despair and disinvestment? Gone forever.
Now, think about what you would find in its place. Twice as many children immunized. Families moving into 12,000 new units of affordable housing. Teen pregnancy down. More people with health insurance. More people leaving welfare for work. More seniors with prescription drugs. More substance abusers with treatment. And more jobs for 43,000 District residents.
Five years ago, we were not adequately prepared for a terrorist attack. I'll admit that. Now, when it comes to being ready for an emergency, we've first in the nation.
Five years ago, businesses were fleeing our city and empty offices languished for months, even years. Today, the number one real estate city in the world is not Paris. It's not New York. It's right here in Washington, DC.
Now, I know some people don't like it when we talk about economic development. But we should never apologize for trying to bring stores, jobs and affordable homes to communities that have struggled for too long without them.
We should never apologize for trying to keep the escalator moving people into the middle class. And, at a time when the challenges in our city far exceed our budget, we should never apologize for attracting billions of new dollars that we can invest in our city, from public schools to the Anacostia Waterfront.
All of us should go to the National Building Museum and see the detailed model of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative-a visionary plan that was the product of the most far-reaching partnership in our city's history.
If the Council acts now to create the development corporation we need, we will soon enjoy a world-class waterfront with 100 acres of parkland and a 20-mile river walk. If the Congress acts now to pass the Watershed Act, we can finally heal our Anacostia River. And if we all act now, the river that once divided us can bridge the gap between east and west, privileged and poor, our past and our future.
The people in this community know it's possible.
Not that long ago, this neighborhood was dominated by blight and crime. There were few jobs and even less housing. Hope had begun to die.
And now, we're sitting in a beautifully restored theater in an amazing neighborhood filled with jazz and nightlife, new renters and homeowners; food from every culture, and the neon glow of new stores.
Let there be no confusion:
U Street is back.
Our pride is back.
Joe Gibbs is back.
And, citizens, our city is back.
Ladies and gentleman, the state of our district is stronger than ever.
But we are far from done.
We can learn a lot by looking at those first hikers who reached the summit of Mount Everest. How did they do it? They climbed in stages-but never straight up the mountain. Instead, they went back and forth many times between each stage until they had built a strong enough foundation to move on to the next level.
That's something we can all relate to in our city. The path we've taken hasn't always looked straight. That's for sure. But, stage by stage, step by step, we have climbed. Stage 1: We got our fiscal house in order. Stage 2: Basic services were functioning again. Stage 3: Economic investment started roaring back to our city.
Now, we're about halfway up this mountain. But the distance that remains is filled with much tougher terrain-violence; inequities in health care; schools failing; democratic rights denied. And the fact is we can't afford to get tired.
You know why? Because there are too many people around us who are already tired. They are tired of living on the outskirts of opportunity. They are tired of having to leave their neighborhood to find a decent doctor or supermarket. They are tired of sending their children to a school where they won't learn enough or stay safe enough. It's immoral-and I use that word intentionally-that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is still so wide in the capital of the world.
If there were an easy path, someone would have found it by now. But we do have a compass-it's the one that brought us this far. By taking risks and taking on the status quo. By understanding that we will only reach the top if we climb together.
And so, if we want to reach the top, we must make sure that all children-not just some children-can live free from violence.
I'm not going to talk to you tonight about our response to 911 calls or terrorist threats-as important as those are. I'm not going to talk to you about our success cleaning up blight or solving homicide cases-as important as those are.
The fact is, all our gains pale in comparison to what we've lost lately.
We lost Diamond Teague, a young man I met while he was cleaning up the Anacostia
river, shot for no reason right on the front porch of his house.
We lost Devin Fowlkes, a student athlete from Anacostia Senior
High, caught in the crossfire on his way home from a school dance.
We lost Princess Hansen, a14-year-old girl gunned down two weeks ago because someone didn't want her to talk about another recent killing she saw in her neighborhood.
And then, on Monday, we lost James Richardson, shot outside the Ballou Senior High School cafeteria in the middle of the day. His football teammates are walking around in t-shirts commemorating his life. He was just 17.
What in the world is happening to our children?
I can't say it more directly: This violence must stop.
Many of us in this theater went to a community meeting at Ballou on Tuesday night. It was the reason I postponed this speech. I wanted to be there. The Council, my Cabinet, our city's leaders--we all wanted to be there.
A thousand students, parents, and neighbors crammed into the bleachers. One by one, they took to the microphone for the next six hours to pray, to yell, to cry, to ask for help, to search for answers. Some blamed security. Some blamed the lack of places for kids to go. Some blamed me. Some blamed themselves.
No one, except the killer, is to blame. But all of us are responsible.
That night, parents got up and begged each other to pay more attention to their own children's lives; to search their bags; make sure they're in school; to love them; to discipline them; to give them values to follow and something to live for. "It starts at home," Devon Fowlkes' mother implored the room to remember. It starts at home.
A student at Anacostia high school spoke last, asking young people to take responsibility for what they do as well. "Before you point a finger, he said, "first point at yourself. Say, hey, how can I help?"
Many were very tough on me-I'm not going to pretend otherwise. But no one was tougher on me than myself. Every time a child dies in our city, I die a little. We all do. But we must turn that unthinkable loss into a call for action to protect our children and punish those who hurt them.
We have eight police officers at Ballou right now, so that students feel safe returning to class. And I've given Chief Ramsey 10 days to come up with a Ballou security plan to ensure that students never again lose a classmate to violence.
We have counselors at Ballou to help students, teachers and parents during this difficult grieving process. We're supporting more community leaders and Roving Leaders in the area right now. And starting tomorrow, the Ballou community will have a 24 hour hotline they can call to get the help they need.
You know, many of the people who spoke the other night were former students going back 30 years. And they talked about the great tradition at Ballou, how it used to be a model school where students excelled in math and science. Ballou can be great again.
I want to take what is working at other schools in our city and bring it to Ballou. Like other public schools, we can turn Ballou into a neighborhood center where children can get counseling and after-school care. Where parents can get health screenings and literacy training. Where the community has a central place to gather.
We're working now to transform 15 of our lowest-performing public schools. That has meant new educators, new staff, new
resources and, no surprise, better results. Just look at Noyes and Simon elementary schools: their reading and math scores went up by more than 30 percent last year.
I have committed to transforming at least five new public schools every year-and next year Ballou must be one of them.
But the most haunting question I heard the other night was from a student, who wanted to know where everyone was before, when this killing could have been prevented. No child should have to ask that question again. We all must do more.
For our part, we will do more to give our children mentors to guide them, safe places to go after school, and jobs during the summer. We will do more to fund groups-like the Clergy Police Community Partnership-that are out there in our neighborhoods every day pushing for peace.
We will do more to focus the attention of every agency and community group on our most troubled kids-by helping them when we can, finding good alternative schools for them when we must. We will do more to get answers from our children, including hosting a Youth Summit focused on crime and violence.
And we will do more to give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to get the job done. They need a new Juvenile Justice bill that will help them hold juvenile criminals-and their parents-more accountable. I've submitted it, and I am asking the Council to pass it.
Our police department should have control over all crime-fighting in our city, whether it happens in our housing projects or at our schools. The other night people kept asking Chief Ramsey what more he could do. And he was forced to explain that it was the public schools, not the police, who are responsible for school safety.
It doesn't make sense. Not to our families. Not to our police. Not to me. Tonight, I am asking the police department to take full control over security at our public schools. I want our police officers to make sure doors are locked and guns never make it into our schools. I want them to get to know the children in the schools, to pick them up when they are truant, to understand what they are up against at home. Nothing could be more important than keeping our children safe at school. Surely we can find the resources to make that possible.
But if we want our officers to play a bigger role in their communities, we need to put more of them on the street. And that's what we're doing.
We're talking about reaching 3,800 officers by the end of September, as I promised. That's 200 more officers than we had a year ago and every single one will be in our neighborhoods. But I ask the Council to work with me to do even more.
Let's civilianize more positions at MPD to put up to 300 more sworn officers on patrol over the next three years-and 100 this year alone.
Let's get the limited-duty officers who are abusing the system off our payrolls and replace them with 200 more officers on our streets.
If we do all of this, we can put hundreds more officers in our neighborhoods over the next three years.
And, thanks to the work you've done redesigning our Patrol Service Areas, the neighborhoods with more crime, will get more officers.
Now, this might sound too obvious to state, but when our police officers catch someone committing a crime, they should be brought to justice. If they don't show up at court, we should find them and bring them back immediately. That's theoretically the U.S. Marshal's job. But they aren't getting the job done.
Do you know that 8,000 people we've arrested-including violent criminals charged with armed robbery, assault and worse-are still at large on our streets? We can't wait any longer for someone else to pick them up. So I've given MPD new funding to start making good on these warrants. But the federal government must give the Marshals resources to make good on the rest.
Now, our children deserve good schools, not just safe schools.
And so if we want to reach the top of this mountain, we must guarantee a world-class education for all children-regardless of where they live or how much their parents make, regardless of the color of their skin or the school they attend.
I challenge you tonight to join me in starting an education renaissance in the District. We can bring together government leaders, community leaders and business leaders. We can transform Washington, DC into a City of Learning where teachers have the resources and ability to teach; students have the inspiration to learn; principals and administrators lead; parents and citizens engage; and the school system supports them all.
But we can't get there from here.
We can't get to where we want to go from where we are right now.
Now, we've tried increasing funding by $220 million over the past five years-a 57% increase. And I'm ready to support our schools and teachers with the resources they need, just as I always have. But funding alone isn't enough.
We've tried tinkering at the edges of the system. But the reforms have not been bold enough. The changes have not come fast enough. The status quo is not working. Families can wait no longer. And neither, frankly, can we.
We can't wait when the top reason parents leave a city is not crime or jobs; it's the schools. And, despite the success stories, our schools are still failing our kids. We can't wait when our spending is among the highest in the nation and our test scores are still among the lowest. And we can't wait when the only educational choices many families get are between bad and worse, between $20,000 in tuition for a private school and a mediocre education. We can't wait.
If we want to build a city of learning, we must give every parent real choices among good public schools, charter schools, and private schools and create a seamless system where no child falls between the cracks.
Recently, we secured $40 million in new federal funding for these three sectors of our school system-and I want to thank the President, Members of Congress, the Council's education committee chair, Kevin Chavous, and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz for making it happen.
One third of this new funding will support our traditional public schools, many of which are already models.
We've seen what is possible in the faces of kids at Oyster Elementary School. Before the lottery started at Oyster this year, parents used to come from all over the city and camp out in front of this successful bilingual school. We're talking about committed parents sleeping outside in the dead of winter-all to get their children into a great school. It should be that way for every school.
It's simple. If your public school is succeeding, it should get more autonomy. If it's struggling, it should get more help. But, ladies and gentlemen, if it's failing for too long, it ought to close.
As I talked about a few minutes ago, we're working now to transform our lowest-performing schools and make public schools the center of our neighborhoods. But we must not stop until all public schools are providing quality education for all children.
We know what our communities need. I can't tell you how many people at Ballou the other night asked for more vocational and technical training in high school-and I'm committed to working with the Council to ensure they get it.
People tell me they want learning beyond the campus and K through 12
years and I am committed to creating more literacy centers for adults, revitalizing our entire public library system, and, yes, supporting universal Pre-K for our children.
But even as we rebuild our traditional public schools, families must have more options. That's why another third of this new money will support our successful charter schools, which, in five years, have increased their enrollments from 3,500 students to more than 13,000.
I remember how impressed I was by the SEED school in Ward 7, which opened five years ago. All these kids have chosen to be there-because they know they can get a great education. They have uniforms. They have long hours. They have tough classes. And they have amazing teachers who have the freedom and resources to teach. The first seniors are graduating this year. And everyone is expected to get into college. Isn't that great? That's what we're looking for.
We have seen the same kinds of innovations at so many charter schools in our city because they have the flexibility to do what it takes for their students.
And because of that, we've also seen some long waiting lists. Working with Senator Mary Landrieu, we are going to dedicate $5 million to build new charter schools in neighborhoods where good options are now limited. It's called City Build-and it will bring five new charter schools to five emerging neighborhoods this year.
What we've found is that charter schools are particularly well-equipped to meet the diverse needs of our children-from those who want to master a skill to those who have gotten in trouble with the law.
And I am committed to increasing their availability for children in special education so we can stop the costly movement of students across our borders.and offer their parents more confidence in their children's education right here in the District.
Now, understandably, a lot of people have focused on the third part of this new program-the part that gives low-income students scholarships to attend private schools. Not surprisingly, this is far more controversial among policy makers and pundits than it actually is among parents. And not surprisingly, sometimes the facts are the first to go.
Despite what some claim, our public schools will gain $13 million and not lose one dime because of this policy. If a child decides to leave a public school for a private school, that public school won't lose any money. None.
I've been asked a lot why I supported these scholarships. And it's because I wasn't going to tell 1700 low-income children that they don't deserve the same options privileged kids have always had in our school system. I wasn't going to tell them they had to return to a struggling school because we adults kept arguing.
The fact is, we will never create a seamless system of quality public schools, charter schools and private schools until we adults get our act together.
So you might remember: Four years ago, I led a charge to change our school board because the status quo wasn't working. I said, "Accountability now, leadership now and change now-our children can't wait any longer."
Well, they have waited. Their parents have waited. And things are pretty much the same. If this is the status quo, it's time for serious change.
Let's be honest: the Mayor, the Council, the Board of Education, DCPS, the CFO and the Superintendent don't work well together under the current system. Now, we are all good people-it's not about individuals. But we can keep reshuffling the deck chairs until the end of time, and it will not make the current system work.
We have overlapping agendas, a confusing structure, no clear accountability-all of which hurts our students.
If everyone is accountable, no one is accountable.
If we want to build a city of learning, we have to try a different approach.
First, just like every other state, we are required to set and enforce important standards of learning in all three sectors of our schools. But there is no one agency to do it. All our schools need research about what's working-and what's not. But there is no one agency to gather it. Parents need information about how their schools measure up. But right now, there is no one agency to provide it.
Instead, these key state functions are spread out over, get this: DCPS, the University of the District of Columbia, the State Education Office, and our chartering authorities. And what's more, our DCPS officials, who already have a lot on their plates, now have two full-time jobs-setting the goals and monitoring how they achieve them.
Could this be any more complicated or any less effective?
We need one state-level agency that can get the whole job done. Let's transform the State Education Office so it can set goals for all schools; give them the assistance to achieve; and then report their progress to us all. There is a bill before the Council that would do just that. And I urge the Council to pass this bill now.
Next, there must be one person accountable for our public schools.
Who do you go to right now? Well the Council and the Mayor provide the money, but they don't control how that money is spent. The Board of Education sets priorities. And the Superintendent implements them. In our public schools, the buck
That should change. And don't get me wrong. The Board plays an important
role and it must continue to serve as the voice of our citizens. But there ought to be one person held accountable for our schools. So I'm putting out a Help Wanted ad tonight:
World-Class Chancellor of Schools needed immediately to turn DC schools around.
Must have proven track record transforming schools or other complex institutions.
Must have thick skin; excellent communication skills; and not mind reading unflattering descriptions of yourself in the press each morning.
Must be willing to work long hours for citizens that expected results last week.
Candidate should feel confident navigating the rough terrains of DC politics and forging partnerships with leaders from all sectors of our community.
New Chancellor is expected to shake things up immediately and replicate bold ideas that are already working-from performance bonuses for good teachers to small schools that challenge the myth that some students can't learn.
We will let potential candidates know they are being considered by leaking their names to the national press. That last part is a joke [pause] I hope.
Now even if we recruit a Chancellor with all these qualities, that leader cannot survive, let alone succeed, in our current structure.
Therefore, in the next ten days, I will propose legislation to give the Mayor authority to appoint the city's Chancellor and the Council the authority to confirm that person. The Council and the Mayor will have responsibility for making sure our school system lives within its budget and that its financial choices reflect the priorities of our citizens.
Now, as I said, the Board will remain an important part of our school system, but its role will change. This means the Council will now scrutinize schools like other District agencies. It means the Chancellor will be fully responsible for the budget, policymaking, and day-to-day operations of our public school
system and he or she will report to the Council and the Mayor. This will allow all of us to place confidence in an extraordinary administrator, set the game plan, then get out of the way and hold that one leader accountable for the results.
I know this may be controversial, but I wouldn't propose these changes if I didn't
believe in the bottom of my heart that they are the in the best interest of our children.
But these changes are not enough.
I can't tell you how many people the other night at Ballou got up simply to offer their help as a mentor, a chess teacher, a coach, anything at all. It's the same everywhere I go-people telling me they want to do something. The time is now.
If we want to build a City of Learning, then we must say to all students in our Universities: Serve as tutors and mentors in our public schools. To all law firms, businesses and federal agencies who work in DC: Join with your colleagues and adopt a school in DC. To our philanthropists and foundations: I ask you to really help us eliminate the educational gap between rich and poor in our city. And to parents and guardians: Please get involved-and stay involved-in your child's education. No one has more influence than you do.
But it's not just public safety and education. If we are going to reach the top of that mountain, we must ensure that all
people not just some have quality health care in our city.
I know this issue is emotional. I know there is some anger. But what we ought to get most angry about is that our infant mortality rate is nearly twice the national average. We ought to be angry that our HIV/AIDS cases are 10 times the national average. We ought to be angry that our chances of dying from heart disease or cancer are much higher if we happen to be poor or African-American.
When we set out to address these disparities five years ago, we had two systems of health care: A comprehensive system for the rich. A bankrupt system for the poor. Separate and unequal-and inhumane. I said it had to end.
We know that good hospitals are part of the solution. So, yes, we want to see more improvements at Greater Southeast. And, yes, we will support Howard University as it builds a hospital with a full trauma center on the DC General Site.
But, more than anything, we want to help people prevent disease before they ever show up in an emergency room.
And that requires access to health insurance.
We began by expanding Medicaid to people most at risk-including children and those living with HIV/AIDS. But that still left a large group out-those who couldn't qualify for Medicaid and couldn't afford private insurance.
It was for them that we launched the DC HealthCare Alliance.
Now, more than 50,000 people have been served by the Alliance. I've met parents who can finally take their sick children to a real doctor, not an emergency room. I've talked to immigrants who tell me what it means for their families to have health care for the first time in their lives.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation an independent group, not my
brother-in-law we have one of the nation's lowest rates of uninsured people. Only one in 10 of our residents are
uninsured that's about half the national average. But that's still one in 10 too many.
In April, we'll begin a citywide campaign at Metro stops, pubic schools, sporting events and community
centers to get residents covered-whether it's through the Alliance or Medicaid.
But insurance only means something if you have a place to use it.
Right now, too many residents in our most vulnerable communities have trouble finding a doctor close to home. Sometimes the doctor is too far away. Other times, their local clinic has no space. So we're beginning a new initiative to expand the quantity and the quality of community health centers.
It's called Medical Homes DC, a partnership with the DC Primary Care Association. This year, I'm dedicating $7 million in capital funds to get Medical Homes off the ground and care into communities that need it. You'll have your own physician, someone who knows you and your family. You won't have to visit the emergency room for sore throats or sprained ankles. And you'll get screenings and treatments for problems before they become serious. That's health care in the neighborhood. That's health care in your neighborhood. And that's what we're going to do.
Public safety. Education. Health Care. Those are the tough challenges we face on the path ahead. But even if we meet these challenges, it takes full democratic rights to make our final ascent up that mountain.
Mayor Washington understood that from the beginning. Remember when President Johnson asked him to run the city in 1966? He turned him down until the President agreed to give him control over all services, including the police.
Despite all our progress, we're still fighting some of those very battles.
Every year, we work with you to create our budget. And we send that budget to the Hill-where people who don't represent the District decide how we ought to spend our money. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, we can't fix our schools, buy new fire trucks and police cars, or start child care programs.
In December, I used up a lot of gasoline going up to the Hill to ask Senators to pass a bill finally giving us control of our budget. The Senate unanimously voted yes. The President has committed to signing that bill. And now it's time for the House of Representatives to follow the lead of Congressman Tom Davis and Congresswoman Norton and pass budget autonomy this year. Repeat after me so the all the House members can hear you: PASS BUDGET AUTONOMY NOW!
Now, last year Congress gave us $136 million for our priorities-from helping District residents afford college to helping foster kids find
permanent, loving homes. That level of funding was a record-and we were very thankful for it. But it doesn't address a bigger problem.
Our relationship with the federal government is much better now-but not yet equal. It's still what a therapist might call an "unhealthy relationship" or a "dysfunctional relationship." We still give more than we get. We give 40% of our land to the federal government, but get no taxes in return. We give Marylanders and Virginians a place to work and services to use but we can't tax the income they make in this city.
For years, Congress questioned whether this imbalance ever existed. So they turned to their own
investigator the General Accounting Office, which said the structural imbalance not only exists; it costs us about half a billion dollars a
year and that's conservative.
So I ask Congress and the President to do the right by thing by the
District and find a permanent solution to this glaring problem.
Now we have some friends on the Hill in addition to Congressman Davis: We've got Senator Susan Collins, who sponsored our budget autonomy bill. We've got Senator Mike DeWine and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chair our appropriations subcommittees and fought for extra funding. And we've got Senator Mary Landrieu and Congressman Chaka Fattah.
But no one is more vocal for the District than the one, the only, the extraordinary Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Tonight, she's at a retreat for Democratic House Members. She's there using her eloquent and effective voice to fight for us. But it's time her voice became a vote.
We must continue to speak out as we did during the first democratic primary in the nation. Think about this: When only children, convicted felons.and citizens of the District of Columbia are denied voting rights in America, it's time to bring democracy home.
Ladies and gentlemen, the president has said our soldiers are in Iraq to bring democracy there. And now we must ask the president to bring democracy to Washington, D.C.
It's time to give our citizens a vote. It's time for the District of Columbia to become all that this country is supposed to be.
There are few Americans who really embody what this great land is supposed to be. One of them, of course, is Martin Luther King.
Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was when I heard he had been shot. I was walking home from high school. I couldn't believe it was true. I was sad, scared, confused.
So I raced home and turned on the television. I remember watching as they showed parts of the last speech he ever gave. I remember he was speaking out for sanitation workers and the economic injustices that too many faced.
And he said something very prophetic: "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
Forty years later, we, too, in this city have looked over the mountaintop. We, too, have seen that promised land. We know what it looks like. It's a safe city, with world-class schools. It's a city where people have health care, regardless of where they live. It's a capital with democratic rights. We know the way to get there, and it won't be easy.
It will mean setting aside what divides us and coming together to solve the problems that still plague us.
A few years ago, I was flying back to our city. It was a clear winter night. And you could see for miles. And as we made our approach into National Airport, I looked down toward Washington and saw all the lights shining up. I almost had to pinch myself as I thought, "I'm the Mayor of this beautiful city."
Gazing down, I knew that every one of those lights was something precious: A family trying to make it, a single mother supporting her kids, a businesswoman trying to get her restaurant off the ground, a student working his way through college-a child struggling just to do better in this world.
We all have a profound responsibility to keep those lights shining.
We have saved our city. And now the promised land is within our grasp.
And so even though some of us are tired. Even though some of us are angry. Even though some of us have never worked together before. The dreams we have for our children and our city are only a few miles up the mountain. We can see them right ahead.
And so, it's time for each of us to get up and climb.
God bless you. God bless the District. And God Bless America, one nation under God.