[from February 2001 issue]


Why? Because of what we and so many others in communities throughout this city see as a complete lack of genuine compassion for the underdog--the less fortunate, less educated, less powerful. It's become a disgusting disgrace. Example abound.

At the head of the list is the virtual decimating of DC General Hospital. All in the name of saving money--this in a city where even to this day money is squandered through incompetence, fraud, or failures in-between.

There is no way the other hospitals in the city are going to be able to pick up the patients tossed out from DC General; the other hospitals are drowning in red ink as it is. Who will pay the subsidies to those institutions? Will they be expected to go further in the red or pass on the costs to the insured patients whose insurance companies will then pay more thus causing even greater increases in health insurance premiums here? Do people who make these decisions know that this area is already one of the highest-cost medical insurance regions in the country? The middle class is already having a terrible time meeting ever-increasing premiums, not to say anything about low-income folk who haven't a prayer of being able to afford these costs. Adding more at that end will not help save the city from a health care disaster.

Similarly, the decision to close the clinic in Adams Morgan--reported in detail in our page 1 story in this issue--is another case in point. There will be minimal up-front savings to the city, but serious back-end costs to the lower income, largely Hispanic residents of Adams Morgan and Mt. Pleasant who have come to depend on that clinic's superb services over the years. The alternative will not serve them well, and in the long run we predict the city will have to ante up more money to offset increased health and social service needs that will flow from this ill-conceived and insensitive reduction in community health services.

A recent audit report from the Department of Human Services revealed that officials of the city's Youth Services Administration had been playing fast and furious with city-owned vehicles and cell phones for their private use, had been abusing housing privileges, and squandering precious funds intended to help troubled kids for junkets to Hawaii, among other sun-drenched locales. Have they been fired, or even prosecuted? Nope, and Assistant Mayor Carolyn Graham, who was put in charge of human services, seems quite unapologetic about all this scandal.

Of course, it doesn't really matter, does it? After all, it's just poor kids who end up getting the short end of the stick because there won't be adequate resources available to help them.

Then there was that awful debacle at the end of January involving the sudden closure of a run-down fire trap of a house on Park Road in Columbia Heights. We certainly don't fault the fire department for wanting to clear the place out when they discovered it was a dangerous place for people to be living. (Why this hadn't been noticed before even though the city had cited the landlord for violations and had recently initiated court proceedings is beyond us.)

But there they were on a cold morning, city officials posting a vacate notice with only four hours allowed to get out. No consideration for the residents who had minimal financial or coping resources. The city administrator said it is "not economically feasible" to offer hotel rooms! We assume the preferred solution by these well-paid bureaucrats is simply to let the people fend for themselves and maybe conveniently die from hypothermia on the sidewalk! Sounds like a chapter out of a Charles Dickens novel.

This callousness in the name of fiscal something-or-other, initiated by accountants who can't see beyond their green eye-shades is absolutely repulsive. We give thanks, with strong praise, to Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham who rushed to the scene and took immediate steps to get those folk into hotel rooms, using his own credit card (he figured his constituent services fund would have some dollars available to reimburse).

The council member showed compassion; the bureaucrats did not. To have no organized system for assisting the victims--and that's what they are, caught between a greedy landlord and a dysfunctional bureaucracy--is unconscionable at best and bordering on criminal at worst.

But the bureaucrats are not alone in being insensitive. Just consider the recent action by the city council in voting against a perfectly sound bill introduced by at-large Councilmember David Catania and supported by Ward 1 Councilmember Graham that would, on a 90-day emergency basis, have cut in half the city's tax charged residents for utilities they use. The point of this emergency legislation was to give immediate relief by helping to partially offset the enormous increases in natural gas being charged to residents, vast numbers of whom are having great difficulty in meeting these unexpected increases. As Catania pointed out, the city would not have lost any money since it is now receiving an unexpected windfall; higher gas prices mean more tax dollars for the city. Shame on the seven members who voted this down.

A pox on all your houses!