[from March 2001 issue]


It is really appalling that the mayor and his inner circle, emboldened by the control board, is about to take an action so totally bone-headed wrong--actually, unconscionable--that he has now single-handedly created a crisis of confidence in his ability to lead an already racially divided city. When he was running for his office against Carol Schwartz we questioned whether he had what it took to see beyond his bean-counting, "green eye-shade" background, whether he could have the necessary vision and sensitivity to show that he really and truly understands the "little guy in the street."

Unfortunately, it does now seem that our reservations about Williams' seeming lack of connection and sensitivity toward the fears and aspirations of people of modest means and no powerful friends is being borne out by his rush to effectively eliminate health care for the poorest of our citizens.

And, if the mayor feels that he can proceed without concern about losing the support of those who eagerly voted for him two years ago, he may be quite mistaken. Already he has noticed, or should have noticed, that his support inside the African-American religious communities is quickly evaporating--made worse the other day when he had phalanxes of security guards surrounding the ministers when they came to meet with him! Does he really believe they are so dangerous that he can only meet them as if he were venturing into Kosovo?

Maybe the mayor figures that the white middle and upper class voters will back him 100 percent on the matter of shutting down DC General because he has couched the plan in terms of fiscal responsibility, saving money, avoiding deficits, and the like. After all, so the thinking would appear to go, the whites won't really care so long as expenses are held down.

But, first of all, does he think voters--white or black, Hispanic or Asian--are so stupid as to not realize that all that's really going to happen, at best, is that the funds now being spent on DC General will just be redirected to reimbursing other private hospitals for their attempts to pick up the slack, in addition to the great bulk of those funds lining the pockets of the out-of-state private doctors' corporation with a dismal track record that runs Greater Southeast Hospital?

But even a more serious miscalculation in the mayor's thinking (or lack thereof) is that the white folk really don't care what happens to those other folk. Wrong, wrong, incredibly wrong! As we have talked with so many of our readers, what we have been hearing are expressions of grave concern for the health and welfare of our less fortunate fellow citizens.

Furthermore, we have not heard people say this is where they want to see the government skimp; in fact, some persons have wisely observed to us that skimping on a public hospital in an accessible location, such as DC General, will only lead to greater costs down the line as government (meaning the taxpayers) will be faced with even greater costs brought about by deteriorating levels of personal health leading to more direct costs to overcome more serious illnesses, less productivity in the workforce and greater absenteeism--all factors that will make the city even less competitive with Maryland and Virginia, not to say anything about causing businesses thinking of locating in the city to think again.

But there are also the human costs which cannot be ignored--although the mayor seems content to pretend that these concerns are only red herrings. Let him think what he will, but those of us who are lucky enough to have health insurance and good physical and mental health know that it is urgent to do all that can be done to make the same available to those who lack such blessings.

The mayor can say all he wants about how this decision is out of his hands and that it is entirely a matter for the control board to decide, but that is just a cop-out. We believe the control board would not be supporting the mayor's plan if its members understood how this plan is tearing the city apart.

Finally, we remind the mayor and his supporters that if there is one critical governmental domestic responsibility recognized by the Constitution of the United States, and by implication extended to all the states and localities, it is that there is a clear and overriding responsibility of government to ensure the public health, welfare and safety of its citizens. After all, we are the government and, yes, we are our brothers keepers.