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Mayor’s “State of the District” Speech Signals Budget Realities

By Anthony L. Harvey

Images accompanying this feature can be viewed in the current issue PDF

To a large and enthusiastic audience of young and old, black and white, rich and poor gathered on March 28th in the large and ornate auditorium of Washington’s Eastern High School, Mayor Vincent C. Gray delivered a strong and resolute message on the programs and priorities of his new administration together with early warning of cuts that may be necessary due to the financial condition of the District — a condition which his administration inherited. This, together with Gray’s noting the continuing decline in revenue, cast a somber note on an otherwise celebratory occasion.

Standing before the auditorium’s packed orchestra and balcony levels, with people standing on the sides and viewing through courtyard windows — plus two full overflow rooms, Gray took advantage of this setting by praising the recently completed restoration and expansion of Eastern High School. Located on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill close to the Stadium/Armory Metro station complex, this “City-Beautiful,” gothic revival structure was constructed in 1923. And, with appropriate symmetry and fanfare, the west side’s Wilson Senior High School Jazz Ambassadors provided a strenuous musical prelude to Gray’s remarks.

Constructed as a lengthy, elaborated litany of selected DC governmental programs, together with the problems these programs aim to address and their relative priority for the Mayor among the many cares and concerns of DC residents, Mayor Gray began his one-hour speech forthrightly, with the bold assertion that despite the District’s increasing population, the vibrant commercial and residential development occurring in many parts of the city, the improvements in DC public schools, and the economy’s generation of new jobs, parts of the city are being left behind. “The truth is,” Gray powerfully articulated, “that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some, and a mirage for others.”

The Mayor continued with concise and cogently phrased professions of priority and programmatic undertakings by his administration to significantly strengthen government efforts in such areas as education from birth to age 24 and by reducing school truancy, highlighting the educational tragedy of those wards where over half the teenagers never graduate from high school; the provision of jobs and job training for everyone in DC with the goal being major gains in employment opportunities for all residents, especially in high unemployment areas east of the Anacostia River; public safety and safe streets throughout the city; welfare reform to be achieved by abolishing an old climate of dependency among the non-working poor; and focused and targeted programs to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS infection in the District.

With a somewhat oblique reference to the initial employment scandal of his newly launched administration, Mayor Gray reiterated his campaign promises of a new era of public trust in city governmental operations. And “if that trust is violated,” the Mayor pledged, “you can expect swift action.” In spite of the length of the Mayor’s speech, the evening moved swiftly, concluding with a loud round of standing applause.