Street Politics

Photo of a DC Council Budget meeting taking place

A DC Council budget vote in action. Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan / Wikimedia

Numbers People Like. Mayor Williams has received welcome praise for his proposed 2006 budget, which includes significant spending for housing, homeless services, employment help, neighborhood revitalization, and other aid. The mayor describes the increases as the city’s reward for budget discipline in years past. 

Several City Council members said the new spending proposals are the right response to their constituents’ urgent needs. They also signaled they will look for measurable results. In a city where many neighborhoods miss out on economic development, and face persistent poverty and joblessness, that insistence will also come from everyday Washingtonians. 

Following Through. Street Sense vendor and Vendor Liaison Donald Brooks asked, “Will the mayor also dedicate the time and attention to people that need it the most?” 

Eight is an Important Number. At a March briefing on his proposed budget, Mayor Williams smiled broadly as he read from a statement Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry had just released. Barry wrote, “Mayor Williams asked me for a list of my priorities… and this budget reflects a substantial departure from some of Mayor Williams’ previous budgets. I want to thank the mayor for funding a number of unmet needs…I am pleased that we are moving in the right direction.”  

That sounds like real unity of purpose, at least on these issues, in this budget, this year. 

Meanwhile in Maryland… “Legislators don’t want to raise taxes in an election year,” said Steve Hill, who heads the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute. The General Assembly and Governor Ehrilich likely had this in mind when they proposed state spending cuts for the coming fiscal year, including some antipoverty and other human-needs programs. 

Said Hill, “They’ll cut deeply this year, so they don’t need to cut so deeply next year. They might even be able to add spending next year.” That’s an election year, when Ehrlich and the legislature receive their performance reviews. 

In D.C., Mayor Williams’ new spending proposals come while several hopefuls try to win early attention in the 2006 mayoral race. And that new spending should start showing results around the time voters decide which candidate to support. 

Word, on the Street: What Numbers Can’t Measure. “Some people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” said Andrew Davis, a Street Sense vendor and vendor recruiter. “We’ve lost Randall Shelter and we’re losing Franklin. That happened because we know the price of a ‘surplus property’, but forget the value of the people we displace. On which one do we hang our hat, as a city?” Davis stressed the value of the “human capital” homeless people represent: “Homelessness means you don’t have an address. But it doesn’t mean you can’t work, or don’t want to work. 

Strength in Numbers. “You’ve got to know something about people’s heartfelt hopes, desires, and aspirations,” said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kenneth Alexander, who has been a Street Sense vendor. He now serves on his ANC’s committees on public safety and public service, and says his Petworth neighborhood in Ward 4 is worried about crime, urban blight and poverty. Alexander remarked that “a lot of my constituents see themselves as relatively powerless. I want to counter that feeling.” 

He wants to work with people to get to know the issues and to build trust. And he recalls the Chinese proverb in which a young man was given some sticks to break. The individual sticks were easily broken, but when they were gathered together in a bundle, they were almost impossible to break. “There’s a lesson there for all of us,’ Alexandre said. In keeping with that idea, he would like to host informal meetings where people could gather to share their concerns and ideas. 

  • David S. Hammond 

Issues |Housing

Region |Maryland|Washington DC

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