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Native Intelligence
There’s a better way to showcase D.C.
(Published February 25, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

I swore I was not going to say anything about Mike Tyson in this column, but after a week of hearing and reading what residents have had to say, I can’t help myself.

And besides, it gives me a chance to hammer away at my favorite mayor.

Mayor Anthony Williams is a greedy man. He wants his friends to be rolling in dough, even if it is at residents’ expense. Williams, whose attention span for solving the real problems in the District is worse than that of a 6-year-old diagnosed with attention deficit syndrome, had his handpicked buddies on the boxing commission give a preliminary go-ahead for a Mike Tyson-Lennox Lewis fight in the District.

Williams threw another bone to his buddies in the hotel and restaurant industries by giving his imprimatur to the fight – and, at the same time, has again made the District a national laughingstock. I am so angry at how foolish he makes us look to the rest of the country.

We give approval to a fight that even Las Vegas rejects.

Las Vegas – long known as the nation’s Sin City – has spent a decade changing its image. It has succeeded in packaging itself as a family recreation and retirement community. The Nevada city claims to have more churches and synagogues per capita now than any other city in the country.

Mayor Williams says he views a Tyson-Lewis fight as a chance to "showcase" the District. And, of course, his friends in the tourism industry are salivating over the prospect of high rollers from out of town throwing money around the District for at least three days.

But his "friends" don’t live in the District. Most of them go home to the burbs while D.C. residents have to clean up the mess they leave behind.

When he was elected, Williams made a commitment to bring new business into the city and to create a business-friendly environment to help small businesses thrive. But he spends more time on the "easy solutions" and less on the hard work it takes to create a thriving urban environment. The closure of the successful coffeehouse Cuppa’ Jo near Gallaudet University should have been a wake-up call for the mayor that he has failed to make this city small business-friendly.

Williams has accomplished one thing I thought was long gone from the nation’s lexicon. Washington’s local government is again fodder for stand-up comics’ jokes and radio commentators’ sarcasm. I thought that image was gone when Marion Barry retired.

Thanks, Mayor Williams. Now I have to defend my hometown to people around the country, who once again see this city as a joke.

***

What equally upset me during the past week is the mayor’s obsession with the regional bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2012. Again, it is the tourism industry salivating at the millions that would be spent in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, without thinking of the long-term impact on residents.

There has not been an Olympics that has made any money since the games in Los Angeles in 1984. Hosting Olympic Games becomes a justification to gut low-income housing that never gets replaced with enough affordable housing.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Charles White represents the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which is just a stone’s throw from Robert F. Kennedy Stadium and the prime D.C. General Hospital land, one of the largest undeveloped plots in the city.

A native Washingtonian, White says he opposes bringing the Olympic Games to the region. He says the District doesn’t need a short-term economic solution, but a long-term plan for small business growth. Besides, he says, the city doesn’t need another item to showcase.

"We have all these monuments and we are the repositories for the nation’s artifacts that are housed in all of our museums. We are the Capital of Democracy. We do not need to be showcased," White says. "Give us the number one school system in the country and make us the number one crime-free city in the country, which would do more to showcase us than any short-term scheme."

I guess I shouldn’t be nervous if people like Charles White will fight against the Olympic bid. Besides, despite all of the mayor’s work, my sources tell me that San Francisco – not Washington – is the frontrunner for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor.

***

The writer, a native Washingtonian with more than 25 years in the news business, spends her nights toiling as an editorial producer for a network morning news show. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com with your news tips.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator