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D.C. Dems sidestep voting on health care

GOP calls on Mayor Williams to respect home rule

(Published May 7, 2001)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Supporters of Mayor Anthony A. Williams used parliamentary procedure to thwart an attempt May 3 to get the D.C. Democratic State Committee on record supporting or opposing the privatization of D.C. General Hospital.

"We’re losing people to the Republicans and elsewhere," said Ward 8 committeeman Arthur H. Jackson Jr., as the District’s Democratic Party leadership ended its May meeting amid confusion, shouting and a motion to adjourn. Jackson sought a vote by the party’s citywide leaders to affirm a lopsided 36-1 vote taken last month by Ward 8 Democrats in opposition to the mayor’s privatization plan.

The control board began implementing the contract with Greater Southeast Community Hospital on May 1, overruling the D.C. City Council’s rejection of the plan and repealing the city’s 1995 law that created the Public Benefit Corp. as the parent company for the city’s health-care delivery system.

A federal court challenge to the control board’s action, brought by Councilmen Kevin P. Chavous and David Catania, is pending, with a full hearing scheduled for June 8. Democrat Chavous and Republican Catania contend that the control board overstepped its authority by usurping the elected council’s legislative authority.

U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts denied the councilmen’s April 30 request to temporarily stay implementation of the contract, saying he feared that congressional restrictions on local funding for D.C. General Hospital would make blocking the contract’s implementation more disruptive to public health care than letting it go forward. Roberts agreed to expedite consideration of the lawsuit. "It is important that this not simmer for a long period of time," he said from the bench.

The D.C. Republican Party leadership passed a resolution May 1 condemning Mayor Williams for not respecting home rule. "While the mayor has been quick to criticize others for not supporting home rule, he should practice what he preaches by working with the District’s elected officials instead of relying on the unelected control board for cover," the GOP’s resolution said in part.

The D.C. General issue has exposed a growing fissure in the city’s Democratic political establishment. A group calling itself The Coalition of D.C. Democrats boycotted the local party’s annual fund-raising dinner at the end of April to protest a decision to honor Mayor Williams with the party Chairman’s Award. Democratic Chairman Norman Neverson is a major supporter of the mayor.

Jackson, among leaders of the renegade coalition, describes the mayor as "the most anti-Ward 8, anti-poor and insensitive elected official in our city’s history." Jackson said his attempts to get the Democratic State Committee to take a stand in support of maintaining a public hospital in the city have now been rebuffed at three meetings.

Ward 5 Democratic Chairman Frank Wilds and former Ward 8 chairman Philip Pannell – who stepped down to take a job in the mayor’s administration – teamed up at the end of the party’s May 3 meeting to thwart Jackson’s most recent attempt to introduce his motion. As Neverson recognized Jackson to speak, Wilds quickly made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Pannell then shouted "point of order," contending correctly that a motion to adjourn takes precedence when party chairman Neverson attempted to allow Jackson to continue. Numerous cries of "second" were heard to Jackson’s motion.

Pannell was the lone dissenter in the Ward 8 Democrats’ 36-1 vote against the mayor’s privatization plan.

Ironically, the Democrats’ regular meeting location in the auditorium of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library was the same place where the control board voted April 30 to dissolve the Public Benefit Corp. as the city’s umbrella agency for public health-care services and replaced it with a network of contractors and subcontractors headed by Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

The Coalition of D.C. Democrats has been meeting for several months to form what Jackson characterizes as "a new political force in our city." The group is expected to challenge Mayor Williams’ efforts to seek re-election in 2002.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator