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Fix D.C. for D.C.

(Published May 8, 2000)

Sixteen months into Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ administration, we are growing weary of the constant public relations efforts to attract new residents and big businesses to the District to fix our city’s problems.

There’s something important lacking in the attitude behind these efforts: Recognition that the more than 500,000 people who already live here and the thousands of small businesses that serve our neighborhoods are the lifeblood of our community.

We are the reason our political leaders should be trying to help us fix our city. We are the people who pay the taxes that allow all of those out-of-town "experts" to be brought in year after year, lavished with hefty salaries or outlandishly high-priced contracts that never seem to lift our city as a whole to any new heights of lasting improvement.

We’ve seen it all before. We’ve heard it all before.

The conventional wisdom our current crop of political leaders attempts to pass off as a "new spirit" now appears to be much of the same old thing we’ve gotten from politicians of the past — it’s just been dressed up in different terms.

We would like to see more than lip service about the importance of D.C. residents and home-grown businesses coming from the mayor, the council, the control board and the Congress.

We had the unfortunate experience recently of discovering that the Williams administration apparently lacks a comprehensive contact list of the numerous neighborhood business groups that largely represent the bulk of the city’s small retail, restaurant and service industries based in neighborhood commercial corridors.

For an administration that touts "Neighborhood Action" as its buzzwords, that’s a serious omission. And we almost hate to point out that the much-maligned Barry administration was able to readily produce such a list.

There is great talent and resourcefulness and dedication in the people and the businesses already in D.C. We don’t require a public relations campaign to tell us there is great potential in our city. We are part of that potential.

What many locals in D.C. lack are the capital and the expertise to realize their dreams and their vision for our city.

An empowering political establishment would draw on the resources within our city and invest in its people to create self-perpetuating local leadership and locally based business and employment opportunities.

Instead, our leaders deprecatingly attach labels such as "distressed" and "at risk" to our neighborhoods and our children. They look for outside examples of success and try to transfer others’ dreams to D.C. rather than providing the needed assistance so we in D.C. can achieve on our own.

Need a supermarket in your neighborhood? Our city leaders needn’t look beyond the numerous small grocers in our neighborhoods who have successfully managed their undercapitalized businesses for years. Why aren’t our local tax dollars being used to help some of these local businesses expand to serve our city’s needs?

We need more than new clothes on old ideas to fix our city. We need a new attitude from our political leaders that understands how valuable D.C.’s people are as a resource to help themselves.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator