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Newseum? Yes!

(Published July 17, 2000)

It shouldnít take months ó or even weeks ó for D.C. and federal officials to enthusiastically say "yes" to the nonprofit Freedom Forumís $100 million cash offer for the current Department of Employment Services building site at Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street NW.

The Freedom Forum wants to move its headquarters and its popular Newseum ó an interactive news museum ó from Arlington County to the nationís Main Street in downtown D.C. and, as part of the package, is offering a $25 million cash grant for the city to use toward low- and moderate-income housing as it sees fit.

The $250 million new building it proposes to build on the site would also include a street-level restaurant, 100 condominiums, an international conference center and the news museumís retail store. At least 200 new, permanent D.C. jobs are envisioned.

In addition to offering the highest price ever paid for a Washington property, the Freedom Forum says it will pay millions of dollars annually in D.C. real estate and sales taxes from which it is legally exempt.

While Mayor Anthony A. Williams has embraced the offer and promised a decision within 45 days, city officials caution that a longstanding federal interest in the property may require a competitive bidding process for the site.

Congress has the authority to waive that federal interest or direct federal officials to cooperate with the city in such a way that would allow this deal to be expeditiously consumated. In doing so, Congress also would advance the nationís interest in promoting the understanding of a free press.

Downtown activist Terry Lynch called the proposal "dynamic" and "an unprecedented windfall for the District." Downtown housing advocate Charlie Docter called the Freedom Forumís proposal "a win-win offer for bringing residents back to the city."

We agree.

Supported by a $1 billion endowment fund, the Freedom Forum was founded in 1991 as the successor to the Gannett Foundation and has become an international leader in educating students, journalists and the public in First Amendment issues of free press and free speech. (The Gannett Foundation helped train the publisher of this newspaper.)

The foundationís officials say they need a decision this summer on their offer in order to complete the project before the Newseumís current lease in Arlington expires in 2003.

Congress should act with dispatch to eliminate whatever federal hindrance stands in the way of city officials promptly accepting the Freedom Forumís offer.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator

City councilís folly

(Published July 17, 2000)

D.C. City Council ó and a unanimous council, at that ó acted foolishly July 11 by voting to require coverage of contraceptives in all health insurance plans offered by D.C. employers, including employers that object for religious reasons.

Contraceptives prevent childbearing, which is a matter of human choice, not health. Council Chairman Linda Croppís insistence before a congressional committee July 12 that the council acted on a simple issue of health in passing the legislation without an exempting "conscience clause" was sheer folly.

In this case, council members acted recklessly by inviting the very kind of congressional intervention that their constituents abhor.

The House D.C. appropriations subcommittee, meeting July 13 to mark up the cityís fiscal 2001 budget bill, promptly included a "rider" in the bill that prohibits enactment of the councilís legislation.

The council didnít need to go there.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator