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Political preparedness rules day
(Published November 5, 2001)

By JONETTA ROSE BARRAS

There was no hue and cry when the U.S. Postal Service, allegedly following Centers for Disease Control directives, failed to test employees at the Brentwood Road post office and other facilities for exposure to anthrax. When the U.S. Capitol and various congressional offices were closed for environmental tests, city post offices remained open, potentially endangering the health of workers and the public.

Not the major media nor D.C. Health Director Ivan Walks nor Mayor Anthony A. Williams nor any of the members of the D.C. Council have expressed any alarm over the early stumbling of federal officials, which has led to massive treatment of workers and disruption of local mail service.

This is not time for local officials to go along to get along — people’s lives are in jeopardy, as seen by the increasing number of citizens who are not only contracting the anthrax infection but dying from it.

Yet, it appears the rules of the day have been to cover butts and position for advancement. Consequently, federal and local bureaucrats have formed a conspiratorial bond, praising each other for the work being done and making excuses for needless mistakes that can only be chalked up to incompetence.

On the other hand, politicians have been no better, especially some council members and the city’s lone congressional delegate. D.C. Council members -- including Chairman Linda Cropp, Ward 1 representative Jim Graham and Ward 8’s Sandy Allen -- squeezed themselves into the background frame of several press conferences, as if they had some major role to play in responding to the outbreak. Their appearance was reminiscent of those evening news segments where the reporter is out in the field and a bunch of adolescents is hanging out, hamming it up, making faces, mouthing "Hi, Mom" and flashing the peace sign.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton was not satisfied, however, just getting face time and supporting-role billing. She wanted more. She convened a town hall meeting. Using her congressional influence, she brought in Deputy Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu, federal small business loan administrator Maria Caiseda and a representative from the postal service.

Still, the Norton meeting was a dud. Many residents, who came thinking they would learn new information or that their specific concerns would be addressed, received a rehash of yesterday’s news with the same apologies from federal officials about the delay in their response to circumstances at the Brentwood Road post office.

It was nearly impossible to discern just why Norton called the meeting and why she opted not to include the city’s own health director and kept the District’s director of Employment Services, Gregory Irish, seated in the audience. One could only surmise that the woman who wants to lead the charge for D.C. statehood and voting rights in Congress has little or no appreciation for the city’s local elected leadership. Or, she wanted this to be a "Norton only" production, for which she and only she could claim the credit. And so to the victor go the spoils — rotten as they are.

Not to be outdone, Rep. Connie Morella, Maryland Republican, held her own hearing on Nov. 2. "As the seat of the federal government, Washington, D.C., must be the American city most prepared to respond to an emergency, whether it be a terrorist attack or the threat of a bio-chemical event," she said in announcing the meeting before the Government Reform subcommittee on the District. "The events of Sept. 11th and in subsequent weeks have shown that such coordination is sorely lacking. The federal and local governments are not doing enough to work together and coordinate their responses. This is a glaring weakness that must be immediately corrected." You have to wonder: Where has Morella been for the past two weeks? Why is she just now talking about emergency preparedness? She trotted out the mayor, Cropp, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Executive Director Michael Rogers and a host of other characters. Glaringly absent from the invited guests was the man charged with developing the city’s emergency plan, Peter LaPorte.

The director of the city’s Emergency Management Agency, LaPorte was the only saving grace at Norton’s major flop. Pulling out a bucket of tricks, he got down to basics for residents, reminding them that every family and community should have an emergency plan and what that plan should contain.

Since Oct. 6, LaPorte has been trying to distribute his six-page "A Family Preparedness Guide." He brought along several hundred for the mayor’s Citizen Summit. At Norton’s town hall meeting, La Porte asked people to "take one, take two, take some for your neighbors" -- which prompted these questions: Why is he trying to peddle his wares door to door? If the mayor could use $38,000 of taxpayer money to insert a notice for the October Citizen Summit in The Washington Post, cannot the city find the funds to disseminate in a similar manner a far more critical document? LaPorte was overheard telling a Post reporter that the paper wanted to charge $37,000; he was whining about the steep price.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that something is wrong with this picture?

 

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator