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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

CHICAGO'S SUCCESS: Since becoming mayor in 1999, Tony Williams has consistently looked to "best practices" of other U.S. cities for ways of improving D.C. government operations. So yours truly hopes, in the midst of our city's latest health care crisis, that hizzoner and the District's congressional overseers noticed the hurrahs that accompanied the grand opening on Dec. 12 of a spanking new $623 million public hospital in Cook County, Ill. To put that investment by Chicago-area taxpayers in proper perspective, consider that the highly touted new state-of-the-art George Washington University Hospital cost about one-sixth that amount.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the new Cook County Hospital is "the costliest public works project in the history of Cook County government." In Chicago, clearly, the government invests big money in buildings to serve the taxpayers. By contrast, the D.C. government's costliest public works project - the new Washington Convention Center - will primarily serve big business. And city leaders are now talking about investing $200 million or so in, of all possible necessities, a baseball stadium.

The new Cook County Hospital replaced one that the Chicago Tribune described as a place "where great accomplishments were made and care given within a facility that lacked modern conveniences." Supporters of the District's shuttered public hospital might consider that to be an apt description of D.C. General, as well.

Notably, the new Chicago hospital - hailed as "the linchpin in the state's Medicaid system" - serves the same population as Michael Reese Medical Center. Michael Reese is one of four sister hospitals of D.C.'s Greater Southeast Community Hospital, all owned by Arizona-based Doctors Community Healthcare Corp. - and all, along with their parent company, in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy filings in November have forced the District to reexamine the structure of the less than two-year-old D.C. Healthcare Alliance, the privatized system that the mayor and the now-dormant, congressionally created, financial control board forced upon a unanimously opposed D.C. City Council and a disgruntled citizenry. Greater Southeast is the hub of the alliance, and its most recent financial troubles have focused attention on its failure to comply with several of its contractual obligations to the city.

While supporters of privatizing health care for the District's poor and uninsured residents often cite troubled public hospitals elsewhere to support their position, maybe they should spend a little more time studying how to emulate local governments - like Cook County's - that make public institutions work.

CRIME CAN WAIT: The ink wasn't long dry on the announcement that Mayor Williams and the Metropolitan Police Department were planning a major crime-fighting summit on Dec. 12 when an apology was issued. The event, created to enlist citizens in efforts to stamp out some of the city's most vexing neighborhood crime problems, was canceled.

An inquiry to the mayor's press office brought the news that Council Chairman Linda Cropp and Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange had schedule conflicts that necessitated postponing the crime summit until sometime in the new year. Seems that Orange had scheduled his annual Ward 5 holiday party for the same date. Cropp's press secretary grudgingly agreed to ask about Cropp's conflict, but then failed to respond to the inquiry.

THAT UPSIDE-DOWN FLAG: In our last issue, the D.C. flag was shown prominently hanging upside down during opening ceremonies at the annual Turkey Bowl football championship for D.C. Public Schools. A DCPS spokeswoman subsequently informed The Common Denominator that the mix-up occurred when Junior ROTC students from Dunbar and H.D. Woodson high schools, which use flagpoles of different lengths, switched flags to put them all on same-sized poles. While that explains how the problem occurred, it doesn't explain why the students' commanders aren't doing a better job of ensuring that their charges learn and display proper respect for the flag.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator