Thursday, 04 September 1997 17:51

500 Washington Residents Protest Outside Control

Written by Michael Janofsky | The New York Times

By Michael Janofsky, The New York Times, September 4, 1997

Several hundred District of Columbia residents today protested the shift of power from the city’s elected officials to a financial control board with a rally and march to the Capitol.

The protesters listened to speeches for nearly two hours below the western front of the Capitol before marching up Constitution Avenue to the Hart Senate Office Building.

Though Representative Maxine Waters, Democrat of California, had urged the demonstrators to risk arrest with a sit-in, no one entered the building to confront Senator Lauch Faircloth, the North Carolina Republican whom many city residents blame for the loss of power. Instead, they listened to more speeches, prayed and vowed to march another day.

“We made our point,” said the Rev. Graylan Ellis-Hagler of the Plymouth Congregation United Church of Christ, one of the speakers. “To go into this office at this point would be to dignify those people too much. We’ve already been seen.”

The rally was part of a new grass-roots opposition to the powers Congress gave to the control board, which was created in 1995 to pull the District out of fiscal and management upheaval. By law, only when the city has balanced its budget for four consecutive years will the mayor and other elected city officials regain their powers.

In its brief term so far, the board has replaced the elected school board with appointed trustees, installed new heads of the city’s major agencies and made every major decision on contracting, employment and city operations, marginalizing Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. and other city leaders.

It was Mr. Faircloth, chairman of the Senate District subcommittee, who insisted that greater managerial restraints on city officials be included in the 1998 Federal budget in exchange for Republican support of an Administration rescue package for the District. The package is worth nearly $1 billion for the District and includes a Federal takeover of the city’s pension liability, an increase in the Federal share of the city’s Medicaid expenses and a series of Federal tax cuts for District residents.

Many citizens saw it as an unfair swap, and residents’ groups have begun voicing displeasure, although the size of today’s crowd, around 500, hardly suggested that a city of 540,000 was up in arms. Even so, organizers said the rally’s sponsors included 80 community groups, churches, unions and student organizations.

“This movement is in its incipient stage,” said Jim Cooper, a rally organizer. “It’s just beginning to mobilize the city. Revolutions do take time to jell and formulate.”

The crowd today heard from more than a dozen speakers, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Dick Gregory -- but not Mayor Barry, who did not attend -- and none was so strident as Ms. Waters, who implored the crowd to take stronger action.

“You ought to be in the halls, lying down,” she said, referring to Congressional office buildings. “This struggle, this fight requires civil disobedience.”

There were no sit-ins, and according to the Metropolitan Police Department and the United States Capitol Police, no arrests.

Correction: September 6, 1997

An article on Thursday about a rally at the United States Capitol protesting a shift in political power from the District of Columbia’s elected officials to an appointed financial control board misidentified n organizer of the rally. He is Tim Cooper, not Jim Cooper.

Read this article online at The New York Times.

Read 720 times Last modified on Wednesday, 24 April 2019 18:04

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