In a 9 to 2 vote Tuesday, the D.C. Council rejected a plan by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to extend a summer jobs program for seven days for about 20,000 youths, by diverting $4.3 million from a federal poverty program.
With the Sept. 14 primary election weeks away, several council members said they were put in the unenviable position of giving young people one more paycheck for the summer or providing from 135 to 250 families with housing for a year. Fenty's proposal again piled on criticism that he has repeatedly disregarded the council's budget authority and has mismanaged the summer jobs program.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who is running for reelection, called it "political theater" and said he expected the administration to characterize the council's vote as voting against youths. But he said the council had to stick with the budget. "He's coming here to try to get bailed out of fiscal irresponsibility," Mendelson said.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), Fenty's chief rival in the mayoral primary who has been campaigning on his fiscal prudence, voted against the measure.
In May, the council approved the mayor's Summer Youth Employment Program at $22.7 million, but the final cost for the six-week program is estimated to be $29.8 million. Fenty had already shifted stimulus money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to make up the difference but requested more than $4 million in additional funds for an extension.
Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) voted in favor of Fenty's proposal. Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) were not present during the vote.
"As far as I'm concerned, summer employment is human services," Bowser said during debate before the vote.
But Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said the city's homeless program had already suffered significant cuts last year, jeopardizing shelter for hypothermia and permanent housing for homeless families.
Noel Longmore, a 16-year-old working in the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, was tearful after the vote. "I'm very upset about it. It was a nice experience. I had a job to go to," said Longmore, lamenting that her last day will now be Friday. "It's kind of upsetting that we had to take money from that (poverty program). But some kids, like, help their moms pay their bills...I was going to get my school clothes. My mom could spend money on (other) stuff."
Earlier, Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) tried to shift the blame on Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi who he said knew about the cost overruns in May and failed to inform the council. He said if the mayor had not asked for the extension, "not one member would have been informed that we were over budget."
Council member Michael A. Brown (I-At Large), who heads the committee that oversees the summer jobs program, said the council's vote signaled its weariness of the mayor's management of the budget. "You can't just continue to blow through budgets with no consequences," he said.