Millionaire developer Donahue "Don" Peebles, who keeps teasing the public about whether he will run this year against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), sure sounded like a candidate Wednesday night, even though he's said that he isn't running.
Peebles was a guest speaker at the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations. His speech was an attack on Fenty and his administration that tapped into the discontent of residents who feel that the mayor caters to the city's wealthier citizens.
"Today's Washington is a tale of two cities; one of affluence and great opportunity and the other of economic despair and staggering unemployment," Peebles said in his prepared speech.
Peebles announced earlier this month that he was out of the race, at least for now, because his mother-in-law was seriously ill. But in Wednesday's speech, he portrayed himself as a returning son of the city ready to help create jobs, improve education and provide services to the less fortunate.
At one point, he quoted a story by Tim Craig in The Washington Post about a service center in Southeast where residents have to wait hours to apply for food stamps and other assistance. He repeated a statement of a woman in the story: "Fenty is not in touch at all with this community."
He said, "We cannot risk continuing down the reckless path of the current administration."
Here are his prepared remarks in their entirety:
Thank you, Robert, for the kind introduction.
Washington, DC is the greatest city in the world.
One of DC's greatest attributes is its community-focused and compassionate citizens.
The DC Federation of Civic Associations not only encapsulates the diversity of this city,
It unites associations from every corner of the District to support one another in a comprehensive and action-oriented manner.
I am grateful to you ALL for your civic devotion and commitment.
And am confident that through the tenacity and passion of your respective associations, our city will unite.
And, once again, offer a worthy and pleasant quality of life for all of its citizens and provide opportunities to those committed to success.
After all, our nation's capital has been luring people here for generations.
Take my family for example:
My great grandparents moved here in the late 1920s from the segregated south in hopes of providing their children with a better life.
My grandfather secured a job as a doorman at what is now Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.
He held the position for 41 years.
Supported his family of 5 daughters, all of whom attended DCPS, and instilled in them the philosophy of limitless opportunity.
Today, his grandchildren are doctors, accountants, educators and real estate entrepreneurs.
I actually now own a Marriott Hotel downtown.
Washington, DC enabled my family to go from hotel doorman to hotel owner in 2 generations.
While I feel extremely privileged my family has thrived here for 4 generations, my story is certainly not unique.
I imagine many of you have taken advantage of opportunities presented to you in D.C. and in turn, celebrated some of life's greatest moments here.
I have fond memories of attending high school at the Library of Congress and interning as a page on Capitol Hill.
I met my wife here; my son was born here; established my business here; built my first building here in Anacostia.
As a matter of fact, it was the DC gov't which provided me with my first development opportunity.
Our city has evolved since my childhood and adolescence, from the hardships of the 1960s and the riots of 1968, to the momentous passing of the Home Rule Act in 1974.
I remember the overwhelming pride I felt as a young Washingtonian watching the swearing in of our first elected mayor and city council in 1975.
However, over the course of recent years, especially the last 3, our city has grown increasingly divided.
It is astonishing that in a city where the average personal income is more than $55,000, the highest in the country,
More than 19% of residents live in poverty, the 2nd highest behind Mississippi.
Amidst such inequality, the DC government exacerbates such challenges by being unable to provide even basic services to ALL residents EQUALLY.
The disparity of services provided in Ward 8, for example, versus those provided in Wards 2 and 3, is unacceptable.
Public safety, education and employment opportunities should NOT be determined by your zip code.
As many of you know, homicide in major urban cities decreased last year, as it did here in DC, for the first time since Fenty took office.
We should note the most significant decrease in recent years was actually during Mayor Williams' 2nd term.
From 2003 to 2006, homicides went down by 32%, or 79 deaths.
When Fenty took office in 2007, the downward trend ended and during his first 2 years of office, homicides went up.
Essentially, the city took two steps BACK and ONE step forward.
Despite the decrease in murders in 2009, robbery, theft, arson and property crime all went up here in the District.
The disparity in education can also be plotted on a map with the better schools being west of the Anacostia River.
Schools in affluent neighborhoods not only have higher test scores than schools in Wards 7 and 8, parents are able to supplement budget cuts and provide amenities such as teacher aides, field trips and other enriching elements.
Children in every ward, in every school should have the same exposure and the same amenities.
Reality is, less than half of DCPS students graduate from high school.
Yet 46% of people 25 and over who live in the District, have at least a bachelor's degree, higher than any other state.
Until this disparity significantly improves, it is inappropriate to celebrate such marginal changes as publicized in December.
The fact that 8th grade math scores went from last place to second to last, slightly ahead of Detroit, is nothing to boast.
Especially since Detroit was not part of the previous study.
Fortunately for Michelle Rhee, Detroit DID decide to participate otherwise Washington would have remained last!
And now 4th grade test scores are ranked 14 out of 18.
Both grades are lower than the scores for public school students in other major cities.
I fail to see the cause for celebration.
Just imagine, if we continue at this rate, our 8th graders will not reach the national average for at least another decade, and that is assuming the national average does not increase.
As someone keenly aware of the correlation between economic development and job creation in urban communities, DC's unemployment rate is inexcusable
The economic neglect of large portions of the city, especially east of the river, caused DC's jobless rate to hit 12.1% in December despite the addition of 600 jobs.
Think about that: our nation's capital is more than 2o% higher than the national unemployment average.
DC's unemployment rate is the highest level since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking rates in 1976.
The most unsettling part is in the eastern part of the city, the unemployment numbers are quickly approaching 30%.
As a native Washingtonian, a successful business person and a compassionate citizen, it is inconceivable for me to believe such staggering realities exist in the capital of the United States of America.
Our priorities should be centered on leveling the playing field and creating a positive environment where each and every citizen is provided an opportunity to succeed.
And during times of economic hardship, the government MUST extend a helping hand to those in the greatest need.
The amount of compassion, respect and integrity each of us exhibits should be present in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools and our government.
If we work together and remain resolute in our expectations for comprehensive equality,
We can have safer streets for our children to play,
We can have better schools for our children to learn,
We can have a favorable environment for entrepreneurs to flourish,
And we can have elected officials who act in the best interest of the people, not of themselves.
We cannot risk continuing down the wreckless path of the current administration.
We owe it to ourselves, our children and most importantly, to the children who are not blessed with a strong support system.
As a parent, it is heartbreaking to know there are children at District youth detention centers, housing more than 156 juveniles in quarters meant for no more than 88.
These kids are unable to access the guidance and mentorship needed for them to find their way to a promising future.
Today's Washington is not the city I grew up in and not what residents want.
Today's Washington is a tale of two cities; one of affluence and great opportunity and the other of economic despair and staggering unemployment.
I bet during the course of the week, you hear a story about a teacher losing their job, a neighbor's house going into foreclosure or a friend getting laid off.
On Tuesday, my heart sank as I opened the Metro section of The Post to see a photo of my building in Anacostia with hundreds of people, bundled in scarves and winter coats, in a line stretching around the corner awaiting entrance to the Income Maintenance Center.
It was infuriating to read the Class-A development I built 20 years ago, was now a dreaded venue where people like Renarda House, wait days on end in hope of receiving governmental assistance.
Ms. House "blames the city" and feels "Fenty is not in touch at all with this community."
We cannot and will not become a great city if we have social service centers turning away hundreds of residents every day who wait for as long as 8 hours for food stamps, medical assistance or emergency cash payments.
I wonder how Adrian Fenty would explain to her and the hundreds of others how he closed two service centers to save $1 million while negotiating a $7 million deal to lure a Bethesda-based company to the District.
A deal which will not create ONE new job nor spark ANY new economic development for our community.
With such insensitivity from the highest level, the increasing economic divide will certainly lead to further separation, hopelessness and anger.
We cannot condone such lack of compassion and poor management.
We must demand additional resources be deployed to the hardest hit areas.
We must fight for the best interest of those being ignored, unheard and abused.
It is in everyone's best interest to strive for economic parody.
We can do better and we must.
Thank you again for your dedication.
Please feel free to express any comments you may have or ask me any questions.
-- Nikita Stewart