D.C. Council poised to increase spending on 2014 Emancipation Day celebration

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) would like to spend $750,000 to study the efficiency of bus service. Cheh has placed $750,000 in the proposed 2014 budget to implement changes identified in part through studies.

The D.C. Council is poised to approve an additional $100,000 for the city’s 2014 Emancipation Day celebration, even though the council chairman, Phil Mendelson, raised questions about how the money for the event was spent this year.

The additional money for Emancipation Day, which marks the anniversary of the freeing of the slaves in the District, is expected to be included in the final version of the city budget for fiscal 2014. At a day-long budget briefing Tuesday, no council member objected to increasing spending on next year’s celebration to $350,000.

Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) said the money is needed to turn the annual parade and festival on Pennsylvania Avenue into a major draw for tourists.

Although Emancipation Day , April 16, is a city holiday, parade attendance has been sparse, in part because few people but city government workers and public school students have the day off.

“I envision us marketing D.C., ‘Come to Cherry Blossoms and Emancipation Day,’ ” said Orange, the chief organizer for the event. “This is our parade. This is our history.”

But during a council discussion on the budget Tuesday, Mendelson (D) expressed concern about how Emancipation Day funds were spent this year.

According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the event’s $250,000 budget included nearly $80,000 to pay costs associated with a performance by gospel musician Kirk Franklin . Franklin traveled to the District with a 16-person entourage, including backup singers, according to budget documents.

In addition to Franklin’s $55,000 booking fee, city taxpayers spent $8,758 for airfare, $1,557 for his limousine and $8,721 to put Franklin and his entourage up at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, including $2,600 for Franklin’s VIP suite. Records attributed $4,215 in food and beverage costs to the entourage.

For an Emancipation Day prayer breakfast, the city spent $11,141 to rent space at the Willard InterContinental hotel. The city also spent $3,891 to provide an honorarium and lodging for activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton, records show. A fireworks show near Freedom Plaza after the festival cost taxpayers $25,000.

“My sense is $350,000 is a lot,” Mendelson said in response to Orange’s request to spend even more next year. “At some point, we invite some critics if we spend more.”

But after several council members voiced support for Orange’s request, Mendelson set aside his concerns about allocating additional money for next year’s event.

In an interview, Orange said the money will help him continue to lure big-name talent to the event, bolstering attendance. “If you can get Beyonc into town, you will have everybody in town,” said Orange, who said event someday will rival the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in New York. “Trust me.”

Orange said that with help from in-kind contributions, he put on a $1 million production for $250,000.

Up for a vote next week, the additional spending for Emancipation Day is one of many revisions being considered by the council. In all, the body is considering tens of millions of dollars in changes to the spending plan proposed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The District government is flush with cash after back-to-back yearly surpluses that totaled more than $500 million.

On Tuesday, there appeared to be no objections to a plan by council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) to spend $16.6 million on job training and an additional $10 million on senior services.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) is proposing to spend $750,000 to implement changes that would improve the efficiency of bus service in the city. She also wants to spend nearly $500,000 to ensure space in shelters for homeless young people who are gay.

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is pushing to spend $3.8 million to eliminate the city’s new five-year time limit on welfare benefits for some recipients. Under Graham’s proposal, victims of domestic violence and mothers with babies up to a year old would not be removed from the rolls after five years.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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