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A ‘big-league city’ led by bush-leaguers

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Mayor Vincent Gray’s upbeat State of the District address Tuesday night hailed many things: growth in businesses and higher-income residents, fewer homicides, 55 construction cranes dotting the D.C. skyline.

Left unmentioned were the poor condition of many D.C. youth and the woeful ethical climate blanketing the District.

Instead, Gray trumpeted that we are a “big-league city.”

A big-league city even as many of our youth function at a minor-league level? Even as residents endure some politicians whose moral principles are less than second-rate?

How can the mayor toss around such a term when only four in 10 D.C. third-graders can read proficiently?

That is just one of several depressing statistics in a report released this week by Raise DC, a coalition of civic, philanthropic and community groups Gray created to evaluate city programs.

A “big-league city” when only six in 10 students graduate from high school in four years? When approximately 19 percent of District adults lack basic literacy skills?

We are a “big-league city” when 10,000 low-income 16- to 24-year-olds are out of work and out of school?

What’s going to happen to those third-graders who aren’t passing reading tests? Will they miraculously reach proficiency by 10th grade? Or are they more likely, without a tremendous amount of remedial help, to drop out of school?

What, pray tell, are those 10,000 adolescents in our “big-league city” doing when they are not in school or on a job?

Here are some of Raise DC’s findings:

●About 11 percent of births in the District are to mothers under the age of 20;

●More than 600 16- to 21-year-olds spent their adolescence in foster care;

●Each year, more than 1,000 youth are committed to the supervision of the juvenile justice system.

●Nearly 30 percent of D.C. children live in poverty, and 1,800 are homeless.

Sounds like a “big-league city,” doesn’t it?

When the report was released Monday, Gray suggested that the answer is better collaboration among programs that target social ills.

Raise DC put it this way: “shape a civic infrastructure that moves away from the District’s habit of isolated efforts toward a smarter and more integrated way of organizing existing funds, initiatives, and resources for children and youth.”

Oh, please.

What about a “civic infrastructure” focused on building stronger families: fathers living at home and married to mothers of their children; parents who see that their kids get to school on time, ready to learn, and who raise their children to respect others and themselves?

Ah, many will say, that’s so antiquated.

What’s needed could be gleaned from the mission of Raise DC: “Together, raise DC by connecting resources to provide every young person the opportunity for success from cradle to career.”

Resources = public dollars = bureaucracy = paperwork = reports on the shelf = more kids who can’t read, babies having babies and young men off to jail.

Which leads us back to what Gray didn’t say in his State of the District speech. An ingredient is missing from efforts to tackle our social ills, and it’s not money.

It is moral authority.

What is the normative behavior of our city’s leaders? What do they consider wrong or inappropriate?

Let’s roll the tape.

A minor mayoral candidate in 2010, Sulaimon Brown, charged that he was paid by Gray’s campaign to stay in the race to harass the incumbent, Adrian Fenty. First there were heated denials from Gray’s campaign, then Gray himself.

Turns out, however, that it’s true. Two Gray campaign aides, Howard Brooks and Thomas Gore, were convicted of felonies.

Then came disclosures of a shadow campaign believed by some to have been financed by businessman Jeffrey Thompson, who made much of his fortune from D.C. government contracts. A Thompson associate in the alleged scheme, Jeanne Clarke Harris, a close friend of Gray’s, has pleaded guilty to felony campaign finance violations. Thompson has not been charged, but his home and businesses have been raided.

Next we learned from The Post’s Nikita Stewart of another scheme to unlawfully funnel campaign contributions to the Gray election effort.

And there’s more to come in the wide-ranging federal investigation.

If reports from sources tracking the investigation are true, the flow of unreported cash to some D.C. politicians and the source of that tainted money are likely to blow our minds.

And what better evidence of our leaders’ unethical behavior than this week’s finding by the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability that D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) violated three provisions of the employee code of conduct?

The true state of the District? A city without moral restraints from doing wrong.

Gray didn’t mention that, either.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

More on this debate: The Post’s View: Jim Graham should go Colbert I. King: Wake up, D.C. Council!

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