State of the District Address
Thursday, February 5, 2004; 7:00 PM
The following is the prepared text of Mayor Anthony A. Williams's State of the District address.
Members of Congress, Members of the Council, Citizens and other distinguished guests: Thank you all and welcome.
Before I begin, I want to thank all the folks who have entertained us and inspired us this evening: My religious advisor, Dr. Susan Newman who lifted our hearts and spirits. The DC National Guard Honor Guard, who dedicate their lives to our city and country. Paul Heflin, Conductor Virgillio Joven and the DC Youth Orchestra, whose beautiful music filled this Theater, like the legends that have graced this stage.
As some of you know, I come from a musical family-witness my mother. And, yes, my piano teacher probably wonders how that talent skipped a generation. But I've been trying ever since I was a kid, when I played the organ during Mass at our church.
One day, I was practicing and I looked up and noticed a mysterious door. So, I did what any self-respecting 11-year-old boy would do. I opened it. There was a staircase that led all the way up to the bell-tower, which had this sweeping view of the entire city.
So, I started a bell-tower club. My friends and I would meet up there for a power lunch every school day. And we had a great thing going-until the principal caught us in mid-sandwich one afternoon. I was almost expelled. But that's another story, and one that I'd rather tell when my mother isn't here.
The fact is, I still take any chance I get to climb to the top of a building or mountain, especially here. It doesn't matter if it's the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral or Saint Elizabeth's: if you up go high enough, you will see our city from an entirely different perspective.
Instead of the sharp lines that too often divide us by neighborhood, by race, by income, you can see the big picture: how interconnected we all are; how far we've come as one city; and how much more we can accomplish if we all stand together.
That is why we have gathered here tonight. And it couldn't come at a more fitting time.
Two days ago, voters in seven states made profound decisions about our future by punching holes in ballots, touching computer screens and, yes, writing-in names (something I'm a little too familiar with).
Of course, they were not the first to make a choice in the 2004 election. But neither were the people of New Hampshire. Or even the people of Iowa.
Last month, it was the District of Columbia that held the first Democratic primary in the nation. And, with our votes, we said it is long past time for the world's symbol of democracy to finally bring democracy to its own people.
That was the dream of our own Mayor Walter Washington, whose recent loss we've all mourned. I'm never going to forget the day he lay in state at the Wilson building as residents came from around our entire city to pay their last respects.
They came to honor the father of home rule, and a father figure to so many of us. They came to honor the activist who picketed the shops on this street 70 years ago. And they came to honor the courageous Mayor who prevented untold bloodshed after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. The federal government told him to shoot the rioters, but he said "no." And then he walked down 14th street-without armor, without airs-and simply asked people to go home.
It was Mayor Washington who started our march up that mountain to secure fundamental rights for our citizens. Now, it is time for us to finish that climb. It is up to all our elected officials, past and present. And let me recognize our former mayors Sharon Pratt Kelly and Marion Barry who have both helped guide this city -- and me -- through good times and hard times. Thank you both so much.
Thirty years after we chose our first leaders, I want to thank their successors on the Council for their tireless dedication to the people we represent. And let me especially recognize Linda Cropp, a great Chair and partner in improving our city for all its citizens. Let's give her and the entire Council a hand.
It's up to members of Congress. And I want to thank Congressman Tom Davis for being here and for giving us more autonomy, more respect and, yes, more funding.
Many times over the past year, I have seen off our city's sons and daughters as they left for Iraq. We now have more than 500 soldiers there, and Darryl Dent used to be among them. He was a dedicated member of the National Guard. But this summer, he was tragically killed by an explosion in Baghdad. He was 21.
All of our young people in Iraq are risking their lives every day. They have our prayers and they have our unwavering support. But they also deserve our promise. The next time Congress is contemplating war, we all must have a say -- and Eleanor Holmes Norton must have a vote.
It is up to our public servants because we won't finish Mayor Washington's climb without them. They don't do it for the glamour. God knows, they don't do it for the love they get from the media. But we should give them a lot of love here tonight so they know just how much we appreciate them.
Please stand as I call you. Members of my Cabinet. Members of our School Board and its chair, Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Our acting Superintendent, Elfreda Massie. Our police chief Charles Ramsey. The chairs and members of our Boards and Commissions. Our ANC commissioners. Thank you.
Of course, there is one place in D.C. where the climb toward democracy never really got off the ground. And that's my house. It is more like a monarchy -- and, no, I am not the monarch. But I do consider myself lucky beyond words to share my life with three of the strongest and most wonderful women I know: my mother, Virginia; my daughter, Asantewa; and the First Lady of our city, my wife, Diane. Thank you.
But in the end, it is really up to one powerful person to finish Walter Washington's climb up that mountain. I'm talking, of course, about you, the citizens of the District of Columbia. I'm talking about the thousands who came to our Citizen Summits and town halls, the people who call me on radio shows and approach me on the street. I'm talking about the faith leaders who bring us closer to God and to one another. I'm talking about the seniors who give their time, their wisdom, and their great talents. I'm talking about the neighbors who give their nights and weekends to clean up our streets. I'm talking about April York, our youth Mayor, and all the other young people who give us a reality check about the present and hope for the future.
And I'm even talking about the critics who challenge me every step of the way-they, too, are an integral part of our march up that mountain. The truth is, I'd much rather have people love our city so much that they yell at me, than silence themselves because they don't care.
These recall supporters might call themselves "Save Our City." That's fine. They are entitled to their view. They have the right to protest. But let's talk tonight about what we've all actually done together over the past five years to save our city. Imagine, for a minute, that you just returned to Washington, DC, after being gone for those five years. Think about all you'd find missing.
The massive deficits? Gone. The receiverships -- gone. Two thousand abandoned properties -- gone. Snow on the roads -- gone on time. The control board -- gone early. And decades of despair and disinvestment? Gone forever.
Now, think about what you would find in its place. Twice as many children immunized. Families moving into 12,000 new units of affordable housing. Teen pregnancy down. More people with health insurance. More people leaving welfare for work. More seniors with prescription drugs. More substance abusers with treatment. And more jobs for 43,000 District residents.
Five years ago, we were not adequately prepared for a terrorist attack. I'll admit that. Now, when it comes to being ready for an emergency, we've first in the nation. Five years ago, businesses were fleeing our city and empty offices languished for months, even years. Today, the number one real estate city in the world is not Paris. It's not New York. It's right here in Washington, D.C.
Now, I know some people don't like it when we talk about economic development. But we should never apologize for trying to bring stores, jobs and affordable homes to communities that have struggled for too long without them. We should never apologize for trying to keep the escalator moving people into the middle class. And, at a time when the challenges in our city far exceed our budget, we should never apologize for attracting billions of new dollars that we can invest in our city, from public schools to the Anacostia Waterfront.
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