State of the District Address
It was for them that we launched the DC HealthCare Alliance.
Now, more than 50,000 people have been served by the Alliance. I've met parents who can finally take their sick children to a real doctor, not an emergency room. I've talked to immigrants who tell me what it means for their families to have health care for the first time in their lives.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation -- an independent group, not my brother-in-law -- we have one of the nation's lowest rates of uninsured people. Only one in 10 of our residents are uninsured-that's about half the national average. But that's still one in 10 too many.
In April, we'll begin a citywide campaign -- at Metro stops, pubic schools, sporting events and community centers -- to get residents covered, hether it's through the Alliance or Medicaid.
But insurance only means something if you have a place to use it.
Right now, too many residents in our most vulnerable communities have trouble finding a doctor close to home. Sometimes the doctor is too far away. Other times, their local clinic has no space. So we're beginning a new initiative to expand the quantity and the quality of community health centers.
It's called Medical Homes DC, a partnership with the DC Primary Care Association. This year, I'm dedicating $7 million in capital funds to get Medical Homes off the ground and care into communities that need it. You'll have your own physician, someone who knows you and your family. You won't have to visit the emergency room for sore throats or sprained ankles. And you'll get screenings and treatments for problems before they become serious. That's health care in the neighborhood. That's health care in your neighborhood. And that's what we're going to do.
Public safety. Education. Health care. Those are the tough challenges we face on the path ahead. But even if we meet these challenges, it takes full democratic rights to make our final ascent up that mountain.
Mayor Washington understood that from the beginning. Remember when President Johnson asked him to run the city in 1966? He turned him down until the President agreed to give him control over all services, including the police.
Despite all our progress, we're still fighting some of those very battles.
Every year, we work with you to create our budget. And we send that budget to the Hill, where people who don't represent the District decide how we ought to spend our money. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, we can't fix our schools, buy new fire trucks and police cars, or start child care programs.
In December, I used up a lot of gasoline going up to the Hill to ask Senators to pass a bill finally giving us control of our budget. The Senate unanimously voted yes. The President has committed to signing that bill. And now it's time for the House of Representatives to follow the lead of Congressman Tom Davis and Congresswoman Norton and pass budget autonomy this year. Repeat after me so the all the House members can hear you: pass budget autonomy now.
Now, last year Congress gave us $136 million for our priorities-from helping District residents afford college to helping foster kids find permanent, loving homes. That level of funding was a record-and we were very thankful for it. But it doesn't address a bigger problem.
Our relationship with the federal government is much better now-but not yet equal. It's still what a therapist might call an "unhealthy relationship" or a "dysfunctional relationship." We still give more than we get. We give 40% of our land to the federal government, but get no taxes in return. We give Marylanders and Virginians a place to work and services to use but we can't tax the income they make in this city.
For years, Congress questioned whether this imbalance ever existed. So they turned to their own investigator, the General Accounting Office, which said the structural imbalance not only exists -- it costs us about half a billion dollars a year, and that's conservative.
So I ask Congress and the President to do the right by thing by the District-and find a permanent solution to this glaring problem.
Now we have some friends on the Hill in addition to Congressman Davis: We've got Senator Susan Collins, who sponsored our budget autonomy bill. We've got Senator Mike DeWine and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chair our appropriations subcommittees and fought for extra funding. And we've got Senator Mary Landrieu and Congressman Chaka Fattah.
But no one is more vocal for the District than the one, the only, the extraordinary Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Tonight, she's at a retreat for Democratic House Members. She's there using her eloquent and effective voice to fight for us. But it's time her voice became a vote.
We must continue to speak out as we did during the first democratic primary in the nation. Think about this: When only children, convicted felons.and citizens of the District of Columbia are denied voting rights in America, it's time to bring democracy home.
Ladies and gentlemen, the president has said our soldiers are in Iraq to bring democracy there. And now we must ask the president to bring democracy to Washington, D.C.
It's time to give our citizens a vote. It's time for the District of Columbia to become all that this country is supposed to be.
There are few Americans who really embody what this great land is supposed to be. One of them, of course, is Martin Luther King.
Like many of you, I remember exactly where I was when I heard he had been shot. I was walking home from high school. I couldn't believe it was true. I was sad, scared, confused.
So I raced home and turned on the television. I remember watching as they showed parts of the last speech he ever gave. I remember he was speaking out for sanitation workers and the economic injustices that too many faced.
And he said something very prophetic: "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
Forty years later, we, too, in this city have looked over the mountaintop. We, too, have seen that promised land. We know what it looks like. It's a safe city, with world-class schools. It's a city where people have health care, regardless of where they live. It's a capital with democratic rights. We know the way to get there, and it won't be easy.
It will mean setting aside what divides us and coming together to solve the problems that still plague us.
A few years ago, I was flying back to our city. It was a clear winter night. And you could see for miles. And as we made our approach into National Airport, I looked down toward Washington and saw all the lights shining up. I almost had to pinch myself as I thought, "I'm the Mayor of this beautiful city."
Gazing down, I knew that every one of those lights was something precious: A family trying to make it, a single mother supporting her kids, a businesswoman trying to get her restaurant off the ground, a student working his way through college, a child struggling just to do better in this world.
We all have a profound responsibility to keep those lights shining. We have saved our city. And now the promised land is within our grasp.
And so even though some of us are tired. Even though some of us are angry. Even though some of us have never worked together before. The dreams we have for our children and our city are only a few miles up the mountain. We can see them right ahead.
And so, it's time for each of us to get up and climb.
God bless you. God bless the District. And God Bless America, one nation under God.
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive