D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday criticized the Bush administration's refusal to reimburse the District for costs related to tomorrow's inauguration, calling it "an unfunded mandate" that promises to gobble up cash needed to prepare the nation's capital for a potential terror attack.
Speaking at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Williams (D) called on that organization, as well as other groups that represent local government, to protest the decision to force the city to use $11.9 million in homeland security funds to pay for police and other services on Inauguration Day. Traditionally, the federal government covers those costs.
"This is not a good precedent, and it is not a good planning tool, to use preparedness funds when you really don't have an emergency," Williams said. "Whether it's in Washington, or whether it's in Boston, or whether it's in any city, if there's a major national event, homeland security funds should not be used. And we certainly shouldn't be pushing on cities unfunded mandates to support these events."
Members of the D.C. Council also expressed their dismay yesterday. Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) released a letter urging Office of Management and Budget Director Joshua B. Bolten to reconsider the decision. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced a resolution expressing the council's "collective outrage." And Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) sent a letter to the president that threatens a "boycott [of] any and all Presidential Inaugural festivities, including the Presidential Parade," unless federal officials "immediately" agree to reimburse the city.
"The citizens of the nation's [capital], those very citizens who pay taxes and have no vote in the United States Congress, are once again being cheated and disrespected as American citizens by the highest office in this country," Barry wrote. "The reviewing stand on the steps of the John Wilson Building will be empty . . . in protest of you, a President with empty promises."
Williams's speech at the Capital Hilton Hotel marked his first public comment on the dispute, which became public last week when his office released a letter to Bolten and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Since then, Williams has been sick with a nasty bout of bronchitis, which forced him to cancel all public events, including a news conference with Ridge to discuss inaugural security. The mayor returned to work yesterday, still coughing and looking a bit wan.
In his absence, Democrats have assailed the White House almost daily. Last week, eight House Democrats from the District, Maryland and Virginia, along with both Democratic senators from Maryland, sent letters to the president. Meanwhile, D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), among others, urged Williams to tell the Bush administration, in essence, no cash, no cops.
Yesterday, Williams said he sees no need for such "dramatic gestures." He described the flap as an aberration in his relationship with President Bush, which has otherwise been unusually cordial for a Democratic mayor and a Republican president.
Williams has been a regular visitor to the White House since Bush took office in 2001. The president has introduced the mayor during at least one State of the Union address. And he praised him as "a very good mayor" during a speech before the National Urban League last July. The mayor got a set of coveted tickets to tonight's Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball, which he plans to attend, according to his official schedule.
More important, Williams and his aides say, Bush has been generous in his attempts to secure funding for District priorities. Bush's budget requests to Congress have included increased funding for a variety of D.C. programs, including the sewer system, the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, a unified police and fire communications center, college tuition assistance for D.C. residents and "school choice," including charter schools and school vouchers.
Overall, total federal payments to the District, including for pensions and Medicaid reimbursements, have increased substantially since Bush took office, rising from $1.95 billion in 2000 to $2.51 billion in the current fiscal year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
"If you look at the dollars I've been able to bring to the District with the White House and the Congress . . . we're actually at an all-time high. We've actually had a very good relationship," Williams said. Of the inauguration dispute, he added, "I'd like to see this as an exception."
Staff writers Eric M. Weiss and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.