With smiles and hugs and New Year's wishes, hundreds of District political leaders and activists gathered downtown yesterday at the Washington Convention Center to applaud the swearing-in of D.C. Council members. All around were fur coats, festive hats and sharp suits. A band played smooth jazz on the promenade.
But onstage in the sparkling ballroom, the political rhetoric focused on a different Washington. Beyond merely celebrating, three new council members -- including former mayor Marion Barry -- used the ceremony to call for a renewed effort to spread the District's revival to all corners of the city.
New D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D) is sworn in by D.C. Superior Court Judge Zinora Mitchell-Rankin.
(Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
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Barry (D-Ward 8), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) and Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) each defeated an incumbent in the September Democratic primary. The lessons they took from their victories were echoed in their speeches as they challenged Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to focus more on struggling neighborhoods and the needy.
"With all the vigor directed to building a baseball stadium, let's not take a walk, let alone an intentional walk, on basic human needs in the city," said Gray, a former director of the city's Department of Human Services who defeated 12-year council member Kevin P. Chavous (D). Standing inside one of the centerpieces of downtown revitalization, Gray noted that there is still just one sit-down restaurant in Ward 7.
Barry, in a wrinkled suit and gray beard, summoned some of his rhetorical skills in calling for a "new day" in Ward 8, which he said is "the stepchild of the city'' and home to some of the District's worst schools and most dangerous streets. Barry defeated incumbent Sandy Allen (D) to win the seat.
The former four-term mayor, still the District's most famous -- and infamous -- politician, tweaked Williams, who joined the council and other elected leaders on stage.
In addition to taking credit for the new convention center, Barry said that Williams was wrong to shut D.C. General Hospital and that he plans to fight "as hard as I can" against public financing of a baseball stadium, which is another Williams signature issue.
"I'm a fighter. When you look in the dictionary and look up the word 'courage,' you see my picture," Barry said to laughter and applause.
After the ceremony, Williams shrugged off Barry's comments, calling his predecessor a longtime friend and political ally.
"This is politics -- this is life in the big city," Williams said.
Williams said that his administration has accomplished much in the city's neighborhoods and that he shares the new council's ambition to do more. And he said he is negotiating with Howard University officials to build a community hospital.
Brown, a District native and longtime political activist, said voters sent a message of concern for their economic future.
"Their patience is running out,'' said Brown, who defeated longtime council member Harold Brazil (D). He said the council must find a way to spread around new investment and wealth in the city and avoid development that displaces low- and moderate-income residents.
"What good is a real estate boom if it prevents our teachers from sending their own kids to their schools, or prevents kids from living in the neighborhoods they grew up in?" Brown asked.
The council's three reelected incumbents -- Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) -- joined the newcomers in calling for directing the passion and energy seen during the debate over the Washington Nationals toward conquering such long-standing city ills as poorly performing schools, crime and crumbling libraries.
The politics of the new members might produce a shift to the left by the 13-member council. But council members emphasized that a political change does not mean going back to the old days of financial irresponsibility.
Fenty, who was sworn into office for his second term, crowed about the city's bond rating even as he criticized the Williams administration for inattention to youth and education issues.
Evans, first elected in 1991, detailed the city's improving fiscal picture and its independence from overseers such as the financial control board and judicial monitors.
And Schwartz, a longtime council member and four-time mayoral candidate, challenged her colleagues to redouble efforts on affordable housing and District voting rights in Congress.