D.C. Official Proposes Black Caucus

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 27, 2007

In a majority-black city, where the mayor, the council chairman and the congressional delegate are African Americans, one D.C. Council member says it's time for black officials to pull together and form a coalition.

"I call it the African American Caucus," said Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5).

He says the city's shifting demographics have prompted him to propose an organization similar to the Congressional Black Caucus and state legislative black caucuses.

Four of Thomas's black colleagues appeared tepid to the idea. Thomas said he had not mentioned the proposal to any white council members. He also acknowledges that an African American caucus is unusual in a predominantly black city. But he said he is worried that the community's numbers are slipping in the District.

"For so long, we had the luxury of being the majority population," he said. "There wasn't a need for it," he said of the caucus, "but that's changing."

"I look at U Street. How much it has changed. H Street," Thomas said. "These were primarily African American communities. Development is pushing African Americans out of this city."

According to census data, blacks make up about 57 percent of the District's population, compared with 66 percent in 1990.

Of the 13 council members, six are African American, all of them Democrats: Chairman Vincent C. Gray and members Thomas, Marion Barry, Muriel Bowser, Kwame R. Brown and Yvette M. Alexander. Blacks have been a minority on the council since 1998, but the mayor and council chairman have been African Americans.

Thomas's proposal comes amid grousing among some black residents and leaders that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has not included more blacks in his choices for major positions in his administration, including the police chief, fire chief and schools chancellor.

"In all fairness, it might have been a response to my trying to create a Norwegian American caucus on the council," joked council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who said he is of Norwegian descent.

The criticism of Fenty (D) has nothing to do with the proposal for a caucus, Thomas said. "It's not a direct thing toward the mayor," he said.

"It is in response to the lack of organization around issues important to the African American community."

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