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Correction to This Article
Due to a reporting error, At-Large D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown's political affiliation was misidentified in a Metro story today about Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposal to eliminate the Emancipation Day holiday. Brown, who had been a lifelong Democrat before running for office last year, is an independent.

To Save Money, Fenty Proposes Curtailing Emancipation Day

President Lincoln freed the District's 3,000 slaves in 1862.
President Lincoln freed the District's 3,000 slaves in 1862. (AFP/Getty)

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By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 26, 2009

The latest budget cut in the District: Emancipation Day, a four-year-old holiday.

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Under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed fiscal 2010 spending plan, the April 16 holiday, which commemorates the day President Abraham Lincoln freed the District's 3,000 slaves in 1862, would be discontinued next year. This would avoid paying holiday rates to critical personnel, saving $1.3 million -- enough to pay for 23 full-time employees, the mayor's office said.

The proposal didn't go over well with some D.C. Council members.

"It's outrageous," said Michael A. Brown (I-At Large). When it was pointed out that Emancipation Day events have not been well attended, Brown said that Presidents' Day events are also not very popular but that both are worthwhile because "it's about the statements you make."

Former council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. came up with the idea for the holiday, and it was signed into law by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) in 2005. Lincoln signed a bill freeing the District's slaves nine months before he issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

"Creating this holiday will help to make this day of remembrance a permanent part of the District's civic culture and an appropriate celebration of those who sacrificed in fighting slavery," Williams said at the time.

In 2007, Fenty (D) held a voting rights march on Emancipation Day but cut other festivities related to the holiday. Under his budget proposal, the occasion would be marked as a legal private holiday, which means that employees could use leave to observe it, and some festivities would be scheduled.

Last April, city employees required to work on the holiday -- mostly police officers and fire and emergency medical personnel -- received $1.9 million in premium pay, administration officials said.

Fenty's $5.4 billion spending proposal represents a 4 percent decrease from last year's budget and would eliminate 1,632 jobs, freeze employee salaries and raise taxes and fees on services and business licenses.


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