A D.C. Council Embarrassment

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

THERE ARE valid questions to be asked about whether Ximena Hartsock is the best qualified candidate to head the District's department of parks and recreation. Shockingly, though, D.C. Council members at a recent hearing on her confirmation seemed more interested in her ethnicity, gender and immigration status than in her work and educational background. No matter what one's opinion of Ms. Hartsock, D.C. residents should be appalled that their elected officials would subject anyone to such disrespectful treatment.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty made Ms. Hartsock interim director in April and her confirmation is set for a vote Tuesday. The council's committee on parks and recreation voted 4 to 1 Monday to oppose her, no surprise to anyone who watched the eight-hour farce Friday night that was billed as a public roundtable on her appointment. The room was packed with supporters and detractors, but ensuring a fair hearing seemed the last thing on the mind of council member Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), who chairs the committee. He gave short shrift to the testimony of supporters while fawning over her critics, mainly park department employees -- or their relatives -- who either were fired by Ms. Hartsock or disagreed with her policies.

Most disturbing was the ugly tone of the rhetoric. Speakers called Ms. Hartsock the devil and a liar. The worst culprit was council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8). He questioned her qualifications because of the need for someone who "understands our culture." With the exception of Ward 3 and parts of Ward 2, Mr. Barry told the crowd, the park department serves people who are "black and brown . . . that is who we are. We have a culture that is different. We have a subculture that is different." At another point, Mr. Barry said it wasn't sexist to say that studies show that women have a different attitude about sports than men, offering as evidence the canard that D.C. School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee doesn't care about athletics. Then, too, there were questions about why Ms. Hartsock, born in Chile and a legal permanent resident, isn't a U.S. citizen. Several council members reported receiving numerous complaints about the hearing, but Mr. Barry was unrepentant, telling us he has gotten only "compliments" about his remarks.

Neither Mr. Thomas nor Mr. Barry seemed interested in hearing from the parents who knew Ms. Hartsock's work in the city schools or listening to community leaders praise what she's accomplished in her short time directing the parks. The hearing was an embarrassment, and we can't imagine how it could be the foundation for any action involving Ms. Hartsock, unless it's an apology.

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