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Fixing the District: Tough times, radical solutions

Former senator Ted Stevens, one of the most powerful congressmen of his generation, was killed Aug. 9 in an airplane crash in a remote part of southwest Alaska.

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By Ted Stevens
Sunday, July 14, 1996; 12:00 AM

LAST WEEK in Outlook, two former city officials, Dwight Cropp and Julius Hobson, proposed a radical solution to the District's problems: temporarily suspend home rule, install a congressionally appointed receiver to return the city to fiscal and managerial health, and then restructure the city government to shift power away from the mayor and into the hands of a professional city manager. We asked readers to submit their own proposals or react to Cropp's and Hobson's idea. Here is a sample of the 110 responses we received.

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Our nation's capital city suffers from two fundamental problems -- both built into the Home Rule Act. It has too many inappropriate responsibilities, and it has the wrong form of government.

The District of Columbia is not a state. It has neither a state's sovereignty, nor its taxing and zoning powers. It has no rural areas to help alleviate the costs of urban problems. More like a city in size, its home rule authority, demographics and governmental structure are primarily those of a municipality. Yet we have given it responsibilities that no city in the country has: the tasks of running a prison system, relying on one major industry and managing a comprehensive welfare system. Even the best-run local government would not function well under such handicaps.

What's the solution? We should start by narrowing the scope of the District's responsibilities, allowing its "state" functions to be absorbed by the federal government or contracted to a neighboring state government.

With that accomplished, we need to give it a more functional form of local government -- the city manager system. Under such a system the mayor would serve directly on the city council and together they would hire a professional city manager with a proven track record to administer the operations of a city. With no personal political agenda, the city manager could focus on efficient, effective administration of the council's policies -- or be replaced by a vote of the council.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros served as mayor of San Antonio under such a system, as did California Gov. Pete Wilson in San Diego. They were successful, and powerful, because they were talented political leaders in cities with structures that emphasized good management and clear focus.

Ted Stevens, a Republican senator from Alaska, is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the District.


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