Mayoral Debate: How to Keep City's Jobs
The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, sponsored a mayoral forum last week at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Capitol Hill. The discussion was moderated by Jim Dougherty of the Sierra Club.
The candidates who participated included four members of the D.C. Council -- Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who arrived after the following issue was discussed. Also participating were former D.C. chief financial officer Anthony A. Williams (D) and businessman Jeffrey Gildenhorn (D), who are on the ballot for the Sept. 15 primary, and John Gloster, who is seeking the nomination of the D.C. Statehood Party.
The following responses were excerpted from the forum, and each candidate's answer is unedited and presented in its entirety.
DOUGHERTY: We've begun to realize that all the suburban development sprawl is responsible for taking the juice, the lifeblood out of the city. Our resources get channeled out into the outer suburbs, taking the resources out of the Metrobus system, for example. Or we see representatives in Congress fighting to take federal jobs out of the city. As mayor, what would you do to attempt to keep jobs in the city, to keep the transportation system strong and to keep business competitive?
EVANS: Well, Jim, that is quite an all-encompassing question that deals with what things might happen in the District of Columbia, so I'm going to try to break it down a little bit. Obviously transportation, we're talking about trying to really to see what we develop into the next century. Transportation is the key, being the most, the environmental issue that we face going into the next century.
I'm the District representative on the Metro board, the last chairperson of Council of Government. For the last, really, year, I've served on the regional transportation commission and trying to devise a method to do planning throughout this region. And this looks at highways, it looks at Metrorail, it looks at Metrobus and a combination of all of those and how this will impact on the region. Clearly, from an environmental point of view, to the extent that the suburban jurisdictions continue to build roads to accommodate ever-increasing, to build intercounty connectors, to build even more beltways, inner and outer beltways, and in a region that happens, really, the quality of life in our region is going to be eroded -- and eroded enormously.
To the degree that this region can focus on public transportation, on Metrorail and Metrobus, through the alternative of building more highway[s], and to get people to at least think more about public transportation is the degree to which we can clean up our environment. Metrorail is a very important component of the whole system that is the Metrobus. Right now, we are on a trajectory for a system in the year 2001, and there are no funds left to continue to build Metrorail. One thing that we absolutely essentially have to do in this region is to find a dedicated funding source for Metro, number one, continue to operate the system in the manner in which we have in the past. But, more importantly, to continue to build an additional 100 miles of Metrorail that we have planned, the circumference route on the beltway, the inner city Purple Line connecting upper Northwest through Georgetown, out New York Avenue to the Maryland border. All of these things are planned, and yet they're not funded and they need to be.
Metrobus needs to be expanded so that people who live in the city can get to the ever-growing jobs that exist in this region. The regional transportation committee was essential to saving Metrobus and putting together a formula to be able to fund it. We need to not encourage the growth of roads that could get transportation dollars transferred into public transportation dollars. That would be essential for an executive. Let me give the example of a city in this world that did this and that's Paris. Paris opened their first subway stop in the year 1900 and their last subway stop this year, in 1998. It's a forward-looking city that has a subway system that anywhere in the city you can get on that system, there's a stop within 300 yards of where you're standing. This is what Metrorail in this country have got to go. And as chairman of the Board of Metro, as your mayor, I can assure you we will continue on that path. Thank you.
SCHWARTZ: I agree with Jack Evans about the importance of public transportation. This whole issue of keeping the region's core alive and well, and certainly looking at environmental issues as we do this. What I've seen in the questionnaire I got from the Sierra Club and also in this question, [is] that the Sierra Club is acknowledging the importance for Washington, D.C., as the core of this region. And how we have been robbed.
And we've been robbed of jobs. From 1993 to 1997, 55,000 more jobs went to Maryland; 114,000 more jobs went to Virginia, and I'm talking about the suburban jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia. And we lost 55,000 jobs right here in D.C.
Now that is, one, it's transportation. That is an issue, and it's certainly an issue we've got to think about. But it's more broader than that, folks. We lost jobs here because of our crime rate; we lost jobs here because of our regulation. And what you have to go through to get a business license in this town is a form of torture second to none. And we have got to streamline those processes so that businesses can open, so that we can have jobs for our people.
We have in Washington, D.C., nearly a 9 percent unemployment rate. The suburban jurisdictions have 2 percent. Virginia has 1.6 percent. The national average is 3 percent. We are triple the national average, so we have got to do something and we're not just going to be able to wish those jobs back. We have to get our taxes in line with our suburban competitors. We have to get our business regulations -- and I'm not talking about the environmental ones because I'll protect those. But I'm talking about one-stop shopping for getting the permits and the licenses that you need to open a business in this town. And we need the vitality, we need those jobs back.
Washington, D.C., we need citizens. We lost 25 percent of our population in the last 25 years. We've got to bring those back so that they can support those businesses which we also want to bring back. Today it is an effort that is all encompassing is transportation, it's taxes, it's bringing the crime rate down further and it is regulations that are not so onerous that we make it uncomfortable for people to do business in the city. So all of those things. And then attracting residents back, we've got to attack the problem of the public schools. And I can tell you that every single one of my three children, every minute of education took place in the public schools, so I don't just talk about it. I actually do something about it. I was on the school board when real change for the better took place.
And I think we're gong to have to tackle all of these things. You're going to need an actively engaged committed mayor who loves this city, and I don't think there's anyone that has greater years of commitment -- 33 to be exact -- of commitment to this city. And I will take that energy and that activism and I will make the mayor's office change.
BRAZIL: Thank you. Once again let me just say on the transportation, I know the funding will run out relatively soon for the Metrorail. I do support continuing funding to continue to develop with the Metrorail in the region and further stops in areas within the city. I would feel very strongly about restoring money to extend or reestablish the bus routes many of them cut. I think that's a big mistake from the environmental point of view and it does work a hardship on many of the residents that rely on that mode of transportation.
On economic development, I believe, strongly, business regulatory reform is one way to get business back, and I am the preparer, the father, the author of the landmark business regulatory reform legislation which will really put some meaning into the phrase that Washington wants to be business friendly. And I do agree with Ms. Schwartz on the tax cut.
I have my own plan that I have put forth and will offer in even more detail. But I also agree that education is a real key for economic development, to get our young people so that they can read and write and be productive and enter into the work force is attractive to a business to locate here and know that there's a pool of educated young people who will become employees, and it's smart to educate our people so that they don't have to rely on a drug buy or a drug deal.
Education is the answer and, as a result, it is the centerpiece of my platform. It is the focus that I will have as mayor; it will be the top priority. In my plan is a six-point plan to add better features in pressing for tough certification standards and evaluation standards to get better performance and report cards on schools, and smaller classes, from K through 8 smaller classes will produce top-quality students, and research shows that and I'm very, very strong about that.
Also community. Let's use those schools not just through the school day but for preschool and after-school and enrichment programs, recreation, and bring in some of the other markers of government, of health services and social services. That is also key. And some good alternative schools for those kids that are disruptive or have problems.
And, finally, smaller, smarter schools. The construction program certainly over the next five years, probably the next 15, so we have some of the best schools, the best equipped schools, schools that are smart with technology and assets with the Internet so that we can prepare these young people for the future.
GILDENHORN: I think the question was primarily why federal agencies are moving out of the District of Columbia. And I do appreciate remarks from councilman Evans, and I do appreciate the remarks by councilwoman Schwartz, and that's what politicians are supposed to do, if you can't convince the audience. But the very fact remains is the question had to do with federal agencies moving out to Virginia and Maryland.
I don't have the answers or I don't have the complete answers to why they're moving. And right now the federal agencies that are moving out of the city, now we in Washington, D.C., we rely very heavily on federal participations, federal buildings and federal agencies here in the city of Washington, D.C., and they are moving out at an alarming rate.
And if you approach Congress about that, their answer is, well you know we're getting better rents in Virginia and we're getting better rents in Maryland and we're getting better amenities outside of the city. And our argument is we've got to keep this tax base because we've got to build a tax base, and if we lose this tax base and these federal agencies moving out of the District of Columbia, then we really are in trouble.
How do you get back the tax base? You get back the tax base by creating jobs here in the city. How do you create jobs? You create jobs by encouraging businesses to move back into the city. Why do businesses move back into the city? You have to create an environment, a safe environment. You have to create an environment where you want your families to be able to send their children to the school and a public school system that's going to function. So it's like a pyramiding effect. One builds upon the other. It's schools, it is public safety, it's businesses, it's jobs, and that's going to ultimately retain the federal agencies from not moving out of this city. And once that happens, we will have stability in Washington. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: First of all, I'd like to thank the Sierra. I've been a member of the Sierra for many, many years, and I'd like to thank all of you, and talk about environmental issues in the District.
But, anyway, I think the biggest thing facing the environment from my personal experience -- and I think all the literature show this -- the biggest threat facing the environment in the world today, and certainly our own country, is the loss of habitat, and the loss of habitat is directly related to suburban sprawl, and suburban sprawl is directly related, I think, to the question of defining the core of a situation.
And I think the whole thrust behind the question here is the loss of federal jobs in the District is part of what I think is an overall environmental injustice. An example of environmental injustice is the condition of the Anacostia River compared to the Potomac River. An example of environmental injustice is a lack of enforcement of our regulations as it affects the environment and citizens throughout the District, especially in Southeast. That's environmental injustice. And true environmental injustice is to allow the continued disinvestment in our cities, and I think the federal government, in allowing the continued disinvestment in its own capital, in our own nation's capital, is a spectacular example to me ultimately of environmental injustice.
And as mayor, one of the first things I would ask is that the president along with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, their relative congressional delegations, the mayor and council of the District get together for a White House conference on better relations between the District and the federal government, because I say we need to bring all these parties to the table because all of these parties have a role to play in, I think, developing and devising an ultimate solution. In this year's budget we came up, I think, with a figure of some $400 or $500 million that we owe to the federal government. And that does not even count the loss of benefits such as the loss of jobs. So that's number one.
And I think number two, we in the city have to get much more, I think, aggressive and much more proactive. Having built a better government and a better economy, I think, to begin demanding the respect of the country, demanding the respect around the world and begin using political devices, political advocacy where we could argue the case for the District around this country. And I think if we can do the things I'm talking about, I think we can raise the conscience of our country and I think build sympathy for our situation here. Because, this is in fact, I think, a situation faced in many, many places.
Finally, I think, as mayor I basically would like to subscribe to a lot of things that Jack has said. Transportation is vitally important in two fundamental ways in my estimation. One, in getting more energy, I think, energy of responsible transportation -- of making cars, using trains and the buses. Two, very, very important, and that is building a regional economy and crafting a welfare reform strategy which I think part of my dream of making strategy and economic development. You've got to be able to rely on transportation for our people in the District so we've got alignments in unemployment in the region, where we've got almost negative unemployment. That's how I think you deal with your improvement of the core; that's how I think you address the environment in terms of what they are talking about.
GLOSTER: Well, I'm amazed but not amused that someone who authored perhaps the grandest readjustment of resources away from human needs would be talking this type of talk in 1998. We really have to get away from politicians who do one thing to us and say another thing, and then expect our vote. Now, having said that, to address the actual question at hand, we have a situation we're calling urban sprawl.
It's what often the columnists refer to as the wheel-and-spoke approach and that is the way in which our city happens to be a little bit developed. If you look at the way the roads lead out of the District, it is all leading in and out directly as opposed to crisscrossing, and that is the reason, that's endemic of the drain of resources out of the city suburb and outward to suburbs. We have to really look very carefully as we address things that at the transportation level and also in reciprocity with our friends and neighbors in Maryland and Virginia. What we are in danger of creating is a doughnut.
The center will be caved in. All the resources drained out and only at that time, will resources be put back in the city in order to regentrify it. We owe it as leaders of this town to look out for the people who now live here. Not who's going to live here in 3020. Look around the city. You folks, no matter where you may be, we'll have to get them now that when we talk about ecology, we have to talk about human ecology and a human ecosystem, okay? When we talk about resources and economic and environmental justice, that includes the fact that you have to invest in people.
We count resources in this city; despite the fact that certain things have been done to us, we have resources. It is a question of how do we use them. Just like we have to use our lands and our air and our sea properly. We have lots of greenback resources. One billion dollars of which some of our city council members want to spend to build a convention center in Mount Vernon Square.
It's an economic and a human disaster. That money needs to be put into our school system. Beware of politicians who talk about, "We want to cut class size down," and they want to give you some candy with tax cuts. Let's be real. We need these resources for our children. We must save our children or there won't be a future. We're raising an entire generation of criminals with no hope. We have to cut our class sizes in half. We have to invest in a special type of parent involvement counselor, whose only job is to get parents involved and to show them how in their children's education. We have to stop crime by doing a lot more adult mentoring. We have to invest, for every dollar in incarceration we have to invest a dollar in intervention and prevention.
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