Mayor Walter Washington of the District of Columbia has repeated the phrase several times on recent occasions.
"My concern now is not the next election. I'm thinking about the next generation," said the mayor, when asked about this fall's city elections in an interview with reporters from The Washington Post.
At a recent press conference, the mayor made a similar comment when asked about the political impact of his choice of Burtell M. Jefferson as the first black to head the city's 4,100-member police force.
Although Mayor Washington has yet to announce whether he will be a candidate for re-election, he detailed in an interview with The Post what amounts to a compaign theme based on efforts by his administration to build for the future. And, he emphasized, the economic malaise of the city and the approach he has taken toward confronting this central issue likely will be a dominant theme in any "Re-elect Walter Washington" campaign.
"Something good is happening," said Walter Washington, interviewed in his office downtown atop the District Building.
The problems which have faced the city are well documented, and the mayor was in no mood to challenge the record of recent decades and years, which has seen massive economic expansion in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, sometimes at the expense of the District and sometimes because the District government appeared to look the other way and sanction what was happening as inevitable.
Today, the District government faces a budget crisis, the result of one of those typical confrontations between a city seeking true home rule and a Congress controlling the purse strings that have forced city government leaders to look over their shoulders to Capitol Hill for decades.
House and Senate conferees declined to approve a city budget for the current fiscal year, which began last Oct. 1 because of a disagreement over the District's plans for a $110 million convention center. The House has supported the complex and $27 million of startup costs in the proposed fiscal 1978 budget, but the Senate balked.
Operations of the city continue under what amounts to an extension of the previous year's budget levels. Budget director Comer S. Coppie is preparing a report for the mayor detailing the impact of a budget impasse that would bring any other government or major corporation to a shocking halt.
But panic buttons are not being pressed yet despite potential long-term harm to the city and its taxpayers. On a cash basis, the federal payment continues at the fiscal 1977 level of $276 million, and the city has plans to draw down all of that money early this calendar year. Tax revenues continue to flow into the District Building.
If not resolved when Congress reconvenes, however, the budget impasse will become more serious: The city cannot repay loans at today's interest rate levels, which are higher than authorized in the previous year's budget, there is no authority for projected higher contributions to the Metro system, and delays in capital projects mean higher construction costs.
Coppie, who joined Mayor Washington for The Post's interview, said construction projects now delayed will increase in final cost by 1 per cent each month, throwing projected outlays off. In addition to the controversial convention center near Mt. Vernon Square, projects delayed by the budget impasse include an addition to the D.C. University campus at Mt. Vernon Square and a new city office building in the Judiciary Square area.
The budget impasse also have prevented adjustments to the levels of police protection and prevented authority for new city commissions, such as those for educational licenses and the heatling arts, forcing temporary assignments for city personnel designated for other work.
Mayor Washington dismissed criticism of his administration for an absence of strong lobbying pressure designed to end the budget impasse and win approval for the convention center, which is supported strongly by D.C. business interests.
"It's a question of when and what circumstances," he said, describing his view that President Carter's energy legislation and the abortion funding controversies were enough to occupy members of Congress in the final weeks of 1977. In effect, it could have been counterproductive to force their hand on another issue at that time, Mayor Washington indicated.
"As they were preparing to leave the city, I'm not sure they wanted to pay attention to the District of Columbia," he added. When the House and Senate members return in a few days, "I want to get a reading on where they are" and "be prepared to deal with it," presumably backed with budget chief Coppie's new data on the impact of the budget impasse.
At the same time, the mayor said he is convinced that the convention center and budget finally will be approved. Other city officials said they expect that final approval to come during February. "The civic center is still our greatest priority need to assure the revival of the more dilapidated areas of downtown and to bring additional revenues to the city," said the mayor, and there were no indications that the city and its business community have decided on any change in their convention center strategy.
Mayor Washington said he is convinced that 1977 was a crucial year, one in which a long-term trend of city economic decline was halted and a "new thrust" became evident. The District of Columbia is "coming back." People "are coming back in different ways." More people "are concerned about their homes, their neighborhoods and residences, with a great sensitivity about what they have, and they want to keep it," he said.
These are some of the conclusions of the city's top elected official, a man who appeared unusually relaxed and confident during an interview that lasted more than an hour. As is usually the case, Mayor Washington was optimistic.
"This city's good, it's got a good crime rate (11 consecutive months of deline), a good physical plant, it cleans its streets," said the mayor. He refused to be pinned down about his plans for this election year and attempted to stake out a potential campaign stance above the political battle in a race that could develop with City Council chairman Sterling Tucker and D.C. Council member Marion Barry.
"I'm trying to lay the groundwork for all the people. It's a broader thing than (running) for the next election," the mayor asserted. "My real concern is not to lose for (the city of) Washington the momentum of the last two years."
Although many local business leaders and others concerned about the absence of economic growth in the District have been critical of the mayor's low-keyed approach to development and creation of jobs here, there is an unmistakable mood of rejuvenation spreading gradually throughout the District.
In almost all parts of the city, there is construction or renovation of homes. The Fort Lincoln "new town" in the city is being built, and the mayor said it "is becoming the showplace of our hopes." A new "downtown" Washington is marching with steady speed down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to Georgetown, adding block after block of office space that seldom goes vacant.
Trade associations are continuing a seemingly unendng relocation of offices to the Washington area, and many of these groups end up inside the District. After a period of unemployment in the city that was at the highest level since the Depression, jobs have started to expand (up 7,000 in 1977).
Retail sales in the old downtown area continue weak but there are indications of some strength for the first time in years, near subway stations or in such a store as Woodward & Lothrop, which is experience a true subway traffic boom for several hours each midday.
And, for the first time in its history, the District government now has an established agency whose primary task is keeping business in the city and attracting new business and jobs, following a blueprint for action developed by community leaders.
There is room for much criticism about how slow Mayor Washington's administration has been in setting up the new Office of Business and Economic Development. There also has been criticism of the mayor's choice for the first agency director - Knox Banner, for 18 years the head of Downtown Progress, a group that promoted revival of the city's old central business core between the Capitoland White House.
In effect, the choice of Banner merely transfers from the private sector to the city government a person whose goals for downtown Washington are on the public record, a man who believes that disbanding Downtown Progress at the end of 1977 was a proper step because decisions already made have been certain the recovery he sought for so long.
But Mayor Washington emphasized in the interview that Banner will be concerned with development of the whole city. Several times, the mayor indicated that his administration is planning to focus on neighborhoods throughout the District.
"I want it (the new agency) to be aggressive as in any jurisdiction, but sites for development potential should be in the entire city and not just downtown," he said when asked about the long-established economic offices of surrounding counties, which have been attracting most new businesses and jobs in the 1970s (including such formerly Washington-based companies as Peoples Drugs Stores, which moved to Northern Virginia).
"I want it to be competitive in the best sense; let's tailor development to the city," the mayor said of his new agency, which only can create enemies in suburban governments if it does its job well and beings to win for the District some of the economic growth and tax base now being attracted by the suburbs.
During the interview, Mayor Washington was joined in his office by several top aides - City Administrator and long-time confidant Julian R. Dugas, public affairs officer Sam Eastman, budget director Coppie and planning chief Ben W. Gilbert.
The mayor said he believes that home rule has worked well over the past three years, with Congress confiding its oversight of city affairs to "appropriate areas" such as the budget. "The very fact that the city is in the strongest position in many, many years indicates that we have been getting help from a lot of people, including Congress," he added.
He had praise for President Carter's task force on city affairs, which has focused its attention on a few specific problems, such as pension funding. And he said, that, for the first time in his memory, the city's business community is "recognizing that the private sector must join in a partnership" with government to help rebuild the city's economic base.
The mayor said he would continue to press for measures to add city revenues, particularly through proposed regional Metro tax financing and a tax on suburbanites' income in the District.
But he brushed aside suggestions that he has become an agent of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, noting the city business community's harsh response to his own proposals for taxation and changes in unemployment compensation, and his support for some rent controls.
And the mayor said some negative aspects of economic rejuvenation in the city are causing some concern. "Some things are not altogether good," he said of the city's housing renovation boom, which is encouraging more relatively affluent whites to move back to the city while displacing some moderate-income persons, mostly blacks, and because of soaring real estate prices.
On balance, however, Mayor Washington described the mood of his city and its racial relations as "very good" and far different from the "tense" period after the riots of 1968 destroyed the 14th Street and H Street business centers that now slowly are being rebuilt.
"I think values are changing, for the good," he stated.
Added Gilbert, his planning chief: "With the advent of minorities getting a piece of the action, it's unsettling to some people. The old patterns of control, power bases, to some degree are modified, changed."
Dugas said one of the most hopeful signs about the city's spirit is the recent, slight increase in white public school enrollment. In many areas of the city, blacks and whites are buying houses on the same blocks, he added.
In part, Dugas said, this evidence of renewed confidence in the District reflects construction of schools, fire-police-public buildings and recreation facilities under the mayor's administration, the first significant city building program in a generation. "The people see it," he said.
Mayor Washington also said the city is changing politically, with the advent of an elected government. Community groups that used to go to Capitol Hill now crowd his office, the mayor said.
He declined to take a stand, however, on the Board of Trade's recent decision to become involved in city politics to the extent of backing candidates and providing campaign contributions. "I'm not prepared to say what they should do," he said, noting again that, as the city develops its own politics, the institutions here will do whatever they feel is necessary to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] their own interests.
Overall, the mayor said, 1978 was a good one for the economic life of the city. He predicted business expansion from more tourism and greater retail trade, a year of employment growth in the private sector, to cut down on the 30 per cent youth unemployment rate, a year of new office and commercial investment.