A group of nearly 50 labor organizations, civic and community groups and businessmen staged a noontime "state of the city" program yesterday, at which Mayor Walter E. Washington told about 800 persons that "the city is strong."
The event was sponsored by the Washington Council on Political Education, an umbrella civic group headed by John Duncan, a long time friend of the mayor and a member of the steering committee for the mayor's 1974 election campaign.
Although it was billed as a "state of the city" address, the mayor's speech was not made before the assembled members of the city's legislative body as is customary for such addresses. Most members of the City Council, including Chairman Sterling Tucker, were not invited and found out about the speech only afterwards.
Instead, the mayor spoke to a gathering of citizens and city employees at the National Visitor Center. Many of the persons in attendance were senior citizens bused in from various housing developments at the expense of the sponsors, according to Duncan.
The 40-minute speech, interrupted by applause seven times, chronicled the history of the city during the past nine years that Washington has been mayor.
"They have been exciting, although crisis-filled years," the mayor said. "They have been momentous years --years of accomplishment, hope and promise -- and some frustration. My basic point is that we have made great progess as a city and will continue to do so."
The loudest applause came when the mayor departed from his 22-page prepared text to recognize Metropolitan Police Chief Maurice J. Cullinane, who played a key role in negotiations last week that ended a two-day siege in which a band of Hanafi Muslims held 124 hostages in three buildings. One person, 24-year-old radio reporter Maurice Williams was killed.
"We may have done it your way or somebody else's way, but the fact is our way succeeded in getting the persons home to their families," the mayor said about the settling of the crisis. "I'm not ashamed to tell you that last Wednesday and Thursday I was on my knees a number of times. I'm not sure the message came through, but we came out of it."
The mayor's speech lauded many government programs, including a $1.6 billion U.S. public works program, which he said has been responsible for construction of 55 schools here since 1967.
Public services have been improved --areas of the city -- "public minority employment has risen above tokenism" and "our public and private housing programs are moving off the drawing boards," the mayor said.
Mayor Washington said the major crisis facing the city is one of financial resources. In order to solve its financial problems, the mayor said, the city would have to have some powers to tax suburbanites who work in the city, obtain income from land in the city that has been made tax-exempt by federal action and have more control over vital city programs.
"This crisis will frustrate our hopes to build the great city of the future unless we are given the powers enjoyed by all other comparable jurisdictions, powers that were denied to us in the grant of home rule," he said.
The mayor said he planned soon to send to the Council a proposal to form a new department of labor that would consolidate city agencies now handling employment, training, wages and industrial health and safety. He also said that the city soon would present its plan for a proposed civic center in downtown Washington.
The mayor's address generally was devoid of criticism of the city's news media that has marked some of his recent speeches. There was a veiled reference to the media when the mayor listed what he said were positive accomplishments of the Department of Human Resources, which he said has been "beleagured recently.
"Six times more clients are now served by DHR than were served by the five departments merged into DHR in 1970, with about 2,000 fewer staff," the mayor said, later adding, "That's the work of a 'beleagured' department and I thought you should know."