The White House announce formation yesterday of a high-level task force in District of Columbia problems. But its makeup was criticized immediately by some members of the D.C. City Council as a "slap in the face" to the city's fledgling home-rule government.
The 14-member task force, headed by Vice President Walter F. Mondale, includes only two city officials - Mayor Walter E. Washington and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker. The other 12 members are White House aides or members of Congress, including Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.).
"It looks to me as though it's just putting us right back where we were before home rule, as far as an elected government is concerned," said Council member Polly Shackleton (D-three). "We really don't have very much representation. It doesn't look as if we're getting much support for self-determination."
"It's tokenism, a slap in the face to the District to have only two people out of 14," said Councilman Marion Barry (D-at large).
A third member, Douglas (D-at large) said: "What I would like to say in unprintable. The President hasn't been born again. He's talking about human rights in Russia and this is an insult to us."
Moore suggested that the city's two representatives boycott the task force's meetings. "They'll be out-voted on everything," Moore said. "They'll be just like a couple of castrated steers, and castrated steers have no option."
Martha (Bunny) Mitchell, special assistant to the President for special programs (including the District, said there was no intention of slighting the city's elected leadership.
"I wouldn't say the city has small representation," she said, noting that a virtually unlimited number of D.C. officials could be consulted as the task force considers various problems.
This body is not going to take votes. This is an informal mechanism.
"We decided that it was up to the city to decide who would speak for it at task force sessions. It should not be up to the White House to decide who represents the city. From our point of view, that says we have respect and acknowledge the leadership of the city."
A White House statement announcing formation of the task force described it as "an intergovernmental working group on District problems" that would identify and discuss vital city issues and then make recommendations to President Carter.
Mitchell said the group originally was conceived as one that could make its recommendations within about six to eight months, but that timetable could be altered once an agenda is decided, she said.
She said the White House has no priority of issues to be addressed. "We're interested in the issues that the city and the Congress are interested in," Mitchell said. "We don't consider ourselves running this show."
Council Chairman Tucker said he felt top priority should be given to financial problems facing the city, including an increased U.S. payment and current restrictions on the city's authority to collect revenues, including imposition of a nonresident income tax.
Both Tucker and Fauntroy said that full voting representation for the District in Congress also should be a priority discussion item. The city would have two voting senators and two voting members of the House if it were accorded the same representation given states. It currently has only a nonvoting delegate in the House.
Not all city officials interviewed yesterday about the composition of the committee task force were critical. Mayor Washington said only that he had been asked to serve on the commission and would be pleased to do so. Tucker said he thought city input would be adequate. Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-seven) supported the President's choices because, she said, those chosen besides Tucker and the mayor "are the guys on the Hill who have the power to giveth or taketh away."
"I'm not offended by the composition of the task force because since I had nothing to do with the conception of it. I could assume I would have nothing to do with its future," said Councilman John A. Wilson (D-two). "However, I am well aware of what the problems of the District are and I don't need a task force to tell me what they are."
The task force grew out of a March 15 White House meeting among Carter, Mondale and several members of Congress responsible for District affairs. Many of those congressmen subsequently were chosen for the task force, which was proposed by Rep. Charles C. Diggs (D-Mich.), chairman of the House District Committee.
In addition to Mondale, Mitchell, Washington, Tucker, Fauntroy and Diggs, task force members include Mondale aide Jim Dyke, Peter Fannon of the Office of Management and Budget and Kurt Schmoke of the President's Domestic Policy Council.
Congressional members are Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.), the ranking minority member of the House District Committee; Rep. William Natcher (d-Ky.), chairman of the House District Appropriations Subcommittee; Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Senate District Committee; Sen. Charles McCmathias (R-Md.), ranking minority member of the Eagleton committee, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate District Appropriations Subcommittee.
Mitchell said the task force would hold its initial meeting within a couple of weeks, soon after Mondale returns from a scheduled trip to Vienna.