Black author Richard Wright pointed out the dilemma faced by blacks who live in two worlds -- the black and the white -- simultaneously. A variation of that dual existence now appears to be creeping up on black politicians like Major Marion Barry.
If Congress and the City Council uphold the service cuts Barry proposes in his 1981 budget:
Weekly trash collections would be cut in half east of the American River.
Nearly 400 employes of the Department of Environmental Services would lose their jobs.
The school board would have to reduce its budget by $10 million.
Three neighborhood health clinics would be closed.
An estimate 8,000 poor women would have to pay $25 each of Medicaid abortions that were previously free.
All of these proposals, which seem odd coming from a one-time militant activist, signal a "new direction" in city government under Mayor Barry's leadership.
But there is another way to look to those cuts. As the head of city government, Barry can no longer "Mau Mau" on behalf of liberal social changes that someone else has to pay for. The buck stops at his desk. And, Barry said just this week he intends to be "responsible."
A dollar cut over here is a new dollar to spend over there:
The $700,000 saved through a reduction in trash collections could provide enough funds to correct housing code violations on nearly 300 units where owners have failed to comply. (The city would later recover the money.)
The money saved through laying off the environmental services workers could help provide funds for summer and year-round jobs for chronically unemployed youth and young adults.
The $10 million cut from the schools could provide enough money to pay the city's portion of welfare payments to 37,500 public assistance recipients and provide each one with a 5 percent cost of living increase -- without raising taxes.
The $1.5 million saved by closing the health clinics could provide funds to pay for the hefty budget increase Barry proposes for city programs affecting Latinos, the elderly, women's programs and the arts.
The $200,000 brought in by charging for Medicaid abortion would be equal to the amount of extra money the mayor to give to the Washington Convention and Vistors Bureau to help promotetorism.
Those are some of the tradeoffs in the Barry budget, which the mayor said "represents the first statement of some of my priorities, policies and proposals. . ." $ what that means in the unadulterated language of hardball local politics is that is the first real indication of winners and losers in the battle to get a bigger piece of the city's fiancial action from Barry's administration.
This is actually the third budget proposal that Barry has submitted since becoming mayor Jan. 2. But the other two were merely footnotes to spending packages already proposed by Walter E. Washington.
City hall insiders not that Barry spend between 20 and 30 hours personally making some of the "touch decisions," as he called them, leading up to the budget in its final form. Indeed, this finanical package is truly Mayor Marion Barry's budget.
Budget preparation is not a horse trading procedure per se. But the city's 1981 budget would have required$143 million just to keep pace with inflation, which it ultimately did not. $ whatever Barry intended to add to the budget had to be financed by items already in it unless Barry wanted to raise the tax rate, and he did not. $ he gained an inch, not a mile when he started moving in a "new direction." In 10 areas that he singled out as being in the forefront of the new thrust, he added only $15 million more to the 1981 budget than was in the 1980 budget. The increase is equal to about 1 percent of the $1.5 billion budget.
In the area of housing, for example, Barry initiatives would provide homes for less than 15,000 persons. The mayor himself places the number of city residents in danger of losing their homes through displacement at 10 times that number.
Aides to the mayor contend that the initiatives should not be downplayed just because the amounts are moldest. "What you need is a long-term commitment that this is a priority and we're gonna find money for it," one mayoral confidant said privately.
"In housing, he's doing that, and remember, he's out there because of his campaign promises. He's got a credibility problem is he doesn't find some money. And there's also no question it's the biggest problem this city has got."
Some of the Barry increases are going to special interest groups which were early riders on his initially sluggish political bandwagon.
For example, Latino affairs would receive a 171 percent budget increase, the budget for women's affairs would go up by 100 percent and the budget for the city's arts commission would increase by 40 percent -- all at a time when the overall city budget rose by only 8.1 percent.
There are also spending increases proposed for groups that Barry has not done well with in the past, but who are important to political campaigns because they can be counted on, either to feed the ballot boxes or the campaign kitty.
Hence, the budget for the city's senior citizens programs would increase by 75 percent, the elderly being rock-ribbed voters. The budget for the tourist bureau -- a stepchild of the Metropolitan Washington Board -- would get a 200 percent increase. (Contributions from businessmen are key to political campaigns.)
When one Capitol Hill aide saw the budget last week, the aide remarked, "That will play well up here." The aide was referring to Barry's plans to cut the city payroll by 1,397 -- the largest cut since 1976 -- and to the mayor's echoing of the call by congressional budget barons for the school board to close some neighborhood schools. (Barry "encouraged" the school closings by proposings to lop $10 million from the school board's budget.)
By his own admission. Marion Barry is now a "fiscal conservative," looking for whatever way he can to trim the costs of running the city.
"The needs of our citizens continue to challenge the imagination and creativity of the people who have been chosen to lead," Barry said in his budget message. "The unrelenting pressure of inflation on our available revenue forces a constant re-evalutation of our service delivery."
There is an interesting footnote to the Barry budget, for it is also the product of a man who is a rising star among national black leaders, and one not reluctant to join the chorus of those who criticize Congress and the White House for proposing cutbacks in programs affecting blacks.
If Marion Barry is to stay in office, be successful -- and remain a black leader -- he has to hold down city spending. But what national black leader is willing to propose to the White House that it began charging poor women for abortions as a way to help balance the budget?