The secretary in the rayon printed blouse, wool skirt and sensible black shoes stood amidst the maze of cubicles in the old Lansburgh's Department store, where the D.C. government now maintains some offices. Hands on her hips, she rolled her eyes at the question.
"You want to know what I think of the mayor's idea to raise the salaries of his [top] aides when the city's laying off people and giving the rest of us less than the federal workers? Hummpf!" she said. "To put it mildly, I think it's a bad idea."
Mayor Marion Barry's proposal to raise the salaries of some of his top administrators brought snickers in District Building corridors yesterday morning, according to one D.C. City Council member. But it also sparked disgruntled opposition from the city's rank and file workers, their unions and several council members.
The city's budget crisis led to the layoff last year of more than 1,000 workers, including about 700 school-teachers, and for the first time in years, city workers received pay increases considerably less than those proposed for federal employes.
Barry said Monday that he will ask the City Council to raise the salaries of the city's cabinet-level department heads, now limited to $50,112 a year, because he is concerned that he may not be able to keep his top managers.
Several top aides have already left the city government of more attractive offers. And last week, City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, who by title is the number two person in city government, said he would consider leaving if he is offered a better paying city manager's job in Oakland, Calif.
In suggesting the pay increases, Barry contended that layoffs caused by the budget crisis essentially were over and that "the work force is settled down."
But yesterday on the ground floor of the District Building, works in the support services unti that handles supplies for the City Council were upset. They said the mayor's proposal bothered them at a time when city workers were only granted a 5 percent pay raise while federal workers received a 9.1 percent increase.
"The mayor's top aides don't need it, man, they ain't, starvin',' said one support services worker as he handed two thick note pads to a councilman's aide. "To me, it sounds like favoritism and it sounds like the only reason why the mayor wants to do it is to keep Rogers."
Another worker said, "It makes me angry, people talk about it, but what can you do?"
Spokesmen for unions that represent city employes complained that Barry's proposal isn't sensitive to the needs of lower-salaries workers.
"Where is the justice?" said Bernard Demczuk, political coordinator for Council 211 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about one-third of the city's 36,000 workers. "I picked up the paper this morning and read that Barry and Rogers are being hit by inflation. How can they be concerned about inflation making $50,000 a year when we have workers making only $15,000 a year and facing layoffs?"
Geraldin Boykin, of Council 20 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, said: "I just wish the same compassion could be given to the employes who work also and have to pay the same price for a loaf of bread as those whose salaries he may propose to increase."
Reaction in council offices was just as severe. "I don't think we can even talk about raising anybody's salaries at a time like this," said Hilda H. Mason, (S-At Large).
"I will not only vote against the measure, but also urge my colleagues on the council to do the same," said John Wilson, (D-2). "Considering the city's present financial condition, it is inconceivable that such a salary increase could be contemplated at this time."
Mayor Barry's one-word reaction to his critics was: "Nonsense."