Members of Mayor Marion Barry's advisory committee on alcoholism are outraged at the slogan unveiled Thursday for this year's alcoholism and drug abuse campaign, and the chairman of the citizens' group has threatened to resign over it.
The slogan is: "Saying yes to drugs and alcohol is easy. Are you tough enough to say no?"
This is "not only wrong, it is counterproductive" because it gives the impression that alcoholism is a result of weakness rather than a disease, said committee chairman Fred Wegner.
The committee had what some participants described as a heated meeting in the District Building Thursday following the campaign kickoff, and yesterday Wegner wrote the mayor to say the use of the slogan should be stopped and the public service announcements featuring it pulled.
The ads were produced by management consultants A.L. Nellum Inc. under a $199,000 contract with the city to produce a five-part campaign, of which the ads were one element. Creation of the ads cost $47,000, city officials said.
Wegner and other members said they were angry that they had not been consulted about the campaign before it was announced and said they only learned of it when they received invitations to the kickoff in the mail.
Wegner said he had threatened to resign out of "acute embarrassment" over the campaign, but had decided to hold off for a month after some of the mayor's aides told him some changes might be made in the campaign.
City health officials and the Nellum campaign project director yesterday defended the slogan, saying that being tough has to be part of a person's fight against alcoholism or drug abuse. They also said several alcoholism professionals were consulted in the course of developing the campaign though the advisory committee as a group was not.
Sharlynn Bobo, project director at Nellum, said she did try to get on the agenda of the alcohol advisory committee meeting a month ago to discuss the campaign but was not added.
The campaign "is not targeted to recovering people but to youth and their families," Bobo said. "I understood the advisory committee's concern that alcoholism is a disease. . . . But that was a narrow perspective from the point of view of the campaign."
Dr. Ernest Hardaway, D.C. public health commissioner, tried to pour oil on the troubled waters yesterday, acknowledging that not enough was done to bring the advisory group into the process. He said he is going to convene a meeting between the Nellum people and the advisory group. With the campaign just beginning, there is time to smooth over any differences, he said.
But he sees no problem with the campaign slogan itself, because "saying no" is part of alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation programs. "That doesn't mean you aren't treating it as a disease. . . . We're perhaps being too sensitive."
Bobo and city officials said they knew of no changes to be made in the campaign.