Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday that none of the District's eight wards has been ruled out as a site for a proposed federally funded prison, although he is "unalterably opposed" to a Southeast Washington site that some officials have been discussing.
"No part of the city should be sacrosanct . . . and every ward should be considered," he said.
Barry, delivering his third annual State of the District address at the Convention Center, also expressed concern about the epidemic of heroin trafficking that led to the overdose deaths of nine persons in a single weekend. Washington has an unusually high addiction problem for a city its size and ranks as one of the nation's major heroin centers.
"I have frequently said that heroin does not grow at 14th and T," the mayor said. "It is brought here from abroad . . . . We ought to put our federal government on notice that they ought to move to cut off the supply of drugs to our country."
Barry spoke to about 2,000 high-level administration officials, community leaders, business and labor leaders and schoolchildren, offering a ward-by-ward survey of the city's achievement, including a reduction in crime and infant mortality and new development and construction that have created jobs.
But in contrast to previous addresses in which the mayor alone was in the limelight, Barry heaped praise on the D.C. City Council yesterday and invited the members to sit with him on the rostrum -- his latest gesture to assuage or accommodate the increasingly independent-minded council members.
"Our successes are not due to any single individual or group but are the result of our collective efforts," Barry said. "We will need to continue to rely on our support network to ensure our future successes."
Barry is up for re-election next year, and his speech was tinged with conciliatory rhetoric aimed at special interest groups, particularly public employe unions whose members are grumbling about their new contracts with the city. The mayor said that labor leaders "realize that we have mutual objectives and that our destinies are tied together."
Barry also moved swiftly to quiet an uproar among residents and community leaders in Southeast Washington after a Washington Post report during the weekend that federal and city officials have begun looking at sites for the proposed prison, with special attention being given to seven acres of surplus federal property in the Congress Heights area.
The site -- a triangular tract east of Fourth Street between Mississippi and Trenton avenues -- is south of St. Elizabeths Hospital and near three public schools. D.C. school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8) and other Congress Heights residents angrily complained about the land being used for a prison.
Yesterday, Barry defended his decision earlier this month to support federally funded construction of a prison in the District to handle a prison population that has grown by nearly 50 percent in six years and surged at an alarming rate in the last two months.
But he pledged to fight any effort to build the facility on the Congress Heights site.
"Let me say I am unalterably opposed to building any prison at Fourth and Mississippi SE," he said.
Barry later told reporters that he thought the site was "too close to schools and too small," and complained that reporting on the early stages of planning for a prison needlessly causes "alarm and fear" among residents.
"We should look at the whole range of sites," he said.
"It's unfair to me and it's unfair to the citizens [to speculate on a possible site] until we have a comprehensive look."
City Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, hailed Barry's announcement as a victory for Southeast Washington, which Rolark said has been used too often as a "dumping ground" for unpopular or unwanted institutions. Rolark, who returned yesterday from a week-long conference on prisons and corrections in Reno, Nev., has urged the city and the federal government to consider alternatives to building a prison.
"We've got to look at this from a systematic approach, and there's a lot of alternatives to bricks and mortar," she said.
City Administrator Thomas Downs, who will take the lead in District planning and negotiations for a new prison, said officials must first decide on whether to build a minimum- or maximum-security facility, how many prisoners it likely will hold and other concerns before selecting a site.
"We just can't be driven by [the issue of the] site, and right now the main focus seems to be on the site," Downs said. "In order to do justice to this issue, we have to do it right and professionally, and the mayor is committed to doing it with the full involvement of the citizens of Washington."