An Anacostia resident, returning home after a few months' absence, might have cause to wonder: What in the world had made his once-forsaken neighborhood suddenly one where bankers from all over the country are fighting to spend money?
The questioning resident wouldn't be alone -- a lot of District residents don't understand the cross fire that has been exchanged in the heated struggle now under way over who will control local banking in the District of Columbia.
Many feel they are in the eye of Hurricane Gloria, surrounded by a whirl of promises that range from jobs to commitments of millions of dollars for poor areas to financing for minority businesses.
Well, I take a somewhat cynical view of all of these promises made in the heat of this fierce banking battle for a toehold in this lucrative Washington-Baltimore region. Like suitors who are courting, they may be heard to murmur nearly anything to win us.
So the mayor and many council members, despite their differences over the banking bill, were on the same track, and rightly so, when they insisted that banking companies must help local residents who have been ignored in the past in exchange for doing business here.
But, I would like to see the banks nailed down to even more binding commitments to city residents.
Take jobs, for example. Everything we have heard up to now would lead us to believe that the city can only gain jobs. But that is not necessarily the case.
Since the larger banks' interest in coming to the District is to increase assets, what is to prevent these new managers, in the near future, from deciding to consolidate some operations by moving certain entry-level jobs to less costly geographical areas to bring about economy of scale?
I single out entry-level operations because the positions most at stake in consolidating operations would be such jobs as check filers, check assorters, proof operators, loan clerks and computer operators.
In Virginia, where larger banks have already begun purchasing smaller banks, certain centers have already been closed and the backroom workers offered such jobs as clerk-typists or told they could move to operations headquarters in another city. Depending on the circumstances, employes either quit their jobs or moved.
But given Washington's already high unemployment rate -- 8.5 percent compared with 4.1 percent for the metropolitan area and 3.3 percent for the suburbs -- the loss of any jobs at this level would be a real tragedy.
The banks say other jobs will be created by investment credit, and that's fine, but that won't make up for possible job losses elsewhere.
To forestall that possibility, Mayor Marion Barry and the City Council should act now to extract guarantees that all positions, particularly those at the entry level, remain within the District for a certain period of time, say three to five years.
Costin Toney, a spokesman for City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said it "would create a chilling effect on banking" to write into the legislation such specific restrictions as a guarantee on jobs for a set number of years.
Insisting a proposed provision to review the job situation is sufficient, he added: "If you begin to put in restrictions to the extent that it no longer looks economically feasible you have defeated the whole purpose . . . . It's a balancing act."
But if the banking companies intend to increase jobs as they pledge, it won't matter if these guarantees are written into the legislation; the "chilling effect" would occur only if the banks plan to cut back positions. At the least they should guarantee retraining for other positions.
Let's face it: The District won't be for sale forever, and the City Council doesn't have to run scared when it comes to protecting the little people.
The money involved in providing such guarantees for a few years would be just a drop in the bucket for these million-dollar moguls. Whatever agreement is finally reached between the mayor and the council on the bank bill, one thing is certain: When negotiations end, the face of local banking will have been irrevocably changed. Now is the time to provide insurance that all promises of employment for D.C. residents are strictly kept.