Since today is St. Patrick's Day, a great day for the Irish and everybody else, it seemed a proper moment to summon the patron saint of Ireland upon the personalities and affairs of the District O'Columbia.
Even though few District residents look Irish or live in Irish neighborhoods, it's a day for all to become sons and daughters of the auld sod. However, with the way many things have been going in recent days, it's a tossup as to whether the patron saint would want to see a shamrock pinned on certain lapels.
Thoughts of St. Patrick bring to mind the legend in which he banished the snakes from Ireland, and that in turn brings to mind the problems of the city's prison system, which could use at least a saint to bring some order to the crisis and indecision that have marked the city's jail overcrowding controversy.
Can anybody figure out why Mayor Marion O'Barry has been so understanding of James Palmer, director of the city's corrections department? Although Palmer is in no way the only city official at fault, he and O'Barry are at the center of the crowding controversy, which gets more explosive every day. The officials have come up with blarney a'plenty as they have let the problem mount over the years.
But now, because the city has so many more inmates than cells that it must hold the prisoners in buses outside the jail for hours because their presence would force the population over the court-ordered limit, it's become a dangerous situation for city residents and prisoners alike.
Moreover, normally placid neighborhoods from LeDroit Park to Stanton Park are aroused. In the case of Stanton Park, city officials had the poor judgment to begin renovating a building they proposed to use as a minimum-security jail on Ninth Street NE before the neighborhood was properly notified and consulted. Now the neighbors are going to court to stop the city dead in its tracks. There are no smiling eyes in this crisis, Irish or otherwise.
Then there is the case of Deputy Mayor Alphonse G. Hill, who was toppled by the disclosure that he accepted $3,000 in payments from a city auditing contractor last year. It remains to be seen how Hill's resignation will affect the Barry administration or the city's standing in the financial community.
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta McKenzie, who as everyone knows is not Irish, has reason to raise a toast this day.
Chagrined because Mayor O'Barry proposed $17 million less for fiscal 1987 than she needs to run the schools, the capable superintendent threatened to resign if she was not given the tools with which to work. Included in the intense political wrangling that occurred was a parents advocacy group's demonstration in front of the District Building for more money for the schools.
By week's end, the D.C. City Council agreed informally to increase funding for the District school system by $14 million above what O'Barry proposed, giving the board most of its budget request for fiscal l987, a fact that doubtless raised the spirits of McKenzie.
But if sips of spirits are in order for the school board victory, hold off the holiday revelry for the city's public housing system. Last week HUD Secretary Samuel O'Pierce ordered one of his top assistants to work personally with the city government to help solve the problems in the troubled Department of Housing and Community Development.
Among the findings of auditors was that millions of dollars in rents were delinquent, while many tenants were overcharged or rarely billed. "I don't know if it's fraud, I don't know if it's mismanagement," said Margaret White, director of the HUD Washington field office, "but we're going to find out." While this is a sad, if not unexpected, note for an agency perennially criticized for poor management, it's a welcome step if it helps the beleaguered low-income tenants, who deserve a better deal.
So while the weeks preceding this year's wearing of the green weren't stellar ones, it's a good enough thing to salute and celebrate the heritage and culture of another nationality. For the day, even though I don't possess a drop of Irish blood, I'll even become O'Gilliam.
And as for City Hall, there's reason to expect that by next St. Patrick's Day -- presuming he wins reelection -- Mayor O'Barry will have cleaned up his administration enough so there'll be something more to celebrate.