Mayor Anthony A. Williams, encouraging District residents to look beyond their own neighborhoods and wards to solve the city's problems, yesterday announced a program aimed at bringing people across the city together to help D.C. officials set priorities.
Williams, during a news conference at Brookland Elementary School in Northeast Washington, said his Neighborhood Action program would be an ambitious attempt to allow residents to help shape policy in a city where some people--particularly those in low-income areas--have long complained that they don't receive the same level of services from D.C. government as others.
The program also represents a turning point for Williams, who during his nine months as mayor often has been criticized by D.C. officials, activists and other residents for proposing initiatives without soliciting opinions from those who would be affected by them.
The mayor said the program would be a series of events, rather than a single forum for residents to air their concerns. Over the years, Williams said, the District has begun several proposals aimed at bringing neighborhoods together, but those efforts were not coordinated as part of a citywide vision and left residents feeling let down by government.
"So many people in this city give their hearts and souls to improve the neighborhood they love, the place they call home," Williams said. "Government can't do it alone. We have to have a reliable partnership between government and the community. . . . A lot of people will say what's new, but this isn't like getting your father's Oldsmobile. This is really something new. . . . It's practical and it's visionary."
The Neighborhood Action initiative will begin with a Citizens' Summit on Nov. 18 and 20 at the Washington Convention Center, where residents will be able to review and discuss the goals that Williams has set for his administration.
More than 1,000 residents are expected to offer their opinions on such issues as what should be in the city's fiscal 2001 budget and the District's success in repairing streets, picking up trash and assisting its poor.
The initiative will continue with neighborhood forums starting in January, Williams said.
"I want everyone to know that this government will do its part to support their efforts," the mayor said. "I want to work directly with citizens so that their priorities are heard."
Williams was joined yesterday by business and religious leaders, community activists and elected officials who called the program a way to empower residents.
"Neighborhood Action is about neighborhoods throughout the District coming together," said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D-At Large). "We want to take different parts of the District and bring them together . . . so Washington will become a better place."
The Rev. Mark Poletunow, executive director of the District's Spanish Catholic Center, also praised the initiative, saying that the Latino community often is left out of D.C. government's plans for residents.
"Some segments of the community have been hidden and forgotten," Poletunow said. "Parts of the Spanish-speaking community have been hidden."
Williams said his program aims to change that.
"We will roll up our sleeves to come together, work together and succeed together," he said.
CAPTION: Mayor Anthony A. Williams explains the workings of his Neighborhood Action program at a news conference at Brookland Elementary School in Northeast Washington.