The scene today on Capitol Hill will be familiar: Mayor Anthony A. Williams and other top D.C. officials giving their annual report card to the House subcommittee that oversees the city.
But this time will be different, and not just because the city's outlook is rosier. Today's hearing will mark the beginning of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III's sixth and final year as chairman of the subcommittee. And like the scheduled suspension of the D.C. financial control board next year, Davis's departure as chairman will symbolize the end of an era in which emergency measures were required to save the District from insolvency.
Davis was at the heart of the federal rescue of the D.C. government during the late 1990s, and the moderate Northern Virginia Republican often has been a buffer between D.C. Democrats trying to salvage at least some home rule and congressional Republicans who do not believe the city deserves it.
Davis, a former Fairfax County board chairman, helped to push through a string of laws that brought some stability to D.C. government--namely the one creating the presidentially appointed control board. The panel led the District's turnaround and will be active until the city balances four consecutive budgets, meaning it could begin shutting down as soon as next year.
"Tom Davis has always strongly supported self-government and the revitalization of the District, providing strong leadership at a difficult time in our city's history," Williams said yesterday. "He has been a friend to me . . . and to my administration. He played an important role helping us move out of the financial crisis and into our emerging recovery."
Control board Chairman Alice M. Rivlin said that Davis "recognized the importance to Northern Virginia of having the District in good shape."
Assuming Davis is reelected this fall--Fairfax Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence) is considering a challenge--he plans to stay on the D.C. panel. But his grip on the District's affairs will loosen when House leaders appoint a new chairman after the Nov. 7 election. Davis's influence will be missed, say those who work with him.
"He has not treated us as an overseer," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who said she works closer with Davis than any other member of Congress. "He's a moderate-to-conservative Republican. I'm his opposite. Yet with the District of Columbia, we always sat down and worked things out."
Today, Davis plans to deliver what will amount to a farewell address, ticking off his accomplishments and thanking his colleagues and D.C. officials, especially the mayor.
"It was never the intent of Congress, nor do I believe that it should be our role, to micro-manage the city," Davis says in a prepared copy of his remarks. "Our purpose has been to create a team to rescue and revive the nation's capital. This we have done."
Yet Davis has told his close aides he does not want to simply "run the clock out" on his tenure as chairman. He is looking for a way to build on the legacy he will leave the city, and hopes those testifying at the hearing will give him ideas.
In each of Davis's years as chairman, major D.C. legislation was passed. First, Congress created the control board. Next, lawmakers shifted some of the city's fastest-growing expenses, such as pensions and Medicaid, from the city to the federal government and voted to close the Lorton prison. Last year, Congress restored power to Williams to run the government.
Davis also guided to passage a program allowing D.C. high school students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges in Virginia and Maryland.
"We're going to take stock [at the hearing] and see what we can do," said Davis, who is beginning his 20th year in politics. "There's no hidden agenda. We won't move without talking to the mayor. Maybe there's something he wants legislatively."
Williams today could give some hints about that; his proposed city budget for fiscal 2001 will be released in March.
CAPTION: D.C. subcommittee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) talks to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) before a 1997 hearing.