"D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, his wife, Effi, City Council Chairman David A. Clarke and five other city government officials plan to leave Saturday on a 13-day good-will and trade trip to the Far East that will be paid for largely with $45,000 in city funds and corporate contributions."
-- The Post, May 10, 1984
"Mayor Anthony Williams, five members of the D.C. Council and eight city employees plan to spend nearly $80,000 in taxpayer funds to fly next week to Beijing, the first stop on an 11-day cultural and economic mission to China and Thailand."
-- The Post, Oct. 7, 2004
DISTRICT OFFICIALS have a longstanding affinity for travel to China at taxpayer expense. Like Marion Barry 20 years ago, Mayor Anthony A. Williams will be accompanied by his wife, and -- at taxpayer expense -- an odd assortment of city officials, including the mayor's photographer, the D.C. Council's official secretary, the city's official secretary, two D.C. cable employees (undoubtedly to memorialize the historic occasion for future generations) and Harold Brazil (D-At Large), a lame-duck council member whose presence on the trip defies explanation. Mr. Williams's delegation -- a term we are prone to use loosely -- will be joined by a dozen other people from private companies who are paying their own way. In contrast, Mr. Williams's role model for this kind of occasion, Marion Barry, took a council member and five bureaucrats on the taxpayer's dime and about eight District business leaders who covered their own costs.
Said Mr. Barry at the time of his 1984 China journey: "This trip represents a major step toward making the District a world center for culture and international trade and finance." Here's Mr. Williams from Thursday's Post: " 'Some may not understand why we're taking a trip like this. I'll tell you why,' Williams said, ticking off a list of potential benefits, from jobs to 'government-to-government discussions' about tourism, housing and culture." Different mayors -- same spin.
In the intervening two decades, there have been other D.C. excursions to China paid from public funds. Mr. Barry and wife Cora Masters Barry, accompanied by staff members, made a return trip to Beijing in 1996, whereupon he returned to declare that he had established "very fruitful relationships with the duck people" -- presumably, but with no certainty, a reference to purveyors of Peking duck.
The standout pilgrimage to China, in our book, occurred in 1987, when the city sent a top-level D.C. Corrections Department official on a $3,600, three-week trip to China to advise that country's authoritarian rulers on how to run their prison system. Said a congressional critic on the House floor: "Perhaps the most blatant contradiction here is . . . that for more than 12 years, the District's corrections system has been plagued by a cancer of a combination of mismanagement and nonmanagement." Undeterred, a city spokesman shot back: "China is in a period of great change and development and needs some expertise from a proven system."
Shameless then; shameless now. Bon voyage, Mr. Mayor, bon voyage.