On Feb. 4, Mayor Barry participated in a question-and-answer session with members of The Post's editorial page staff. This article is adapted from a transcript of that meeting.
It is now a little over 13 months since I was sworn in. One thing I wanted to have several highly visible programs and projects that were in line with my campaign rhetoric and campaign promises so people could see very early that we were attempting to do some things that we said we were going to do. That's why, early on, we emphasized the housing programs, not only because they're important for the city, but housing was an area in which we could very clearly and concretely demonstrate some progress.
So when I say we're going to take the boards off of city houses and identify 733 of them, you can go out and count them, look at them, see them, and then you can know exactly what we are out doing. Incidentally, we have under contract for construction over 400 of those houses, so we are on track with that.
Same thing with the job program. I had said during the campaign that we were going to double the number of jobs that young people got as a result of their efforts. Some people misunderstood that, in the sense of thinking that all 30,000 would be hired by the D.C. government or the public sector, and therefore when we only hired 22,000, which we said we would do, there was a feeling that we didn't achieve our goal even though we did.
The problems we found in January 1979 were not new. What was missing, in our view, were new ways or better ways of beginning to solve old problems. You take an old problem such as senior citizens' having to walk nine or 10 blocks to get food stamps. In March or April of 1979 a new way of solving old problems was to get Bob Moore [Department of Housing] and Al Russo [Department of Human Resources] together. Al Russo was paying $1 per transaction to some people to do it [distribute food stamps]. He started paying Bob Moore $1 per transaction, and so in the 14 housing developments such as Claridge, Regency, etc., the senior citizens can now go downstairs and get their food stamps right there.
BUDGET: The budget situation is serious. I don't think it's reached crisis proportions, but it's serious. We want to get on top of it. It's going to be excruciating in some instances. The budget for the District of Columbia is about $1.4 billion in round numbers. I have directed control of some parts of it. I don't have direct control over schools, which have over $250 million of that money. Or the university, which has over $50 million of that money. Or the hospital system, which have over $35 million. Or the courts, which haved about $27 million. So part of the issue that we're debating now is to what extent the mayor's authority as the chief executive officer -- in that he has a financial responsibility for control of all the funds for the District of Columbia -- extends to those agencies that have, in some measure, some budget autonomy. He can set the ceiling on the schools' budget; he can only comment on the courts' budget.
SCHOOLS: I think the one area that I felt the worst about, in terms of not being able to do what I thought I could do or said I was going to try to do, has been the school system. Part of it is that the board -- the majority of the previous board -- had been, in my view, hostile and not cooperative in terms of sitting down and talking about too much. And they resented the mayor's even saying anything about schools. And every time I mentioned schools, they said, you ought to stay out of our business.
That does not apply to the superintendent -- I want to make that clear. Vince Reed has come to all the cabinet meetings; has participated in the dialogue and discussion, even when it was critical of the schools; has worked with Al Russo on trying to solve the special situation where DHR has some responsibilities for instsitutional care and the schools have educational care responsibilities. We have not been able to get as many parents involved as I hoped we could. The schools have been a very frustrating area for me. As you know, I don't have any legal authority to go and tell them what to do, and I thought I would get more cooperation.
I do get the impression that the tone and attitude could be a little bit different this year. I've talked with [School Board President] Calvin Lockridge. I think by and large Calvin's going to try as much as the board will let him to be cooperative. And that's an area I've got to focus on and try to figure out what more I can do outside of just talking about doing.
I get the impression that more and more people are beginning to raise questions about whether we need an elected school board, whether we ought to have a department of education, whether to have an appointed school board or a board appointed by the mayor with confirmation of the council. I'm of the opinion we still ought to try that elected school board. We need as many elections as we can locally to get accustomed to voting, because we have not had the vote.
The schools are not getting more money than they need. They're getting as much as or more than the city can afford. As you lose 25,000 pupils and want to keep the same pupil-teacher ratio, you ought to lose positions. You don't need the same number of teachers.
Also, you look at school buildings, such as Lincoln, which is 40 percent of capacity by anybody's definition, or Hamilton, which is 45 percent capacity. You can't afford in 1980 to keep all those buildings open. And the Board of Education has not made the tough decisions, politically and fiscally, to close some schools that don't even make educational sense. By closing one school they would save about $300,000, just for the maintenance and utilities on that school, not to mention the staff saved. On the other hand, take a school like Woodridge. Even though it is down 40, 45 percent, from an educational point of view it doesn't make sense to close it because that means kids would have to go up Bladensburg Road and South Dakota. But they board has a number of schools they could close and it wouldn't make any difference educationally.
On an academic high school, I think it's a good idea, as long as it's like the Duke Ellington High School experiment in which everyone has an opportunity to compete, to get in, and it's not an elitist, stereotyped situation. I think part of the problem is that a number of our young people are not challenged. It's not an income question either I know some people who live in public housing who are not challenged in our public schools, and they want to find an environment in which they can be challenged.
RENT CONTROL: On rent control, we are beginning to work at what's a reasonable rent-control law. I'm for some form of rent control, and I'm going to advocate that. Now the question is how and what form it takes. By and large, in low- to moderate-income areas, even without rent control, without government subsidies there's been no increase in supply. Rent control is very hot politically. So we're going to look at it politically as well as economically.
RACE RELATIONS: On race relations, I think we have a serious problem among a significant number of blacks and among Hispanics, too, who feel that there is some kind of conspiracy on the part of some people, somewhere, to put them out of the city and to move in and take over the city. There is a feeling of competition in some instances between the Hispanic community and black community. They both feel they ought to get more than the city government is sometimes able to give. I don't see any real major shift one way or the other. Like the Jewish-black question: I think it was blown out of proportion. I didn't notice a greater schism between Jewish leaders I talked to and the general black community. That isn't to say that the problem has not escalated. I try to play down race as a factor in this administration.