Walking up to the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue protesters were heard a few blocks away. Approaching the front of the building they could be heard chanting, “Please don’t close our schools” over megaphones and yelling at the top of their lungs. They also held hand-made signs and posters. Once past the protesters then came the campaigners, people handing out flyers for candidates running for city council.
This is the State of the District address. Held once a year, the mayor, now Vincent Gray (D), gives the city’s residents and political leaders an update about the progress of the city and a detailed report about new initiatives and changes that need to be made.
This year the address was held at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue and the space was not ample. Many were turned away due to the small venue that was held in the Chinatown area.
The mayor gave a speech that was full of sports metaphors, saying that the city is on the brink of winning, particularly with two national sports teams that have done well this past season (cue the Redskins and Nationals). He introduced large initiatives that received either loud applause or standing ovations. Among them was the $100M investment plan for affordable-living housing for DC residents and a $15 million One City Fund, which will award up to $100,000 grants to competing non-profit organizations.
Gray also proposed giving city employees pay raises, which drew large applause and a few standing ovations. Over the past year city employees have had to take furlough days, endure wage and hiring freezes. City workers like firefighters and police officers have not seen contractual increases since 2006.
And about that $400M plus surplus the city gained over 2012, Gray says that he will put it in the city’s reserve. “Even though the 2012 surplus must go in the bank, the same economic forces that produced it are still at work,” Gray said. A few councilmember’s have been vocal about their proposed plans for that money, which includes investing it into the homelessness program and educational plans across the city.
Throughout his speech, applause could be heard for new initiatives he introduced, but there were also quiet moments. When he spoke about the percentage of residents who live and work in D.C. the statistic was responded with gasps and head shakes. The mayor said District residents fill only 30% of the jobs in the city. However, he did say that the city is working to give incentives to employers to hire District residents.
With jobs comes education, which he said has seen an enrollment increase in the past few years. He announced that the District is the first city in America where all Early Childhood children have a seat in the classroom and touted other educational victories like the rebuilding and renovation of many public schools across the city.
The rebuilding is just apart of his larger 5-year economic development plan that he announced. The first of its kind, it will invest 1 billion dollars of new tax revenue over the next 5 years. One of the projects he highlighted was the Skyland redevelopment, in Ward 7, that will host a new Wal-Mart. The mayor lives in Ward 7 and was visibly ecstatic about this development.
This along with the affordable housing will provide residents greater access to quality and affordable housing across the city. Population growth over the past year has made affordable housing difficult, with 1,100 new residents moving into the District each month. While Gray said he is pleased with the growth of the city, he is worried about the future of the city. “We were once worried about the District becoming a city of haves and have-nots, but now we are increasingly in danger of becoming a city of only haves.” With no specific details outlined yet, one can only hope that the $100M investment plan will stretch to the wards that are in the most economic needs, Wards 7 and 8.
Other announced plans that were well received by the audience included the taxi cab’s and the Business Regulatory Task Force, that he is creating, which will help make recommendations on job creation and starting and operating a business in the District. By summer 2013 he said all taxicabs in DC will be credit card enabled. Cheers and jeers were heard from this announcement.
Also he announced his plan to tackle procurement, by proposing reform to improve the process. He said he looks forward to working with the Council Chairman, Phil Mendelson (D) and the city council. Considering the financial problems that have plagued the last fallen few council members, this initiative is sure to be a major feat if accomplished.