Justice Deal Hits Home Rule

Article excerpt

Attorney General John Ashcroft and Mayor Anthony A. Williams talked up "cooperation" and were all smiles Wednesday during a news conference announcing an agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and the District to reduce use-of-force incidents involving D.C. police officers.

But Mr. Williams looked a little uncomfortable when questions were asked about the agreement's impact on home rule.

D.C. police union chief Sgt. Gerald G. Neill objects to the agreement on many grounds, including home rule.

"I think we give too much away in running the department to the Department of Justice," he said. "The city has fought hard and long for home rule. By signing this letter at the request of the chief, we give up control of our police department. Where's the home rule issue now?"

WAMU-FM radio commentator Mark Plotkin, an ardent advocate for D.C. voting rights in Congress and more home rule, pressed Mr. Ashcroft about whether the Bush administration would allow city residents to elect their own prosecutor.

Mr. Ashcroft dodged the inquiry, and Mr. Williams stayed mum.

The Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, part of the Justice Department, currently prosecutes all felonies and most misdemeanors in the District.

Mr. Plotkin yesterday told The Washington Times he agrees with Sgt. Neill.

The agreement is "just in keeping with the federalization of our local criminal-justice system," he said. "We're saying the police department can't control their own affairs. We should have enough confidence in ourselves to do this."

"In a way, this is like continuing the control board. You don't want a federal baby sitter for every city department. It's sort of a criminal justice receivership," Mr. Plotkin said.

Mr. Williams' press secretary, Joan Logue-Kinder, disagreed, echoing Mr. Ashcroft's comments that the District requested help from the Justice Department

"This is not a situation where the Department of Justice is coming into our territory and demanding we do certain things," she said, noting that other cities have been the subject of imposed mandates. "This is a jointly worked-out agreement."

Mr. Williams' position on letting residents elect a local prosecutor is not clear.

THAT'S NOT THE REASON

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III has released $4.1 million for an expansion project at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The museum was one of several across the state that lost funding because the General Assembly failed to reach a budget agreement. Mr. Gilmore, whose wife, Roxane is a member of the museum's board of trustees, said he chose the Richmond museum for funding because of the pressing need for a parking deck.

DISOBEDIENCE ON THE PLAYGROUND

It was 11:51 a.m. yesterday and D.C. shadow senator Paul Strausswas about to be arrested. He was jammed into a child's swing on a small, fenced playground behind his Massachusetts Avenue residence, cell phone bulging in his pocket and tasseled loafers brushing against the sand. …