Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

20 Years of Home Rule Have Left Washington Depressed, Depressing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

20 Years of Home Rule Have Left Washington Depressed, Depressing

Article excerpt

The city's bonds are rated as junk. The escalators at Superior Court don't run. Garbage collection has been curtailed. And huge parts of the city government are under day-to-day court administration.

That's not a description of just any inner-city decay, but the District of Columbia, the nation's capital and a model city long used by Congress as a proving ground for programs to end urban blight.

"We will make this a model city," said Mayor Walter Washington after Congress gave the district home rule in 1975.

But life here has become so depressing that even Washington-born residents like Marie Drissel, 49, an artist and government gadfly, say they're thinking of leaving.

Drissel, whose family has lived in Washington for 149 years, points to the bleak rows of boarded-up houses, collapsing city services, battalions of homeless and deplorable school system as visible signs of a collapsing structure.

"I don't think we've even bottomed out yet," she said, noting that congressional Republicans are putting the finishing touches on government cuts that might result in the layoffs of 30,000 federal employees here, with added economic pain rippling through the city.

The district's population has already declined from 802,000 in 1950 to about 520,000 today as middle class blacks and whites have fled to the the suburbs, she noted.

"I think very few would stay but for the fact they cannot cover their mortgage if they sell," she said.

Yet in spite of its financial plight, Washington would seem to have much more going for it than any other city in the world.

The district's per capita income of $29,800 is the highest in the United States, and city residents ride an economy fed by the $4 billion a year spent by tourists flocking to the monuments and museums.

Congress contributes $660 million annually to the city's $3.2 billion budget, a payment offsetting the loss to city coffers of real estate taxes on the properties of federal office buildings and foreign embassies.

Yet the city is so broke that payments have stopped for workers in day care centers and retirement homes, and the District of Columbia Fire Department was forced to request help from the suburbs when two fires at once tied up all major fire apparatus that wasn't in the repair shop. …

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