Fenty Drops Paid Holiday He Backed in 2004; Defends Budget Cut for Emancipation Day

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

Fenty Drops Paid Holiday He Backed in 2004; Defends Budget Cut for Emancipation Day


Byline: Gary Emerling and Joseph Young, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Wednesday said D.C. workers can celebrate Emancipation Day, but the city doesn't need to pay for it - a reversal of his stance in 2004, when as a council member he voted to authorize the paid holiday.

Emancipation Day is a day that you absolutely should recognize and highlight, but not a day where we need to fund people to have a day off, Mr. Fenty told The Washington Times on Wednesday, adding that he had no plans to revisit the decision.

Officials say Mr. Fenty's fiscal 2010 budget proposal introduced last month includes a plan that can help the District save $1.3 million by eliminating the April 16 public holiday, which marks when Abraham Lincoln freed 3,100 slaves in the District in 1862 - about nine months before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Under the plan, city employees no longer get a paid holiday or receive extra pay for working.

As a council member representing Ward 4 in 2004, when legislation was passed to give city workers a paid day off to observe the holiday, Mr. Fenty voted Yes.

Asked Wednesday what has changed, Fenty officials cited budget pressures and pointed to spending plan documents that note city employees earned more than $1.8 million in holiday premium pay for working on Emancipation Day last year.

The proposal preserves the spirit and integrity of this important day, while allowing critical District services like trash collection, DMV operations and District regulatory services to resume for residents across the District, Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said.

Still, revoking the paid holiday has upset D.C. Council members, community leaders and organizers of the city's annual Emancipation Day celebrations.

This country's history is inextricably tied to slavery, said Lawrence Guyot, a longtime D.C. resident and civil rights activist. To end Emancipation Day would be an affront to all Americans, particularly to the descendants of slaves.

D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, said he would try to strip the proposal from the budget during the council's consideration of the spending plan.

I think it's a huge mistake, Mr. Thomas said. I think it's a disrespect to a very important holiday that highlights a very critical chapter in the history of African-Americans in the United States.

The Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 abolished slavery in the District, making the city the first in the country where people were freed from bondage. …

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