Shutdown in the City: District Blues



"Unless somebody takes me out in handcuffs, I'm not shutting down anything." -DC Mayor Vincent Gray

October 8, 2013, Washington, DC: Imagine for a moment if mayor Michael Bloomberg was told that the great city of New York could not spend its own money unless Congress approved. Then imagine if Congress didn't. Imagine if the only way Bloomberg was able to maintain city services and keep the Big Apple open today, on Day 8 of this government shutdown, was to tap into a contingency fund reserved for emergencies. Imagine if that reserve fund was shrinking by the day and might last just one more week. I suspect the good and ever-opinionated citizens of New York would have a lot to say.

This scenario is a reality today in Washington, DC. This is what it means to be the mayor of a world-class city in a federal district rather than a state. One of the many pieces of budgetary work left undone by the U.S. government is approving the budget for the city in which we live. And the $144 million rainy day fund DC that is relying upon to keep the District up and running meantime, without breaking federal law, is likely to be empty in seven days. Can you imagine what an exhausting, uphill battle you'd be fighting as the mayor of DC?

“Every day that goes by, it is an unconscionable, reprehensible shame that we continue to be included in this nonsense,” said DC Mayor Vincent Gray.

Nonsense indeed. The more invested I've become in this city, the more I've noticed that frustration comes with the territory living here in the District of Columbia. It stems from proximity to the lawmakers sent here from other parts of the country who give this place a bad name, and it stems from trying to communicate, with little success, that we are residents of one of the country's most dynamic and rapidly-growing cities, yet we are crippled by a lack of autonomy.

Today our mayor sent a letter. He pleaded with leaders in Congress and the White House to allow the District to continue to function:

“In no other part of our country are Americans facing the loss of basic municipal or state services due to the federal government shutdown,” wrote Gray. “Families in Chicago, Cincinnati and Las Vegas are not worried that their local governments won’t be able to maintain basic services like schools, police and fire protection, or trash collection — and neither should families here in the District of Columbia. But once again, our citizens find themselves innocent bystanders to a federal government shutdown -- made even more insulting because we have no voting voice in Congress -- and an archaic and unjust federal law prevents us from spending our own local tax dollars to provide services for which our residents have already paid."

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