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Ward 5 Residents Receptive to Gray's Budget

James Wright | 5/11/2011, 9:34 p.m.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray held a budget town hall meeting at the Luke C. Moore Senior High School Academy in Northeast on Wed., May 4. / Courtesy Photo

Residents who represent a microcosm of the District appeared to embrace a Draconian budget presented by the mayor of the District of Columbia during a recent town hall meeting.

More than 200 Ward 5 residents packed the first floor auditorium of the Luke C. Moore Academy Senior High School in Northeast on May 4 to listen to the fiscal year 2012 budget presentation of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials. D.C. Council member Harry Thomas (D), who represents the ward, said that Gray's effort to inform citizens about the budget is a welcomed departure from the past.

"We did not do this last year," Thomas, 50, said. "This time last year, we were sifting through the budget and that was quite an exercise. I think Mayor Gray has handed us a responsible budget."

Gray, 68, has held town hall meetings on the proposed budget in each of the wards for almost two weeks. In each of the wards, the D.C. Council member who represents the ward served as co-sponsor of the event.

Ward 5, in many respects, is a representation of the District of Columbia. It's predominantly Black, but has a fast growing population of young Whites, Latinos and Asians.

The ward has established Black middle class neighborhoods that include Michigan Park, North Michigan Park, and a White presence in the vicinity around Catholic University. There are also low-income sections such as the Trinidad and Ivy City neighborhoods that tend to be crime-ridden.

Economic development projects are underway in Fort Lincoln, Fort Totten and the McMillan Reservoir site in Northwest. Although Ward 5 is primarily in the Northeast quadrant of the city, it includes a small portion of Northwest.

Gray told Ward 5 residents to prepare for tough times.

"You have already heard that we have a difficult budget," he said. "It is now in the hands of the D.C. Council."

The mayor explained that the city must close an estimated $320 million gap for fiscal year 2012, which starts on Oct. 1 of this year. Natwar Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer, said that if the budget gap is not closed, the city could face another financial control board, more congressional interference and its bond rating on Wall Street could be severely downgraded.

The mayor's presentation lasted for 45 minutes and covered topics that included programs that are slated to be cut and taxes that will be raised in order to close the $320 million shortfall.

The audience listened closely to what Gray and members of his team said, with many nodding vigorously when it was mentioned that raising taxes on wealthy Washingtonians was on the table. Many applauded when Gray mentioned that the Woodbridge branch of the D.C. Library system will be rebuilt.

Gray noted that a number of schools in the ward are slated to be renovated, which include some of the ward's elementary schools, or rebuilt, as in the case of Dunbar High School in Northwest.

The presentation, for the most part, focused on how the budget will impact all city residents, and that wasn't a problem for Albrette Ransom, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who represents district 5C12.

"Gray has shown respect for the citizens," Ransom, 50, said. "He has given us a perspective on how the budget will be funded. What he is doing is appreciated."

Martha Ward, who has lived in the ward since 1949 and who is White, gave Gray high marks for his presentation.

"He touched on a lot of issues and he was not antsy about answering questions forthright on his budget and what is going on in the city," Ward, 65, said.

Robert Brannum, the president of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and a resident of the ward, noted that the "community had come out in force" and agreed with Ward that Gray performed well.

"Those who asked questions got the answers they wanted," Brannum, 58, said.