The recent brouhaha between the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser over the mayor’s budget has continued evidence of being more about a play for power between Council Chair Phil Mendelson and the mayor than an insightful meeting of the minds. And with gentrification clearly asserting itself throughout the District, we cannot help but be concerned that in this latest encounter of David and Goliath, when the dust clears and the Council holds its second vote on the budget, May 28, it will be those who have long been David in D.C. who will find their organizations on the losing end.
One example is Mendelson’s push to restructure funding for the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, recently taken over by new Executive Director Terrie Rouse-Rosario — a department to which the mayor has directed a significant increase in funds since her election — and which Mendelson wants to remove from Bowser’s purview. Mendelson wants to change the structure so that the commission no longer exists as a department within the District. Instead, after decades under its current structure, he wants to change things so that the commission would become an independent agency.
If the change goes through, according to Rouse-Rosario, ” it would eliminate the way structure that enables the agency to successfully administer our programs and issue millions of grants each year.”
Some opponents of the plan voice concerns about the loss of dedicated funding for certain groups and would also eliminate what has become an increase in community engagement.
Our concern rests in the possibility — if not inevitability — that those already receiving dedicated funds from the District for their arts and humanities organizations would have even greater access to a combination of said funds and additional grants. Meanwhile, organizations currently based in three wards, 4, 7 and 8, already disproportionately represented in terms of dedicated dollars, would have to fight even harder for a real piece of the pie.
Make no mistake — the dollars in question are no chump change.
Even more, there appears to be a growing movement afoot of those on the commission and their colleagues who frequently whisper in their ears, that believe Bowser has too much power.
We have already seen what happens when checks and balances are thrown out of the window — at least when such efforts gain momentum — as evidence in the current fight between Donald Trump and Congress. We should not, we must not, we cannot follow suit.
What’s the rush, Mr. Mendelson? Let’s take our time before taking such a potentially costly move that could hurt the little people in the District.