WASHINGTON -- A day after the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress expressed acute displeasure with the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray during a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the Occupy DC encampment in McPherson Square, the mayor reiterated his belief that D.C.'s two Occupy camps should be combined.
During a Wednesday press conference, the mayor "continues to believe" camp consolidation is the best course of action to deal with sanitation and health concerns at McPherson, which the city's health director has compared to refugee camps he's seen in the Middle East and Africa.
During Tuesday's three-hour hearing, committee members heard from Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Paul Quander and Department of Health Director Mohammad Akhter, who in turn heard a thing or two from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).
According to The Washington Post, Norton "appeared increasingly disturbed" by the Gray administration seemingly aligning itself with committee Republicans:
"Chief Lanier, would you say Occupy protests have been predictable," asked Norton, who was visibly frustrated. Norton was suggesting that the Occupy protests are similar to many other demonstrations in the District.
In an interview after the hearing, Norton said the Gray administration "played into the hands of Republicans." She noted Gray and a majority of the D.C. Council had been quoted as saying they supported the protesters' right to remain in the McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza.
Occupy protesters in McPherson Square have pledged to stay in the downtown park. Organizers of the separate Occupy encampment at Freedom Plaza have said consolidation would present challenges.
Kevin Zeese, an organizer in Freedom Plaza, said following Gray's initial call to remove protesters from McPherson Square:
Feeding more people means a significant increase in cost and great stress on our kitchen team. Our peacekeepers will have more people to monitor and keep at peace with each other. The two camps have different personalities and we do not want to lose the personality of Freedom Plaza. Our occupation team at Freedom Plaza is currently looking at how best to proceed if the mayor's vision becomes a reality.
Norton, a former civil rights lawyer, has expressed her support for the Occupy Wall Street-inspired protesters, saying their activities should be protected by the First Amendment. The National Park Service, whose director faced intense grilling by House Republicans during Tuesday's hearing, has said that Occupy DC is holding a 24-hour vigil, which complicates the situation.
The NPS, however, said it would start enforcing its no-camping provision.
Norton pointed out to Quander that the city should not be complaining too much about the city's cost of dealing with the protests -- there are already federal funds available to the D.C. government to help cover the local financial burden of dealing with protests. Gray, however, has previously stated that "[w]hile we have a budget for protests, we don't have this kind of money."
Gray, meanwhile, finds himself in an unusual position as he continues to try to keep relations between the Wilson Building and congressional Republicans on solid ground.
In a recent interview with Washingtonian, the mayor discussed his relationship with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Oversight panel:
I work very well with Darrell Issa. He came to a hearing last spring that focused on District budget issues. We worked closely with him on the District’s right to have budget autonomy. My relationship with him has been very constructive.
Issa's committee released a report in October on its investigation into allegations by marginal mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that Gray's 2010 campaign promised Brown a job in exchange for his regular badgering of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty on the campaign trail. According to the Post, Issa's committee "did not find 'independent facts to corroborate' Brown's claim that 'he was promised a job' but said there is 'circumstantial evidence that may support Brown's' claim of such a promise."
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