In a well-crafted and well-delivered speech, Mayor Vincent Gray says the city has finally ascended to a fiscal vigor that is the envy of other mayors and laid out his vision for an even greater future.
The District is in good shape financially, the mayor said, and rightfully claimed in his State of the District address Tuesday night, that any governor or mayor around the nation would like to be in our financial position. Since last June there has been close to a $400 million turnaround in what is colloquially called the city's "rainy day" fund, which now stands at $1.1 billion.
The mayor spoke confidently about the potential for the District to continue to grow and add to the 17,000 taxpayers who have moved here in the last 12 months. He forcefully stated that he would fight any effort to move back to the days when we spent more than we took in or go back to the last four years when our reserve fund was raided each year to meet budget needs. He said we must be prepared for the possibility of a weak economy and the loss of federal funds in coming years.
He spoke of the turnaround on jobs and that the District added 9,500 jobs in the past year. He projected that by 2015 we will add another 45,000 to the local economy.
He bragged, deservedly so, that we are a city of firsts. "We are the No. 1 retail market in the country, the No. 1 place for young professionals to move, No. 1 in foreign retail investment, No. 1 in metro household income, and No. 1 for quality of living in the mid-Atlantic region." But the mayor also underscored that "some of our fellow Washingtonians have not yet benefited from the economic turnaround. They still struggle to find a job, put food on the table, and pay the rent... while continued economic growth is a priority, we must remain committed to getting our unemployed citizens back to work."
The mayor spoke of the drop in crime, and that he recognizes a basic demand of members of any community of their government is the expectation that their home, their neighborhood and the city's streets be safe. While last year's 108 homicides were the lowest number in the District in nearly 50 years, they were still 108 too many, the mayor stressed. He complimented the Police Department and Chief Cathy Lanier, who was in the audience, on the astonishing 95% homicide closure rate compared to the national average of just 56%. He also spoke of his commitment to not only continue education reform but move it ahead more quickly.
The mayor apologized for missteps his administration made early on, and took full responsibility. He pledged to work steadfastly to regain the people's trust. With his new hires, his record of accomplishment and with his commitment to a totally transparent government, the mayor believes he is on the right road.
All in all, it was an upbeat speech, with strong facts and a realistic vision for the future of the District and its people.
This column first appeared in the Georgetown Dish, www.georgetowndish.com.