Weekend In Review: Tommy Wells On Race And The Bag Tax
Today's "storm" is expected to be nothing more than a dusting for us snow vets. And yet that extra inch or two of snow will only make digging out my car that much more difficult. Yes, I have one of the few cars that are still completely buried in snow. I'm waiting for shovels to come back in stock somewhere, anywhere. When I went to Target, a clerk or manager type told me that the store hadn't stocked shovels since December and that they don't have any. Is it me or is the Columbia Heights Target one of the sadder Targets?
OK. On to a topic that isn't going to melt away any time soon.
It's hard to please the Washington Post's best columnist Colbert King. He has routinely hammered DYRS and the local politicians who meekly respond to his queries or who fail to muster his level of outrage. Councilmember Tommy Wells, who helms the council's Committee on Human Services, must be a frequent target of King's calls. After all, DYRS falls under Wells' watch. So it was all the more surprising that Wells actually impressed King with his response to the columnist's questions concerning the apparent racial divide over the bag tax.
A recent poll showed that 75 percent of white residents support the bag tax. Only one third of black residents support it. King asked Wells to respond.
Wells keyed on all the plastic found in the Anacostia River. He wrote King:
"The issue of a racial divide is often more complex than it appears on the surface of a poll . . . Often the experience of living in our city is described or explained according to which side of the Anacostia you reside, serving as a physical symbol of a racial divide in D.C. Representing a ward that includes the river, I wanted to do something substantial to help improve it...
I conducted formal presentations at four senior wellness centers about trash in the Anacostia and then fully described my bill, placing a 5 cent fee on disposable bags. The presentations were held at centers in Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8. I engaged the council members for the wards, including Marion Barry, who is a strong supporter of the bill. The vast majority of the participants were black. A group of seniors from one of the centers even came down and testified in support of the bill."
Finally, environmental degradation is often accepted as the norm in lower income neighborhoods, but I never assumed that black citizens living along the Anacostia found the state of our river acceptable. In fact, many of the older black residents I talked with remember swimming in the river and fishing with their parents, and they still boat on it."
I'm actually only quoting a portion of Wells' response. You should read King's whole column linked above (it also includes a wonderful look back on Barry's dreadful response to a historic snowstorm in the mid '80s). King's own response to Wells was short and sweet:
"Wells said a cleaner Anacostia River will show the wisdom of the bill. I agree."
Maybe the two can focus some energy on the unemployment crisis in the District. In another town, maybe 12 percent unemployment would require a press conference, a summit, a series of hearings, and emergency legislation. There were tons of benefits around town to support Haiti. Those were awesome. I'd love to see more benefits directed at supporting the nonprofits and social services that support our unemployed and homeless residents.
WaPo has a strong story on the crisis and comes up with some not-so-surprising stats on which jobs are being lost:
"From November 2008 through November 2009, about 27,000 jobs were created in the Washington area, among them positions for lawyers, lobbyists, accountants, federal workers, educators, health professionals and government workers, according to an analysis by Fuller. Of the 42,000 jobs lost, about 16,000 were in construction, 9,000 in retail and about 11,000 in financial and information fields that have been in decline since before the recession.
The losses contributed to the news last month that unemployment shot up to 12 percent in the District — nearly double the rate in Virginia, more than 4 percentage points higher than in Maryland and above the national average of 10 percent at the time. It renewed criticism by city leaders who have long complained that government jobs too often go to residents of neighboring jurisdictions. Advocates say there could be a long-term impact for the District and the entire region, creating a permanent gap in the kinds of jobs that have historically provided less educated workers a chance to move up the social ladder."