D.C. residents, know your enemy: the Federal City Council
Advocates for District of Columbia statehood rally in front of Union Station, March 8, 2023, in Washington. | Mariam Zuhaib / AP

Since its founding in 1954 on the initiative of Phil Graham, co-owner and publisher of the Washington Post, an outfit called the Federal City Council (FCC) has been a political heavyweight when it comes to influence over the D.C. government, especially on matters of economic development, urban planning, and taxes.

Its members include some of the wealthiest businesspeople in town and markets itself as the “key business voice” in the Capitol.

In the 1960s, the FCC promoted the Inner Loop highway, which destroyed many neighborhoods. It also backed the so-called “war on crime” in those years. When rent control became law in 1975, the FCC acted unsuccessfully to repeal it.

When the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority (the “Control Board”) was established in 1995 by act of Congress with the approval of Eleanor Holmes Norton, Delegate to the House, the FCC acted in collaboration with D.C.’s CFO (and future Mayor) Anthony Williams to balance the budget on the backs of low-income residents, gutting the safety net.

Not coincidently, Norton acted to remove support for D.C. Statehood in the Democratic Party Platform, a position only to be reversed when she introduced the D.C. Statehood bill in the House at the beginning of 2011.

The Federal City Council actively promoted the mayoral takeover of D.C.’s public schools, which led to the hiring of new schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee in 2007. Correlated to her time in the role, many public schools east of the Anacostia River were closed while new charter schools opened simultaneously, amounting to a partial privatization of public education.

This was part and parcel of the mass gentrification and displacement of Black families out of the District under current FCC leader, Tony Williams, whom many feel sold the city to developers to please extreme right Republicans and big business.

Current FCC projects include the D.C. Policy Center (the neoliberal alternative to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute) and Opportunity D.C., a “small business lobbying group” that spearheaded the campaign opposing the re-election of progressive D.C. Councilmember Janeese Lewis George in Ward 4. The Opportunity D.C.-backed challenger, Lisa Gore, scored the endorsement of the Washington Post, but George prevailed in the Democratic primary, with 66% of the vote.

Another D.C. is Possible!

Why does the District of Columbia have such a high poverty rate, low life expectancy for its majority, and a huge income gap between the wealthy and the rest of its community?

According to the most recent data available, D.C. has income inequality and homelessness rates that are higher than all 50 states, while its child poverty rate was recently higher than all but five states. D.C. also has a big racial gap in wealth, with the median white household having 81 times the wealth of the median Black household.

As Erica Williams of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute emphasized, “D.C.’s extreme wealth concentration exacerbates racial inequality and limits economic opportunity.” Infant mortality is shockingly high in Wards 7 and 8, with D.C.’s and the U.S.’s levels higher than Cuba’s. The shockingly high life expectancy gap between Black and white residents has grown in the last two decades. This fact alone demonstrates the utter failure of the trickle-down economic policies of D.C.’s government to address persistent racial and economic disparities.

The urban Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), IMF-style, in place for over a decade and pushed by the FCC and D.C. political leadership, led to an erosion of democracy, privatization of municipal services and public property including schools, and tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

Cuts and inadequate funding of basic social services, including education, gentrification, and lack of affordable housing for our working-class majority have resulted. Poverty has remained a persistent feature of life for a large fraction of our children, along with shockingly low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates for our African American residents that significantly surpass national averages.

The destruction of our only public hospital, D.C. General, continued the denial of quality medical care to a large fraction of our residents. Meanwhile, inadequate income security, the big income gap between rich and poor, and the heavy weight of corporate financing for established political leaders – all combine to corrode our democratic process.

The FCC and its executive director, Anthony Williams, along with its ally, the Washington Post Editorial Board, have long opposed hiking tax rates for D.C.’s wealthiest, especially millionaires – which would yield exactly the kind of funding needed to address some of these problems. Nevertheless, they suffered a major defeat in the summer of 2021 when the D.C. Council acted to hike the income tax rate of the richest residents.

As of this writing, the Fair Budget Coalition and its ally, Just Recovery D.C., are engaged in a ferocious battle to avoid hurtful budget cuts on our working class and low-income community by implementing a tax increase on the wealth of our richest residents.

Let’s work to defeat the FCC agenda by strengthening the political power of D.C.’s Black and brown working-class majority with its allies.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the views of its author.

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David Schwartzman
David Schwartzman

David Schwartzman is a member of the Fair Budget Coalition Steering Committee in Washington, D.C., representing the D.C. Statehood Green Party, and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.