Some of the difficult chapters of inner-city history--desegregation and white flight, the rise of the suburbs, the devaluation of service workers in an administrative/white collar economy, the construction of freeways--are chapters Washington shares with most of the other urban centers in the United States. In many ways, what happened in Anacostia sounds a lot like what happened in sections of Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other cities across the country. Almost, but not entirely: one of the chief differences has been the role of the federal government.

From its inception Washington, D.C. has had to reckon with the federal government. The local government has been helpmeet, Siamese twin, prodigal son, most favored nation, and indentured servant at various times in its relationship with the national government; an examination of the local/national governmental relationship is particularly salient in light of D.C.'s current financial crisis and its recent appeals to the federal government for aid.

D.C.'s financial problems have left it unable to provide many public services for its citizens. Since Anacostia is the site of most of D.C.'s homicides, welfare recipients, medicare patients, unemployed, and public housing residents, the local government's failure to provide public services leaves the area particularly vulnerable. Depending on who you talk to in the District, the federal government can be the savior, the wolf in sheep's clothing, or simply more of the same in the search for improvement.

While it is true that the District is not in a position to refuse the federal government's help and that its twenty-two year experience with home rule has been plagued with graft and insolvency, the federal government's position needs to be examined critically. An exploration of its history in relation to the local government will reveal the ways in which it helped create the crippling conditions of today; an understanding of its status as both dominant economy and legislative 'last word' will help us evaluate its ability to act in the best interest of local residents. In this manner, instead of unquestioning welcome or wholesale denial of much-needed federal assistance in D.C. today, the public can make well-informed decisions about federal aid and about the future composition of the local government.

Hard Won Battles: Territorial Government and Home Rule

My Brother's Keeper: The Federal Government in D.C.

Crossing the River: Home Page