DC Interfaith Network presses candidates on homes, living wages

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 22 May 1998 08:07:35 -0700 (PDT)



  By Michael Powell
  Washington Post Staff Writer
  Thursday, May 14, 1998; Page J01

More than 700 Washingtonians assembled in a church in Northeast to demand
that the mayoral candidates support an agenda to build 1,000 affordable
single-family homes, establish a dedicated fund for after-school programs
and promote police foot and bike patrols.

With every declared mayoral candidate in attendance, the Washington
Interfaith Network, representing 45 congregations from the predominantly
white west side to the predominantly black east side, laid out its agenda
for the political year ahead. And, one after another, ministers and lay
people from the various churches promised to register more than 15,000 new
voters to support their demands.

Leaders noted that 15,000 votes was the margin of victory in the 1994
mayoral primary. And they made it clear that they would not trade off their
votes for vague promises.

"We have not held our public officials accountable," said the Rev. Mary
Kaus of Dumbarton United Methodist Church. "Clearly, it's time."

Ministers advised the candidates to hop on board and support their agenda.

"Even a turtle must stick its neck out if it wants to move forward," said
the Rev. Morris Shearin, pastor of Israel Baptist Church, which hosted the
assembly in the Woodridge neighborhood. "If its neck isn't out, it ain't

Afterward, the most prominent of the candidates -- D.C. Council members
Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Harold Brazil (D-At
Large) -- signaled their support for the group's agenda, as did several
potential candidates, notably Mayor Marion Barry and council member Carol
Schwartz (R-At Large). The network will invite the candidates, who were not
allowed to speak at the meeting, to attend another assembly in July and
publicly declare their support.

A dozen or so ministers founded the Washington Interfaith Network several
years ago. WIN is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, a
national organizing group that works through churches and synagogues and
has chapters in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Baltimore,
Philadelphia, New York City and elsewhere.

The Baltimore chapter recently linked up with labor unions and successfully
pushed through living wage legislation, which requires that private
developers receiving public subsidies pay an hourly rate well above the
minimum wage.

WIN has made a living wage one of its five demands this year.

The Washington group has established after-school programs in several
public schools in Washington, uncovered the city's failure to spend tens of
millions of dollars in federal housing and school funds, and raised more
than $2 million from member churches to build single-family homes for
working families earning $20,000 to $45,000 a year.

But the group's in-your-face organizing style has encountered stiff
resistance. Despite several mayoral promises, city officials have not
delivered the land needed to build the homes. The group complains that
school and police bureaucracies often have stonewalled its demands for
accountability. And the D.C. financial control board and its community
development officials ignored WIN's request for money this year when they
finally allocated the millions of dollars in unspent federal housing funds.

Frustration could be heard in the voices of the WIN leaders, who made it
clear that they are looking for concrete support.

"We told the control board two years ago that [then-Police Chief Larry D.]
Soulsby was not the answer. But they said let the experts decide," said the
Rev. Joe Daniels of Emory United Methodist Church. "It took them two years
and a sea of corruption and millions of your tax dollars to figure out we
were right."

He added that Richard Montielh, the city's director of housing and
community development, had told WIN that their housing plans amounted to
"nothing more than reservations."

Daniels and others cited the candidates and the mayor for lacking vision
and failing to speak forthrightly on the city's ills. Although several
candidates shrugged off such remarks as "campaign talk," they seemed
visibly impressed by the group's ability to mass more than 700 people in a
church on a rainy weekday evening.

"Those who have announced thus far have neglected to put forth a vision,"
Daniels said. "So we hope they will seize the WIN vision. Where there is no
vision, the people perish."


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