D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is the top supporter of controversial anti-Walmart legislation that now sits on Mayor Vince Gray’s desk, awaiting approval or a veto.
When Mendelson delivered the “Large Retailer Accountability Act” to Gray last week, he included a letter in which he referenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mendelson also promoted what he calls the “living wage” bill by invoking King at a recent event honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
Efforts to legitimatize narrow political agendas by using King's words are commonplace. The technique is also crass.
If Mendelson is guided by King’s teachings, he should explain why he voted twice against the District’s “Emancipation Day.”
In 2004, Mendelson voted “no” on legislation to create a local holiday officially marking the end of slavery in the District. Separately, he voted “no” on allocating funds to pay the salaries of public employees on the proposed holiday.
Both measures passed despite Mendelson’s objections.
What would King have thought of Mendelson’s “no” votes?
Unlike Mendelson, I don’t pretend to know King’s opinion of specific issues about which he never spoke.
Instead, I speak my own: Anyone who votes against Emancipation Day and later invokes King has taken crass to a new level.
Mendelson also takes inane to a new level.
In his letter to Gray, Mendelson states, “The District’s current minimum wage […] is at or below the federal poverty guideline depending on family size.”
He goes on to say, “Good wages are about respect […] something more than a poverty wage.”
But wait, is Mendelson doing anything to raise the minimum wage for all workers in the District?
The current hourly rate is $8.25.
Mendelson’s legislation seeks to impose a $12.50 rate only on large retailers with annual profits above $1 billion.
Why is it that people who work for other businesses are not entitled to live King’s dream?
Mendelson writes, “One of the nine printed goals of [the March on Washington] was an increase in the minimum wage. The cry for freedom and justice recognized that economic equality is essential, too.”
He concludes his letter to Gray with some math that shows the minimum wage King sought in 1963 equates to $15.27 per hour today.
Some municipal employees in the District are paid less than $15.27, yet Mendelson has done nothing to ensure that every worker in his own government earns better than what he calls a “poverty wage.”
When Mendelson was first elected to the Council in 1999, the minimum wage in D.C. was set at $1 above the federal minimum wage. Today, the formula is unchanged.
End the bluster. Raise the minimum wage for every worker in the District.
That is the right thing to do.
Chuck Thies is a political, communications and advocacy consultant. From 1998 to 2010 his professional portfolio included District of Columbia politics. Chuck has worked on national projects and internationally in Europe, Africa, the Middle East , China and Mexico. If you are daring, follow him on twitter: @ChuckThies.