WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: Co-organizer of Washington DC Tea Party JoAnn Abbott listens during a Tea Party Town Hall meeting February 8, 2011 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The town hall meeting was held by the Tea Party Express and Tea Party HD to address issues Tea Party members were concerned over. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Washington Post ran an amusing front-page story on Sunday about the small contingent of intrepid members of the Tea Party movement residing in the District -- where no Democratic presidential candidate has ever received less than 75 percent of the vote.
“To be a tea party enthusiast in the District means being treated as an oddity, both by other Washingtonians and by other tea party members,” the Post wrote. One activist estimated that about 30 actual D.C. folks -- as opposed to the political types -- are involved in the movement.
But while the Tea Party may have a hard time finding sympathizers in a city where Barack Obama received more than nine out of every 10 votes in 2008, there’s arguably no jurisdiction in the country that is more in need of citizen watchdogs of local spending.
Last fall, states across the country elected Republicans and even some Democrats who ran on fiscal responsibility and budget-slicing. But the District elected a mayor who, after some tough talk about spending, has made some bizarre budget choices.
Even though D.C.’s fiscal 2012 budget deficit will be well over half a billion dollars, Vincent Gray has reactivated a handful of long-dormant, and not missed, deputy mayor jobs that pay six-figure salaries. He is paying his chief of staff $200,000 per year -- 25 percent more than Adrian Fenty paid his.
D.C. Council Finance and Revenue Committee Chairman Jack Evans says loud and often that the District has one of the highest per-capita government spending rates in the nation -- about $16,700 per person each year. But Gray doesn’t listen to Evans much. And neither do his Council peers, who are more interested in saving their pet programs.
Exhibit A: Ward 1 glad-handler and pork deliverer Jim Graham, who is trying to find funding to keep his “Green Team” going. The crew of 23 city-paid workers “roams his ward supplementing city services by picking up trash, shoveling snow and removing graffiti,” the Post’s Mike DeBonis reported. It “serves only Ward 1 and has been largely funded through spending earmarks inserted via the public works and transportation committee, which Graham chaired until this year.”
The Green Team’s members are, according to one supporter, “ex-offenders, former homeless, underemployed or unemployed individuals” who get “wrap-around case management to deal with issues of substance abuse, anger management and other personal hardships.” There’s nothing wrong with that. But they also wear a logo as they work, so voters will know that they are there because of Graham.
During last year’s snowmageddon, the Green Team bragged of “pitching in” to clear the snow. Well, no. They weren’t pitching in. They were doing their jobs -- jobs for which there are already city agencies. Residents were encouraged to “share a word of thanks and encouragement,” as if they were just being kindly neighbors. Isn’t being paid by taxpayers thanks enough?
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC