Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
As the Mayor of the District of Columbia came to the aid of Tea Party favorite Congressman Darrell Issa at his political hearing today designed to demonize the Occupy movement, the PCJF is exposing that the Mayor’s office in coordination with the U.S. Conference of Mayors has intentionally sought to inflate the cost of the Occupy movement.
The PCJF has obtained documents in response to its Freedom of Information Act initiative about the coordinated crackdown on the Occupy movement. These documents reveal that the District of Columbia Executive Office of the Mayor (EOM) has been misrepresenting the cost of the two Occupy DC encampments to the media and the public.
Hoping that no one will read the fine print, the Mayor’s office deceptively testified today that the “cost to the District exceeds the previously requested reimbursement of $1.6 million dollars.”
Politics has very much been at play in assessing costs. Internal communications between the Mayor’s office and DC agencies, as well as public communications to the media, reveal that the Mayor’s office dramatically inflated publicly announced costs to the District in a matter of just 15 days. The Mayor’s Office's cost estimates rose from $21,000 (as of 10/19) on November 15, to $894,000 on November 18 to $1.1 million in MPD costs on November 22 to $1,579,000 on December 1.
The huge inflation in cost estimates came in response to inquiries from the media and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has engaged in a national coordinated campaign to provide talking points and rationales for evicting encampments, including an effort to assert that encampments are causing a financial hardship to American’s cities.
Mayor Gray’s office today pandered to the call to shut down the encampments coming from Rep. Issa, the richest member of Congress who, with an estimated net worth of $450 million, is firmly rooted in the upper 1%. Issa is also the architect and principal cheerleader for the massive attacks, cutbacks and layoffs targeting postal workers.
While Representatives Elijah Cummings and Eleanor Holmes Norton exposed the hearing as an effort to inhibit or subvert the free speech rights of a new progressive social justice movement, the Mayor’s office functioned as a prop for Issa’s campaign.
Background: The Evolution of Changing Cost Estimates
Initially, on November 15, the Mayor’s office estimated total costs to be “about $21,000” and acknowledged that any costs were within “normal daily duties” and further, that were any additional costs to arise they would be covered by the “congressionally appropriated funding from the federal government for [these type of] events.” The District receives $15 million a year in federal funds designated to cover demonstrations and other national events. Three days later, on November 18, the Mayor’s office claimed that Occupy DC cost the MPD alone $870,000.
The Mayor’s second round of numbers sought to extract regular budgeted agency costs of carrying out normal daily business as though they were special costs incurred in response to the Occupy demonstrations. Moreover, they used an estimate of the normal police costs for an average day of staffing significant demonstration and march activities and multiplied it out over the days of the encampments regardless of actual deployment and costs.
On November 15, the EOM reported to the media that as of October 19 the total cost to the city been $21,000, including only $1,000 incurred in police overtime.
In the email, Senior Communications Manager Doxie McCoy writes, “These are not additional costs because city agencies are performing normal daily duties.”
But in an update on November 18 to the same reporter, McCoy writes that the cost to MPD rose to $870,000. DDOT reported $4,400 of costs related to the Key Bridge march and $14,000 of costs for traffic control officers but that, “both figures are regular expenditures and not overtime.” These costs included such routine duties as emptying trash cans, street sweeping and parking enforcement on public roads.
The Mayors False Narrative Continues to Pick up Momentum
Only four days later on November 22, the EOM reported, “MPD has spent about $1.1 million for patrols on marches, protests and other duties associated with Occupy DC,” to a different reporter.
Correspondence also includes an email from the U.S. Conference of Mayors from November 28. By then, the multi-city campaign to evict encampments was in full swing. They wanted to emphasize the purported financial burden that was being placed on cities. That email solicits the EOM to recalculate MPD’s costs which had been reported to them as calculated at $65,000 since demonstrations began at both Occupy locations. The email from the U.S. Conference of Mayors states, “That seems low to me, so wanted to make sure it’s correct.”
In response, the EOM adjusted the reported cost related to the DC occupations upwards to nearly $1.6 million both in submissions to the U.S. Conference of Mayors and in public statements including today's testimony. The U.S. Conference of Mayors representative writes back: “Thanks so much for pulling this together. I’ll make sure they replace DC’s previous responses. This will be especially helpful as we try to show what the Occupy Movement is costing cities.”
The Tea Party-backed Congresspeople and the Mayor are promoting a false narrative. Rep. Joe Walsh, a leader of the Tea Party, histrionically asserted at the hearing today that, "the city of Washington, D.C. is at a breaking point right now." Walsh and the others are not referring to D.C.'s staggering unemployment rate, or the soaring poverty that is devastating communities throughout the District of Columbia. He is referring to two small encampments in downtown parkland that are protesting a system that rewards the 1% while keeping a large segment of the population mired in poverty and unemployment. The Mayor would do better by abandoning his allies at the hearing and attending to the real needs of the people of the District of Columbia.
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