District Digest: Yo-Yo Ma visits and D.C. Council dysfunctions

Yo-Yo Ma
Georgetown Voice

By Isabel Echarte

Yo-Yo Ma stops by elementary school in Anacostia
Famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and former New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel visited Savoy Elementary School in Ward 8 to perform and work with students after his performance at the Kennedy Center the night before. According to myFOXdc, the students were excited because the cellist has a lot of views on YouTube.

“Oh my goodness, it is such an inspiration to see a school that is energized,” said Ma, according to myFOXdc. “They are listening. They have stillness. They are actually prepared and motivated to do the work and it’s done with both love and discipline.”

Musicians from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will visit other schools, reported DCist. Ma and Woetzel called these kind of events “artstrikes.”

“When artists and arts organizations take a step out of their chosen, primary place and they go out in the world, whether it’s in education, in a healthcare setting, they make an impact,” said Woetzel, according to myFOXdc. “They strike.”

Selected as one of eight schools by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the school won a national grant for its “Turnaround Arts Initiative,” the Washington Examiner reported. The two artists are part of this Committee.

One teacher at the school said that Savoy used to be a “basket case” but is now flourishing, with enrollment exceeding expectations by 18 percent, according to the Examiner.

Report finds that District workers are shut out of construction jobs
A report published today by the nonprofit Good Jobs First, a nonpartisan research center in D.C., reports that the rate of District residents working in construction jobs is less than half the rate of those who live in D.C. suburbs, according to CBS19. The report, commissioned by the Laborers International Union of North America, also says that if District residents worked at the same rate as other workers, 11,500 more residents could be working on these construction sites.

The report compared the district, where 2.9 percent of residents are employed in construction, with other cities, such as Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, according to The Washington Post. These cities averaged 4.9 percent of residents employed in construction.

The report concludes that the city needs to enforce its First Source law, requiring contractors to hire District residents if they receive government funding for a project. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other council members promote the bill as a way to reduce unemployment in the city, but the Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington and two local cities sued the District earlier this year over the law. They saw the law as difficult to comply with.

The report uses the construction of the Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown as an example. With District residents making up 64 percent of new hires, the report says the law’s goals are reachable.

D.C. Council members quarrel during 12-hour meeting
While approving measures for lower traffic fines, stricter drug laws, and tax breaks for a developer, the council rejected authorization for parking meters reserved for handicapped motorists.

The Washington Post reported that the meeting, the second to last before Christmas, lasted more than 12 hours.

The arguments in favor of and opposing the bills grew heated as the strenuous meeting stretched on. At one point, Chairman Phil Mendelson “stared down” Marion Barry over his proposal to extend employment protections for ex-offenders.

When the bill was rejected with 7 to 5 votes, Barry said, “You’re wrong, Mr. Chairman.” At which point Mendelson told Barry he was “out of order.” Televised feed of the of the meeting was temporarily cut off as Barry continued speaking, calling other members “insensitive.”

Another battle ensued when Mayor Gray disagreed with the council’s approval of bills that would reduce traffic fines, arguing that the city could afford the change. Gray visited the pressroom before the council meeting ended, calling the proposed reduction in fines “irresponsible,” according to the Post.