With a record murder rate and its two top local officials under federal investigation, the nation's capital has had its share of unwanted publicity lately. Now, senators have begun talking openly about what local politicians fear most - the possibility that Congress will take control of city government.
Citing the city's inability to stem drug-related killings, two senators suggested Thursday that the District of Columbia's police department be replaced with a federally controlled police force.Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., blamed the city's crime wave on "inept local government that doesn't understand what it's doing."
"We can't have people killed and blood running on the streets like some Third World capital," Rudman said, adding that if the killing continues, he would consider taking "a look at home rule, at least the law enforcement aspect."
Those remarks, supported by Sen. Ernest Hollings D-S.C., troubled city officials who are worried that home rule, the right to self-governance city residents obtained in 1973, may be more vulnerable now than ever before.
"If the federal government thinks it can do a better job of stopping drugs from coming into the city, why can't they do a better job of stopping drugs from entering the country?" asked Mayor Marion Barry Jr.
City Council Chairman David Clarke said that while the drug problem may require additional federal involvement, home rule should not be violated.
"What problems there are in this city will be dealt with by the people in 1990," the next scheduled mayoral and council election, Clarke said. "They ought to let the democratic process run its course."
Another council member, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, went to what many consider the heart of the city's battles with Congress:
"The problem is Barry, and they don't have the guts to go after him, so they hit us on these other issues."
Barry, currently under federal investigation for his ties to a drug suspect, has seen his - and the city's - support in Congress plummet over the past several years.
Last year, lawmakers forced the city to abolish or change existing laws governing AIDS insurance, the rights of gay groups to gather at Georgetown University and the city's residency requirement for city workers.
While the battles with Capitol Hill have preoccupied local leaders, the city's spiraling crime rate has given the city another pressing problem.
Through Thursday, 112 persons had been killed in the nation's capital so far in 1989, more than twice the total at the same time last year. For all of 1988, a record 372 persons were killed in the streets of Washington.