I recently attended an event that made me ponder the effects of the upcoming presidential election on the District of Columbia. The event was a press conference at Trinity announcing a new Mayor’s Scholars Fund, a need-based scholarship which provides financial assistance for graduates of D.C. high schools attending D.C. colleges. The event outlined a new $1.59 million dollar fund which started providing financial assistance to students this fall. The press conference highlighted the experiences and appreciation of three recipients currently attending local universities, one of which was Trinity.
As a student who received need-based scholarships when I attended college more than 20 years ago, I listened to the students’ accounts of why this fund was so important to them. I understood the students’ anxieties of how they would pay for school, especially when they had exhausted the limit of their federal financial aid. Memories of working long hours at minimum wage jobs when I should have been studying during college rushed back and I immediately began to hope that this fund would continue in future years, with this mayor and/or others.
The current mayor considers this fund an investment in the city. “Whatever money we have to invest in D.C., I’m prepared to do that because that is the future of our city. That’s what will keep people here,” Mayor Vincent Gray said Friday. The mayor’s office stated the funding was made possible by adding $1.5 million to the 2013 city budget, but what will happen to this fund if the city has a deficit, or if the next mayor values a different use for that $1.5 million? The press conference and the outcomes of this one political decision got me thinking on a bigger scale: what impact will the presidential election have on the District?
I have lived in D.C. through multiple Democrat Mayors in office as well as when Republicans and Democrats where in the oval office. A city ultimately ruled by Congress, albeit without Congressional voting rights, should see changes in the city based on Congressional decisions, but the promises of the current presidential candidates lead us to believe that economic stability and prosperity for all will be linked only to them. History has shown that the presidential election and later outcomes have had impacts on their new hometown.
President Woodrow Wilson, after making campaign promises to African Americans “not more grudging justice but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling,” reintroduced segregation in federal buildings after being elected in 1912, which hadn’t existed in the District since 1863. In a time when all teachers, black or white, were paid on an equal scale and considered federal workers, Wilson’s return to segregation was a drastic setback for D.C. residents, a direct result of the actions of the newly elected president.
To make matters worse, Wilson’s administration introduced bills to segregate the federal civil service, the military, and public transportation in D.C. Racial intermarriage also became a felony in D.C. and photographs were required of all people applying for federal jobs. Photo identification necessary when it hadn’t been before? Sound familiar?
After Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech on the National Mall in 1968 and the subsequent assassinations of both Dr. King and Robert Kennedy in the same year, would Kennedy’s presidential election have prevented the riots in the District that same year? Only now, after 40 years, have some neighborhoods damaged in the riots begun to prosper again.
We offer a class on Saturdays called The History of the District of Columbia, which studies and visits many of the parts of the city that have been changed by its rich history. This year’s election will likely shine a spotlight in class on how presidential events have shaped this city’s history. What kind of an impact, if any, do you think the presidential election and result will have on D.C.? Will D.C. benefit from one candidate or another? Let me know what historical events you think need to be included in our upcoming History of D.C. course.