Catania, Barry clash over summer jobs program

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DC,Alan Blinder

More than two months after they engaged in an expletive-laden spat, D.C. Councilmen Marion Barry and David Catania bickered again Wednesday.

The disagreement broke out as Mayor Vincent Gray and top lieutenants outlined their plans for the Summer Youth Employment Program, which is set to give more than 15,000 District youth paying jobs beginning in June.

Students who are failing in school are eligible to participate, prompting at-large Councilman Catania to suggest implementing a minimum grade-point average for a District resident to earn a summer gig.

"How meaningful is your participation if you're flunking out?" Catania said.

Earlier, Council Chairman Kwame Brown said failing students' eligibility bothered him. "I just don't think we should reward kids for failing," Brown said.

Gray and Lisa Mallory, the director of the Department of Employment Services, said they'd consider imposing such a mandate in 2013.

But the suggestions -- and the favorable reply from Gray and Mallory -- enraged Barry, who created the program as mayor.

"I could hardly sit in my seat and listen to this backward thinking," said Barry, whose Ward 8 is the poorest in the city and has nearly 3,900 youth registered for the jobs program. "What do you gain by cutting off at a grade-point average?"

Barry also said Gray and other legislators didn't understand the needs of the District's young residents.

"You are absolutely out of touch and out of tune on how we're going to solve these problems," Barry charged.

Catania wasn't having it.

"Forty years of this [is] enough," Catania said to Barry, referring to the former mayor's lengthy tenure in city government.

Brown moved swiftly to end the feisty discussions, a departure from a February meeting when Barry and Catania engaged in a shouting match with little immediate reaction from the chairman.

The summer jobs program has been a District mainstay since Barry's mayoralty, but historically it has drawn criticism for not providing meaningful work experiences.

But in an interview, Barry said the program provides economic and morale boosts to low-income residents. Most of the program's eligible participants come from the District's poorest wards.

 

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