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The District has never lacked articulate crusaders who speak eloquently on the city’s status as a disenfranchised colony. Nonvoting D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes
Norton, for example, reliably taps her moral outrage when her colleagues on the Hill rap the city.
Citizen activist and 1964 Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegate Lawrence Guyot draws parallels between contemporary D.C. and the civil-rights era like no one else.
And it doesn’t take much for WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin to filibuster about centuries of congressional dominion over local affairs.
These days, though, the District’s chief strategist for voting rights doesn’t even live in the city. He doesn’t have any noted experience in civil-rights battles. And he doesn’t have a radio show.
He is Republican Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Fairfax County.
For those who don’t get the irony: This is the same guy who used to head the National Republican Congressional Committee, the group in charge of raising money to pack the House of Representatives with more Republicans. Which is the same political party that has thwarted proposals for District congressional representation for decades.
Here’s what Davis had to say to listeners of WAMU’s D.C. Politics Hour two Fridays ago: “It’s hard to make a straight-faced argument that the capital of the free world shouldn’t have a vote in Congress,” Davis told host Kojo Nnamdi. “It ought to happen.”
Davis must not be screening his pronouncements with the White House. When asked about the president’s position on D.C. voting rights April 15, Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer responded, “The only time he’s ever talked about it, he said, ‘I’m against the senators.’ And then, when he was further pushed about itwhat about a single voting representative in the House?President Bush said….’I guess it’s logical if I’m against U.S. senators, I’m against voting rights.’”
Ask Davis in person, and he doesn’t equivocate: “I think it is a moral argument,” he said Tuesday.
To judge from the reactions of D.C. officials, you might suppose Davis had proposed an overhaul of D.C.’s procurement system. “I have encouraged Tom to inform residents of his thinking so that his discussions with me are not secret,” said Norton in a statement to the press last week. “However, I have not agreed to any such proposal. I appreciate Tom’s efforts on behalf of D.C. voting rights and have encouraged him to continue those efforts.”
And to prove that bureaucracy always follows bureaucratese, Norton announced the creation of a lawyers’ task force to explore the Davis proposal.
Norton did restate her hope that the District would gain representation in both the House and Senateand in doing so, the nonvoting delegate at least distanced herself from many other local pols, who have said nothing on the Davis plan. They can’t seem to decide whether incremental victories, such as a vote in the House or budgetary autonomy from Congress, distract from the goal of D.C. statehood.
Davis says he’s months away from introducing any legislation. He says he’s driven by three guiding principles: that the more than half a million residents of the District deserve at least a vote in the House; that the change should come through an act of Congress; and that D.C.’s seat, which would almost certainly go to a Democrat, should be balanced by an additional seat from heavily Republican Utah.
“You need to be moral, but you need to be practical, too,” Davis says. Historically, congressional expansion has required balance: Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as states in 1959. At the time, Alaska was presumed Democratic and Hawaii Republican; they have since switched.
If those Mormon kids on mountain bikes in Adams Morgan keep at it, maybe the District will follow in Alaska’s footsteps.
Davis has been interested in District affairs since his days as a Fairfax County supervisor: When he headed to the U.S. Capitol in 1995, Davis assumed the chairmanship of the District subcommittee for the Committee on Government Reform, where he shaped the composition and implementation of the city’s financial control board. “Every member of the House knows who I am, for this is a national story,” Davis said in February 1995 during the city’s fiscal crisis. “I’m going to rise or fall on this very quickly.”
These days, Davis is trying to fend off attacks about a provision that has been attributed to his proposalnamely, that the District’s representative might be attached to Maryland’s congressional delegation, as the state’s ninth congressional district, so to speak. Opponents call this idea “retrocession lite.”
“It’s completely insulting. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the District of Columbia and the people who are here,” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. “To call our vote the ninth congressional district of Maryland defies my imagination as an idea.”
It appears to have confounded Davis as well. The lawmaker insists that the ninth-district talk comes not from his office but from some other source. “That came from Plotkin, as far as I can tell,” he says.
Plotkin says Davis floated the Maryland option at a recent Greater Washington Board of Trade breakfast. “Prove me wrong, Tom Davis. Prove me wrong: Republicans will not treat D.C. as a distinct entity, because that would be very dangerous,” he says. “Why won’t you commit that it won’t be in the bill?”
The congressman can never go wrong in the eyes of his moderate Fairfax constituents when he profiles as a kind neighbor who looks out for the District. “We’re not saying, ‘No, never,’ to anything,” he says.
Except, of course, a commuter tax.
THE DISTRICT’S FIRST LATINO COUNCILMEMBER?
Newcomers to the District distinguish themselves in any number of ways. They screw up getting around Dupont Circle. They think Adams Morgan is hip. And they mispronounce the name of Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous (CHAY-viss).
The most common bungling, in LL’s experience, is to mispronounce the versatile English vowel “a,” which generally yields this sound: CHAH-viss.
On Tuesday, President George W. Bush added his own entry to the Chavous-mangling lexicon: “Chavez,” said the country’s commander in chief before an audience at District’s KIPP DC: KEY Academy that morning. Bush appeared alongside Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Education Secretary Rod Paige to promote their “choice incentive fund,” otherwise known as school vouchers.
In passing out credit, Bush also acknowledged Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, whom he referred to twice as “Peggy,” and “my friend David,” as in At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania.
In his informal folksy tone, Bush spoke about giving more choice to District parents. “Wherever we have mediocrity, this society has to challenge it,” said Bush. Revisiting a well-worn line, Bush railed against the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and leveled with his fellow D.C.ers: “Let me just put it bluntly: There are some great schools in the District, and there are some lousy schools,” Bush told the audience of KIPP parents, students, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and musician Quincy Jones.
Mayor Williams delivered his usual technocratic talk. “They should have more than a Hobson’s choice to educate their children,” said Williams about District parents. “They should have real choice.”
Williams, Bush, and Paige had come to plug Rep. Davis’ D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003, which authorizes the feds to carve out $15 million for vouchers to the District.
“It certainly shakes the system up, and it sounds like to me the system needs to be shaken up if you’re not doing as well as you should be here in Washington, D.C.,” said Bush.
“He believes education is a civil right just like the right to vote in this country,” Paige told the audience.
•Have Williams administration higher-ups decided to all chip in to rent an Allied Van Lines truck when the executive-office exodus occurs in September?
First, City Administrator John Koskinen announced this spring that he planned to pack up his belongings. The former chair of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion, Koskinen became the city’s No. 2, responsible for coordinating everything from trash removal to Medicaid reimbursements, in September 2000. He has been praised for steadying operations, and his robotic voice often acts like Ritalin to calm hyperactive reporters at the mayor’s weekly press conferences.
Yet some criticize Koskinen for not being a vigorous reformer. In the past month, he has attracted attention for his somewhat passive role in the city’s property-management drama.
This week, Deputy Mayor for Children, Youth, and Families Carolyn N. Graham started writing up her own packing list. She plans to pursue a doctorate in the spiritual, ethical and moral aspects of leadership at Catholic University this fall. The city’s social-service advocates often found Graham’s secular leadership skills lacking: Her agencies have often received negative press attention for one screw-up or another. Last week, Graham heard an earful from councilmembers and health-care advocates about the city’s new indigent-health-care system, which has a $33.5 million deficit.
And now, according to John A. Wilson Building sources, Deputy Chief of Staff for Community Affairs Joy A. Arnold will vacate the executive offices as well. Arnold has been a loyal soldier for Mayor Williams, serving at one time as his interim chief of staff.
“I’m really one of the old-timers around here,” she says. Arnold will likely move on to the National Capital Revitalization Corp., where she’ll join former Williams loyalists Peggy Armstrong and Ted Carter.
LL suggests that Koskinen, Graham, and Arnold might want to consult feng shui expert Juliette Looye, who has teamed up with Allied to create “Moving With Harmony the Feng Shui Way.”
• On July 8, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey will most likely get D.C. Council approval for his $25,000 pay raise. Sound like a slam-dunk for the embattled chief?
Well, no. Although Ramsey may get his $175,000 salary, he may find his benefits package in tatters at the end of the day. That’s because of the council’s multijurisdictional approach: Ramsey’s pay package is in the hands of the council’s Committee of the Whole, which can move it to the legislative agenda with a simple majority of seven members. At that point, those same seven will presumably vote yes to the raise.
But the chief’s benefits package, which includes provisions bolstering his retirement and severance pay, rests within the council’s Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Ramsey foe Kathy Patterson. If you’re Ramsey, that’s a bad place for it.
Flexing her muscles as committee chair, Patterson plans to keep the benefits package bottled up through the summer and beyond. Her strategy forces Mayor Williams and Ramsey supporters on the council to do either of two things: force it out of Patterson’s grip by a move to discharge or try to pass the benefits package on an emergency basis, which requires nine council votes.
Councilmembers don’t like to challenge the authority of their colleagues on the dais, so discharge is pretty much a no-no. And at LL’s press time, it seemed unclear whether the mayor might rustle up the two extra votes he needs: Patterson, At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, and Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty will certainly vote against the chief’s benefits. Other possible votes against include Chavous, Catania, and At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz, who has said that the chief’s contract should end when the mayor’s term ends.
Patterson says the debate over the chief’s pay and benefits has been a public good. “I’m pleased Mayor Williams is paying close attention to the police department, and I don’t want that to change,” says Patterson. CP
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