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The unveiling of “Taxation Without Representation” license plates in November 2000 was one of the great moments in home rule. On its own and over the protests of Congress, the District had taken one citizen’s inspiration and turned it into cold, stamped metal. The city could do this.
In gratitude, the city presented the citizen in question, Sarah Shapiro, with a vanity plate reading “MY IDEA.” She registered the plate and put it on her car. Life went on, with everyone a little prouder.
And then, two months later, Shapiro got a notice of an unpaid parking ticket, which said that someone had illegally parked an Isuzu with MY IDEA tags. Shapiro drives a Subaru, and so she got the ticket dismissed. She renewed her registration for the plates.
This past January, she got another unpaid-ticket notice. Again, it was for an Isuzu. But this time, when she inquired, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reported that there were conflicting registrations. Someone else had MY IDEA, or maybe MYIDEA; the records were confusing. The DMV had searched its registrations back in 2000 to make sure Shapiro’s honorary plate was available. But now this other MY IDEA seemed to date back to 1996, according to a letter that the DMV sent to Shapiro.
Somehow the DMV, which had previously embarrassed itself by double-issuing its regular letter-and-number plates, has bungled its vanity-plate registry, as well. And Shapiro’s plate has gone from being a symbol of District government to being its victim. “It is an unfortunate circumstance that occurred,” DMV spokesperson Regina Williams says, “and we hope that we can get a plate for Ms. Shapiro that in some form or fashion credits her with the idea.”
But Shapiro says that if she can’t get the conflict resolved in her favor, she doubts she’ll try to get some other commemorative message. “Nobody’s going to take pictures and have bands play and put me on television for some new plate,” Shapiro says. “I might as well not have to pay the $20.” —Tom Scocca