Just finished reading John Cloud’s superb and insightful journalistic classic, “The Most Invisible Man in D.C.” (10/4). The writer, unfortunately, talked to the wrong “local historians” and failed to place President Clinton’s actions in historical context.
During my 25-year association with the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia, I wrote a 400-page history of D.C.-Federal relations since 1791, which includes a section on the role of presidents in helping to make local government more representative and economically viable in the District of Columbia.
Cloud does correctly give Lyndon Johnson his due as a champion of D.C. and home rule. Richard Nixon, however, might be an even better example for President Clinton to emulate. Nixon, like Johnson, had served in Congress and was knowledgeable about D.C. affairs. One of Nixon’s first votes in Congress was for Everett Dirksen’ s D.C. home rule bill. In the Senate, Nixon served on the D.C. Committee. During his first week in office as president, Nixon sent a comprehensive message to Congress asking for passage of home rule legislation and support for an amendment to the Constitution to provide for two senators and representatives “as though the District were a state.” Nixon signed the home rule bill on Christmas Eve 1973, and the proposed voting representation amendment passed Congress a few years later, with considerable Republican support. Unfortunately, this effort failed, and I have written a paper on the botched plan of Delegate Fauntroy to attain ratification.
Nixon would also appoint a person on his personal staff to advise him throughout his tenure on “national capital area affairs,” a tradition started by President Kennedy but not followed, unfortunately, in recent years. President Jimmy Carter had the last such adviser, Martha “Sunny” Mitchell. In addition, Nixon, during his tenure, sent annual messages to Congress about specific legislative and funding needs of D.C. and the national capital region.
Nelson F. Rimensnyder,
Director of Research
U.S. House Committee
on the District of Columbia, Retired