Mark David Richards
Council Period 12
Council Period 13
Council Period 14
Government and People
Anacostia Waterfront Corporation
Boards and Com
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Management Officer
Elections and Ethics
Housing and Community Dev.
Capital Revitalization Corp.
Planning and Econ. Dev.
Planning, Office of
Public Service Commission
Regional Mobility Panel
Sports and Entertainment Com.
University of DC
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Youth Rehabilitation Services
Issues in DC Politics
DC General, PBC
Public Benefit Corporation
Tax Rev Comm
Term limits repeal
Voting rights, statehood
Williams’s Fundraising Scandals
Cardozo Shaw Neigh.Assoc.
Committee of 100
Fed of Citizens Assocs
League of Women Voters
What Is DCWatch?
Touring Hidden Washington, D.C.
Living in the Shadow of Congress
by Mark David Richards, Ph.D., Sociologist,
Invisible District—The world knows Washington, D.C. as the capital of
our nation. But, two hundred years of Congressional rule over American
citizens living in the District has largely been hidden in the shadows of
the bright lights that focus on the White House and Congress. Even
visitors to the nation’s capital rarely learn much about local D.C. But
the federal institutions of which the nation is so proud are only a small
part of the 61 square miles that make up the District of Columbia. They
are located in the National Capital Service Area (NCSA), around the
national mall. D.C. is also a regional center and home to 572,059
permanent residents, with nearly 10,000 people per square mile (compare
that to the U.S average: 80). D.C. has a unique culture with a unique
political status, formed over 200 years of shared identity building. The
story of the people of the District is interesting, but rarely told. In
many ways, the District is a departure from the general principles of the
District of people and neighborhoods— Like eight states, D.C.’s population is less than one million. It is
greater than one state—Wyoming. D.C. is formed of over 120 neighborhoods, snuggled along the Potomac and
Anacostia Rivers between Virginia and Maryland. The largest group in D.C. is African-American (343,312
people comprising 60% of residents), followed by Caucasian (176,101/31%), Hispanic or Latino (44,953/8%),
Asian, Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (15,537/3%), American Indian and Alaska natives (1,713/0.3%), and
other races (21,950/4%) (Note: There is some overlap; also, 13,446/2.4% reported being multiracial). D.C. is
also home to people of many diverse cultures and first generation American immigrants, building their
version of the American dream in the United States. In addition to English, children who attend the public
school system speak over 100 languages—creating both opportunities and challenges. Twenty percent of those
living in D.C. are under 18 years old. Discussions about race or ethnicity are not uncommon in D.C., and
although sometimes they get heated, this reflects D.C.’s openness. D.C.’s residents generally respect one
another and get along. The median age of D.C. citizens is 35, and the median income is $34,980. Nearly 20
percent live below the poverty level (34 percent of children live in poverty). Only 41 percent of D.C. citizens
own their homes—most rent. 83 percent have a high school degree or higher, and 39 percent have a bachelor’s
degree or higher.
Regional center—D.C.’s population peaked in 1950 at 800,000, and
declined as transportation improvements made it easier for families to
live in suburban neighborhoods. Many from the region commute to work in
D.C. Today, nearly 70 percent of those who work in D.C. live in the
suburbs, in the states of Maryland and Virginia. Congress does not allow
D.C. to have a wage or commuter tax, which benefits the states of Virginia
and Maryland, where most commuters live. Every year, commuters send over a
billion dollars in direct tax revenues to Richmond and Annapolis. D.C.
residents think they should share part of this (perhaps 3 percent) for
street repair. Suburban residents fear this could cause their taxes to go
up, and their Congressional leaders who sit on D.C.’s oversight
committees in Congress oppose.
Taxation without representation—D.C. has a unique political status,
because D.C. is not located in a state. They were segregated from citizens
living in the thirteen original states after the Revolution, and placed
completely under Congressional control—so D.C. was the 14th
area of the United States. Although D.C. citizens pay higher federal taxes
than any state but Connecticut, D.C. does not have equal constitutional
rights. D.C. citizens do not have voting representatives in the Senate or
the House, their President appoints their judges, and they have a limited
Responsibility without rights and resources—D.C. has responsibilities without rights, and with limited resources.
The federal government defines D.C. as a state for legal and comparative purposes in over 500 federal statutes. And,
D.C. is responsible for most state, county, and city functions. D.C.’s economy is larger than 14 states. 65% of D.C.
residents hold jobs in the private sector, 29% in the federal government, and 6% in the D.C. government. The
unemployment rate is 5.8%. There are nearly 20,000 private business establishments with paid employees, and over
30,000 non-employer private establishments; 12,669 of these are minority-owned firms and 14,599 are women-owned
firms. D.C. ranks 15th of 114 U.S. cities for high-tech jobs in the private sector. D.C.’s District (equivalent to state) $5
billion budget is collected from local taxpayers. The federal government exempts itself, commuters, embassies,
non-profits, and much of the economy from taxation, even though it owns land valued at $20.8 billion, and
contributes less than 20 percent for services required for the local government. After D.C.’s mayor and Council
approve local budget priorities, a Control Board, four Congressional subcommittees, four Congressional committees,
the full Senate and House of Representatives, and the President must approve D.C.’s local budget—adding 7 to 11
months to the budgeting process, and costing D.C. citizens $3 million. In addition, D.C. citizens pay for police and
security for the numerous protests by U.S. citizens. The federal government took over D.C.’s courts and prisons in
1997, which costs approximately $300,000.
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Birth child of the Republic Entering Adulthood—D.C. is the birth
child of the Republic, created from the Constitution. D.C. has been
struggling for 200 years to become an adult with equal Constitutional
rights. Today, only D.C. citizens, children, and convicted felons are
excluded from the vote in Congress. D.C. has made some progress—they
gained a limited vote for President in 1961 by passing a Constitutional
amendment, an elected school board in 1968 by Congressional legislation, a
non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives in 1970 by
Congressional legislation, and a limited self-government without budgetary
control by Congressional legislation in 1973. Citizens have made mistakes
along the way, but they are learning about self-government from
experience. Although some members of Congress today call D.C.
"whiney," D.C. citizens feel a bit like Benjamin Franklin in
1765 when he wrote of Great Britain, "We have an old Mother that
peevish is grown, She snubs us like Children that scarce walk alone: She
forgets we’ve grown up and have Sense of our own; Which nobody can deny,
deny, Which nobody can deny" (The Mother County).
D.C.’s Political Status
The political status of D.C. citizens has changed over time—from full
American citizens with equal constitutional rights to their current status
as a ward of the federal government.
Heirs to the Revolution for Independence—D.C. citizens had the same
rights as other American citizens after they helped win the War for
Independence until their rights were limited by the new (and current)
Constitution, approved by Congress in 1787, and ratified by the states and
taking effect in 1789. The Constitution included what is called the
"Exclusive Jurisdiction Clause," or the "District
Clause"—Article I, Section 8, §17. The District Clause gives
Congress authority: "…"To exercise exclusive legislation, in
all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square)
as may, by cession of particular States and the acceptance of Congress,
become the seat of the government of the United States; and to exercise
like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the
legislatures of the States in which the same shall be, for the erection of
forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings."
In 1787 it seemed to have made sense.
Citizens of free states—Between 1787 and 1801, citizens living on
land that would become D.C. retained their rights as part of Maryland and
Virginia. They still voted in those states and also kept their local
governments. After 1801, D.C. citizens lost the right to be represented
when Congress assumed exclusive legislative control and made no provisions
for them to participate in Congress. However, some D.C. citizens regained
their rights—residents living in the former Virginia portion of the
District (about one-third of D.C.) retroceded, or merged, back to that
state in 1846. The state of Virginia requested, the federal government
approved, and the citizens of the portion of the District south of the
Potomac River agreed to merge back into that state. The issue was
associated with the issue of slavery. As residents of Virginia, they now
enjoy all rights and responsibilities of citizenship, while those who
remain in the District do not.
Subjects of the federal government—In 1801, Congress passed a law
assuming the right to exclusive legislative authority over the District,
as they interpreted the Constitution. D.C. citizens have been treated as
less than full American citizens since. Though they love their country,
they do not think this is right after they’ve seen how it works.
Usually, those who like the current arrangement defend it by saying (1) it
is in the Constitution, (2) D.C. is a special "neutral" District
that belongs to all Americans, and (3) D.C. citizens have virtual
representation because Congressional leaders elected in the fifty states
represent their interests in Congress.
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Heirs to the Revolution
Revolt against taxation without representation—In the late 1700s, the
British King and Parliament imposed taxes on the colonies, provoking
outrage among figures today considered American heroes—John Dickenson,
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Thomas Paine.
"Americans" complained they were not represented in
Parliament; therefore, it was unfair for Parliament to tax them. Most did
not think they would break from Great Britain—they were proud heirs to
the British Constitution. But, they believed they had the same rights as
other British citizens. So, they made a list of their rights and
circulated it throughout the colonies. They made forceful points: the
inhabitants of the English colonies had all the rights that other English
citizens had; English liberty and free government was founded on the right
to participate in the nation’s legislature; not having representation in
Parliament reduced colonists to slaves.
Revolt against exclusive legislative authority—In 1766, the
Parliament issued a Declaratory Act stating that Parliament had the right
to exclusive legislative authority "in all cases whatsoever."
When Parliament abolished the New York Assembly for disobeying the law,
which they considered unjust, Americans became more defiant and showed
that people could not be stopped from expressing themselves even without
their local assemblies. In 1773, they dramatized the issue by throwing the
"Boston Tea Party."
In 1774, they formed the First Continental Congress, in which George
Washington participated. They adopted a Declaration of Rights, and sent it
to Parliament. Parliament rejected it. The Second Continental Congress
asked George Washington to establish and command a Continental
Revolutionary Army. They also urged the colonies to formally establish
local governments. They issued the Olive Branch Petition to King George
III asking him to prevent Parliament from enslaving them. The King sided
with Parliament and issued a proclamation claiming the colonies in
rebellion. Those who later become D.C. residents entered the war with
other citizens to fight for their freedom from Great Britain.
Formation of the Confederation of States—In 1776, the Second
Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, and developed
the Articles of Confederation under which the new states associated as a
confederacy of independent states. The central government was given very
limited powers. Congress moved from place to place (at one time or
another, the Congress met in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York,
Princeton, Annapolis, and Trenton). Along the way they discussed if there
should be a permanent seat for the federal government, and if so, where it
should be located. It was a controversial—and competitive—subject.
Americans won the war with the help of the French (the Spanish helped
the French help the Americans…). The Peace of Paris was signed on
September 3, 1783, establishing freedom for Americans.
Origins of the exclusive jurisdiction clause—In 1783 Congress was
meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One Saturday, a group of former
Continental Army soldiers surrounded the state legislature to demand back
pay. Congress met in the same building, but was not in session. Alexander
Hamilton called an emergency session of Congress, and when Congressmen
arrived, the soldiers allowed them to enter the building. The soldiers got
rowdy and fired their muskets as citizens cheered. State legislators
agreed to meet with officers of the army, and the demonstration ended.
Congress took advantage of the event and passed a secret resolution,
stating the incident had been an insult to Congressional authority. They
ordered George Washington to bring troops to Philadelphia to suppress
"the mutiny." Washington suspected that Robert Morris and
Governor Morris had organized the "mutiny" as a way to gain
support for giving the central government taxing power to pay off war
debt. Governor Morris said Congress needed exclusive jurisdiction over the
location of its seat of government. In fact, this event wasn’t unique.
The new states were experiencing economic hardship, and rebellions and
demands for government assistance were breaking out in many places. But
historian Kenneth Bowling shows that the Philadelphia "mutiny"
served to create the myth of the need for Congress to have exclusive
legislative authority in all cases whatsoever.
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Citizens of Free States
The "Second American Revolution" and the new Constitution—Economic
turbulence resulted in protests in many places, with people forcefully
demanding government help. George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander
Hamilton advocated giving more power to the central government. They were
afraid that the new nation might fragment. Washington worried that Europe
would scoff at failure, and thought a stronger central government could
save the Union. George Mason, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Henry argued
against this idea, viewing it as a return in the direction of a monarchy.
A dispute between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River resulted
in a meeting of commissioners from the legislatures of Virginia, Delaware,
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in Annapolis to discuss interstate
commerce issues. The Conference adjourned before all the delegates arrived
and after a report was issued calling for another meeting in Philadelphia
in May 1787. The purpose of the meeting was to "take into
consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further
provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of
the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union."
George Washington supported the Philadelphia meeting. He said, "We
have errors to correct. …Experience has taught us that without the
intervention of a coercive power, men will not adopt and carry into
execution measures best calculated for their own good. I don’t conceive
we can exist long as a nation without having lodged somewhere a power that
will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of
the State governments extend over the several states." At the
Philadelphia convention, the current Constitution was drafted. Delegates
far exceeded their mandate. It was sent to the Continental Congress. After
consideration, they ratified it and sent it to the states for debate and
approval. And so began the debate between the Federalists—who supported
the new Constitution with a strong central government, and the
"Anti-federalists"—who supported keeping more power in the
The Federalists proposed forming a Republic, in which people elected
representatives. The proposed federal Constitution, proponents said, would
refer the "great and aggregate interests" to the national
government, and the "local and particular" interests to the
The District Clause—Article I, 8, Paragraph 17 of the Constitution
proposed to give Congress authority "to exercise exclusive
legislation, in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding
ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States and the
acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United
States; and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the
consent of the legislatures of the States in which the same shall be, for
the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful
buildings." There was limited debate about the District Clause. One
concern was that the clause would allow the federal government to buy
land, thereby increasing its power over the states. Today, of course, the
federal government owns vast amounts of land across the nation—over 80
percent of some western states.
Some were uncomfortable with giving Congress exclusive legislative
authority, but federalists reassured them that the clause was not intended
to remove rights from citizens—it was designed to protect Congress.
James Madison (The Federalist, No. 43) argued for the District Clause:
"The indispensable necessity of complete authority at the seat of
government, carries its own evidence with it. It is a power exercised by
every legislature of the Union, I might say of the world, by virtue of its
general supremacy. Without it, not only the public authority might be
insulted and its proceeding interrupted with impunity; but a dependence of
the members of the general government on the State comprehending the seat
of government, for protection in the exercise of their duty, might bring
on the national councils an imputation of awe or influence, equally
dishonorable to the government and dissatisfactory to the other members of
the Confederacy." He said the inhabitants "will have had their
voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority
over them; as a municipal legislature for local purposes, derived from
their own suffrages, will of course be allowed them."
Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist, No. 85) argued that it was urgent
to establish a central government, perfection was not possible, but that
time would identify areas that could be improved and the Constitution
could be amended with authority from the states. At the New York ratifying
convention, Hamilton proposed that the Constitution be amended to provide
"When the Number of Persons in the District or Territory to be laid
out for the Seat of Government of the United States… amounts to ___ [an
unspecified number] … Provision shall be made by Congress for having
District representation in that Body."
After much debate, the new Constitution was approved. Congress sent
presidential electors, senators, and representatives to the temporary
capital in New York in 1789. (The French had their democratic revolution
in 1789, the year the new American Constitution became effective. The
Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought with Washington and secured French
assistance for the colonies, commanded the National Guard. Lafayette gave
Washington the key to the Bastille after they stormed it. Today, it hangs
on the wall of Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon, Virginia.)
George Washington was inaugurated the first President of the new
federation that year. Shortly after, George Madison of Virginia introduced
what would become known as the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments),
approved by Congress the same year, and approved by the states in 1791.
The location of the seat of government—Congress gave George
Washington authority to pick the area that would become the seat of
government. Washington picked an area that was to be called the Territory
or District of Columbia, in which he identified one area that would become
the federal city (called Washington City until the late nineteenth
century). Other jurisdictions in D.C.—with separate mayors, councils,
and school districts—included the cities of Alexandria and Georgetown.
Two additional towns, not well developed, were Hamburg (present day Foggy
Bottom) and Carrolsburgh. There were many farms. The people of this area,
the "Potomac interests," were willing to enter into a deal with
Washington because they thought it would be a good way to develop their
economy to compete more effectively with the "Chesapeake
interests" and Baltimore.
The largest nineteen landowners put their trust and signed an agreement
with George Washington for the area that would become known as Washington
"We, the subscribers, in consideration of the good benefits we
expect to derive from having the Federal City laid off upon our lands,
do hereby agree and bind ourselves, heirs, executors and
administrators, to convey in trust to the President of the U.S., or
Commissioners, or such person or person as he shall appoint, by good
and sufficient deeds in fee simple, the whole of our respective lands
which he may think proper to include in the lines of the Federal City,
for the purpose, and on the conditions following: The President shall
have the sole power of directing the Federal City to be laid off in
what manner he pleases. He may retain any number of squares he may
think proper for the public improvements or other public uses, and the
lots only which shall be laid off shall be joint property between the
trustees on behalf of the public, and equally divided between the
public and the individuals as soon as may be after the city is laid
off. For the streets the proprietors shall receive no compensation,
but for the squares or lands in any form which shall be taken for
public buildings or any kind of public improvements or uses, the
proprietors whose lands shall be taken shall receive at the rate of 25
[pounds] (equivalent to $66.66 in Pennsylvania currency) to be paid
for the land on which the same shall remain. Each proprietor shall
retain full possession and use of his land until the same shall be
sold and occupied by the purchase of the lots laid out thereon, and,
in all cases, when the public arrangements, as the streets lots, etc.,
will permit of it, each proprietor shall possess his buildings and
other improvements and graveyards, paying to the public only one-half
the present estimated value of the land on which the same shall be, or
12 [pounds] 10 [pence] per acre; but in cases where the arrangements
of the streets lots squares etc will not admit of this and it shall
become necessary to remove such buildings, etc., the proprietors of
the same shall be paid the reasonable value thereof by the public.
Nothing herein contained shall affect the lots of the parties to this
agreement, which they may hold in the towns of Hamburg and
Carrolsburgh. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and
seals this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord,
Designing Washington City in the District of Columbia—Washington
hired Peter L’Enfant to design the new city. Pierre L’Enfant, raised
in the King’s Court at Versailles, France, was a student of fine arts at
L’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture where his father was
professor. L’Enfant became an American citizen, changed his name to
Peter, and fought in the Revolutionary War. At the Marquis de Lafayette’s
suggestion, L’Enfant painted a portrait of Washington, who called him
the artist of the Revolution. (L’Enfant is frequently referred to as
"temperamental" in history books, and is thought to have been
gay by some historians.) Washington, in giving L’Enfant instruction
about designing the federal city, told him to use much land for roads,
which landowners had agreed to give to the federal government for free,
along with all areas needed for public (federal) buildings. In addition,
landowners gave the federal government authority to divide the remaining
land, half of which would be divided and returned to the original
landowners, and the reminder would paid for and used by the federal
government to raise money to build the White House, the Capitol, the
Treasury, and other federal buildings. Altogether, the federal government
spent $110,000 on the city—money borrowed that local residents repaid.
Washington retired in 1797, when John Adams became President, and spent
his last years overseeing the building of the federal city.
On December 3, 1799, Adams announced that the federal city was ready
for occupancy. The man to whom local citizens had given their trust,
George Washington, took ill and died on December 14, 1799.
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Subjects of the Federal Government
Arrival of the federal government in Washington City—The Offices of
the President arrived from the temporary capital in Philadelphia by June
15, 1800. Congress convened on November 17th. President John
Adams addressed Congress (his fourth annual address) on November 22:
"I congratulate the people of the United States on the assembling of
Congress at the permanent seat of their Government, and I congratulate
you, gentlemen, on the prospect of a residence not to be changed. … It
is with you, gentlemen, to consider whether the local powers over the
District of Columbia vested by the Constitution in the Congress of the
United States shall be immediately exercised."
Local governance for Washington City debated—Former cities of the
area with established local governments continued to elect local officials
and practiced self-government. (Slaves and women were excluded from the
local vote.) Congress, however, established no government for Washington
City. Citizens met at Rhodes Tavern to protest their political status, and
drafted petitions asking Congress for a municipal charter and
Congressional voting rights.
Augustus Woodward, a lawyer who had studied the situation and wrote
under the pen name "Epaminondas," urged prompt passage of a
constitutional amendment to give D.C. citizens the vote for President and
Vice-President, senators and, when the population had grown sufficiently,
a representative; and the creation of a Territory of Columbia with an
elected legislature. He pointed out that "[a] grant of power to do an
act, does not impose an obligation to exercise that power." He wrote:
"The effect of an assumption then, is to reduce us to that political
situation, which Americans deprecate; we are to be governed by laws, in
the making of which, we have no participation; we have no share in the
state governments, of which we have no reason to complain, for we are
separated from them; but we have no share in electing the members of
congress, who are exclusively to legislate for us. We are reduced to the
mortifying situation, of being subject to laws, made, or to be made, by we
know not whom; by agents, not of our choice, in no degree responsible to
us, who from their situation, and the circumstance of having other
constituents to serve, are not likely to be very tender of our rights, or
very much alive to our interests. We resort in vain to the constitution,
for the means of relief; from that instrument, we cannot hope to have our
situation ameliorated. …
Assumption of exclusive legislative authority—With just two weeks
left before the inauguration of President Jefferson, in which the
Federalists would lose power, the outgoing Federalist-majority Congress
passed the Organic Act of February 27, 1801, assuming exclusive
legislative authority over D.C. Some historians argue this was "an
insurance policy" to retain Federalist influence after the Federalist
Party was out of power.
The Act divided the District into the counties of Washington and
Alexandria, established a judicial system for the District, and
transferred the appointment of the levy court east of the Anacostia from
the governor of Maryland to the President.
Epaminondas urged prompt passage of a constitutional amendment to give
D.C. citizens the vote for President and Vice-President, to elect senators
and, when the population had grown sufficiently, a representative; and the
creation of a Territory of Columbia with an elected legislature. He wrote,
"No policy can be worse than to mingle great and small concerns. The
latter become absorbed in the former; are neglected and forgotten. …It
will impair the dignity of the national legislature, executive, and
judicial authorities to be occupied with all the local concerns of the
Territory of Columbia."
Epaminondas also though the part of the District’s expenses to be
paid by the federal government and by local taxpayers should be spelled
out. He said, "we are legislating for posterity as well as for
ourselves; and that the interests of millions unborn is confided in our
Municipal government established for Washington City—In 1802, there
was discussion of consolidating the governments into one Territory with an
appointed governor and an elected legislature, but Alexandria City and
Georgetown opposed the idea—they were competitors, from different
states. That year, Congress established a municipal government for
Washington City. Between this time and 1870, Washington City elected 20
Georgetown and Alexandria City attempt to retrocede—In 1803, a bill
was introduced into Congress to retrocede the areas back to the states of
Virginia and Maryland. In 1804, a bill was introduced to retrocede all
portions except Washington City, but it was defeated 97 to 46. Some
residents of Georgetown and Alexandria tried to have their areas returned
to their respective original states several times until the Civil War.
Alexandria succeeded in 1846.
City leaders rebuild after federal government burned to the ground—The
war with Great Britain broke out in 1812, and on August 24th,
"the vandals" burned every public building in Washington City
except the Patent Office and the Post Office. City leaders built a
temporary "Brick Capitol" where Congress could meet while the
Capitol was rebuilt.
When President Monroe was inaugurated on the steps of the Brick Capitol
in 1818, he said: "The situation of this District, it is thought,
requires the attention of Congress. By the Constitution, the power of
legislation is exclusively vested in the Congress of the United States. In
the exercise of this power, in which the people have no participation,
Congress legislates in all cases, directly, on the local concerns of the
District. As this is a departure, for a special purpose, from the general
principles of our system, it may merit consideration, whether an
arrangement better adapted to the principles of our government, and to the
particular interest of the people, may not be devised, which will neither
infringe the constitution nor affect the object which the provision in
question was intended to secure. The growing population, although
considerable, and the increasing business of the District, which it is
believed already interferes with the deliberations of Congress on great
national concerns, furnish additional motives for recommending this
subject to your consideration."
Washington City builds first City Hall—Now and then between 1819 and
1826, Congress discussed consolidating all local governments into a single
Territorial Government. In 1819, Washington City began its first
officially constructed City Hall at a cost of $150,000. George Hadfield
designed it in the Greek Revival style, and it became a symbol of local
pride. Congress contributed $10,000 to Washington’s City Hall in 1823 in
exchange for rent-free use of one wing of the two winged building for the
circuit court. [The building was abandoned as City Hall in 1871 when the
federal government merged the cities and county into a District with a
Territorial government. The D.C. government was paid $75,000 for it in
1873 when the federal government took it over for the courts, D.C.
citizens lost home rule, and were placed under 3 federally-appointed
commissioners. There is still no plaque on the building. Today, the old
City Hall houses the Superior Court of D.C. and the D.C. Court of Appeals
(local appellate court.]
Supreme Court upholds taxation without representation—In 1820, the
Supreme Court ruled (Loughborough v. Blake) that District residents were
liable to taxation even though they were not represented—there are no
Constitutional guarantees against taxation, they said.
Transients versus hometown residents—When Andrew Jackson was
inaugurated President in 1829, for the first time Washington citizens were
not asked to organize the celebrations. The distinction between hometown
Washingtonians and temporary residents became pronounced. The fact that
District citizens were not represented in Congress seemed even more
unfair. President Jackson called upon Congress to allow District resident
to elect a Delegate "with the same privileges that are allowed to
other territories of the United States," but they did not.
Original landowners feel betrayed by federal government—By the end of
their lives, most of the original landowners were convinced they had made
a bad deal—they had traded their freedom for the promise of security.
And on top of that, the seat of government was nearly entirely financed on
the backs of local citizens, even as they were mocked for being unable to
live up to the ideal images of a national capital. Daniel Carroll of
Duddington wrote to Henry J. Brent on July 24, 1837 of their early
delusions: "In answer to yours I fear that the deeds will fully
express the relinquishment of right in the streets to the government, I
nevertheless perfectly remember that the general opinion was that so great
was the gift that the citizens would never be subject to taxation for the
improvement of the streets—having relinquished every alternate lot to
the government. Indeed some were so wild as to suppose that the donation
was so great the government might pave the streets with ingots of gold or
silver. After nearly half a century the result is now fully known; the
unfortunate proprietors are generally brought to ruin, and some with
scarcely enough to buy daily bread for their families. This subject is so
truly frightful to me that I hate to think of it, much less to write of
President declares Congress has misinterpreted District Clause—In
1841, President William Henry Harrison of Virginia, elected on the Whig
Party platform in November, gave a 105-minute Inaugural address (the
longest in history) on an extremely cold day, March 4, 1841. He said,
"The people of the District of Columbia are not the subjects of the
people of the States, but free American citizens. Being in the latter
condition when the Constitution was formed, no words used in that
instrument could have been intended to deprive them of that character. If
there is anything in the great principle of unalienable rights so
emphatically insisted upon in our Declaration of Independence, they could
neither make nor the United States accept a surrender of their liberties
and become the subjects--in other words, the slaves--of their former
fellow-citizens. If this be true—and it will scarcely be denied by
anyone who has a correct idea of his own rights as an American citizen—the
grant to Congress of exclusive jurisdiction in the District of Columbia
can be interpreted, so far as respects the aggregate people of the United
States, as meaning nothing more than to allow to Congress the controlling
power necessary to afford a free and safe exercise of the functions
assigned to the General Government by the Constitution. In all other
respects the legislation of Congress should be adapted to their peculiar
position and wants and be conformable with their deliberate opinions of
their own interests." He died of pneumonia a month later.
Opposition to slavery increases in D.C., southern portion merges into
Virginia—Opposition to slavery increased in Washington City after the
1820s, and a society for its abolition was founded, urging gradual
emancipation. Nevertheless, blacks were barred from the capital and were
put under curfew.
Washington was increasingly seen as a proving ground for abolitionists.
The state of Virginia passed a resolution in support of taking the former
D.C.-area located south of the Potomac River back to Virginia; Congress
approved with the condition residents of the area south of the Potomac
River (not counting the citizens of Alexandria Country) must vote approval
in a referendum. They did. In 1846, the Virginia portion left the District
behind, and D.C. became "a broken diamond," foreshadowing the
D.C. citizens fought for the Union—D.C. citizens were among the first
to fight to defend the Union in the Civil War. The District became the eye
of the storm, the major north/south fault line. The population continued
to grow and the streets turned to mud under the heavy troop traffic. D.C.
citizens actively helped as large numbers of soldiers came through the
area, both fit and wounded. Union troops occupied the former areas of the
District located in Virginia. President Abraham Lincoln suggested making
the District whole again by bringing back into the District the Virginia
portion that had merged back.
The Union won the war, but the joy turned to sorrow and anger as
President Lincoln was assassinated. District citizens raised
money for a sculpture of Lincoln to be placed in front of their City Hall
the first sculpture to honor Lincoln after his murder (it is there today).
After the Civil War, the terminology of the nation changed. Instead of
saying "The United States are a nation," people said, "The
United States is a nation." Instead of calling Washington City the
"Seat of Government," people called it "the Capital of the
D.C. struggles under burdens of federal presence—Charles Dickens, who
had visited in 1842, mocked the city, saying, "It is sometimes called
the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be
termed City of Magnificent Intentions." Relations between Congress
and the District grew increasingly tense as services deteriorated for lack
By 1850, conditions were bad: the sewers of the White House and
Congress emptied onto the Mall and into the canal, creating an open
cesspool, trash was thrown into the streets, and disease spread. The white
pupil ration was 70 to 1 with half of white and all blacks had no
schooling. Crime was on the rise—arson, assault, juvenile delinquency,
prostitution, theft, robbery, and vandalism. Georgetown tried to convince
Congress to let them merge back into Maryland, but failed.
After the Civil War, the District became a proving ground for Radical
Republican policies. Local conditions continued to deteriorate due to the
burdens placed on the city. The school board reported that 34 percent of
pupils in white public schools were government employee children, thus
taxpayers were bearing the burden of educating temporary residents. The
city was a disaster from the heavy traffic of the Civil War. Any
improvements required Congressional approval, which slowed repairs.
Congress was busy impeaching President Johnson. In 1868, residents elected
Postmaster Sayles J. Bowan as mayor, a white man who strongly supported
equal rights for blacks. Business leaders backed Bowan’s proposals to
solve the city’s social problems and to make the District a leader in
emancipation, suffrage, and desegregation because they expected he would
get the support of Radical Republicans in Congress. President Grant was
elected in 1869. Congress refused to help the District, and called it
"the ugliest city in the whole country." Proposals emerged in
Congress to move the Capital westward. Local officials became fearful and
vowed to make a "capital worthy of the nation."
Tensions between federal and District governments increase—In 1870,
when the city’s debt increased to $1.5 million, Mayor Bowan lost the
election to Matthew Emery, who raised taxes. Between 1790 and 1870,
treasury records show the federal government spent virtually nothing on
the District ($9 million) even though the value of the District
contribution to the federal government was now at a billion dollars. Local
citizens carried the burden of municipal expenses. As the District’s
population increased (blacks seeking freedom, non-English speaking
immigrants, and later freed slaves), the need for services also increased.
The infrastructure deteriorated under the strain. Congress pointed to D.C.’s
architecturally attractive City Hall as an example of waste and
mismanagement. One Congressman said D.C. citizens "live altogether
out of [the federal] Treasury and the Members and person who are
necessarily here at the sitting of Congress." D.C. citizens accused
Congress of not doing their fair share.
District government consolidated into one "Territorial"
government—By 1870, sentiment moved in support of consolidating all
jurisdictions into a single Territorial Government with an elected
Governor and an Upper and Lower House. Congress passed a law in 1871
establishing a "Territorial Government"—with a Governor and
Upper House appointed by the President, and an elected Lower House. They
also granted D.C. a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives,
and called this a "new era" in District history. The city
celebrated for three days. But not everyone was happy with the
"merger." One poet wrote of Georgetown "Though once the
Federal City’s host, Georgetown itself is now a ghost."
Capital improvements puts District in debt—The federal government put
Alexander "Boss" Shepherd in charge of the Department of Public
Works and authorized him to borrow money for improvements—sewers,
grading and paving streets and sidewalks, planting trees, and removing
nuisances. Shepherd estimated the cost would be $6.25 million. When
Presidentially-appointed Governor, David Henry Cooke resigned, President
Grant appointed "Boss" Shepherd to be Governor. Citizens started
getting alarmed when the debt reached $9 million, and demanded a
"pay-as-you-go" approach. When 1,200 citizens signed a petition,
Congress held hearings. They heard that local citizens were losing
property to increasing taxes, and some said that due to street grading,
their front yard was left fifteen feet lower than their door. Citizen
activists published "Our Little Monarchy: Who Runs It and What It
Costs." Congress set a debt limit of $10 million. The "new
Washington" created a real estate boom, and many citizens from across
the nation (nouveau riche) built fashionable mansions, especially in the
new neighborhood of Dupont Circle. They were often temporary residents—they
spent the winter in D.C.
Congress abolishes Territorial government—D.C. citizens continued to
protest rising debt. The city ran out of money and could not longer obtain
credit. Congress opened new investigations, and shortly after in 1874,
abolished the "Territorial Government." Shepherd moved his
family to Mexico.
Congress set up a temporary government under three
presidentially-apppointed commissioners. Debt in D.C. increased by another
$5 million. Elite citizens formed a Committee of One Hundred and asked
Congress to make the commission government permanent and pay for half of
municipal expenses. Congress agreed. Three commissioners appointed by the
President would govern the District—without formal voting input from
local residents. District citizens lost the right to have a local elected
government until it was restored a century later, during the Civil Rights
Congress rules with help from local elites, blacks and poor cut out—During
these one hundred years, D.C. citizens struggled and agitated for
political rights. They made due with what they had—their neighbors and
friends. They formed voluntary neighborhood associations and citizen
(white) and civic (black) associations. The associations were competitive,
seeking services for their own areas, and were not organized as a group—their
power was limited. A local Board of Trade formed and became a de facto
governing body, giving advice and budget recommendations to the
commissioners. The commissioners also expressed frustration, because they
were required to get approval for everything from a mostly uninformed
Shifting federal perceptions about D.C.—Back in 1843, President Tyler
had articulated the view that District citizens were dependents who
required "parental care" by "their legislature"
(Congress). Over the next three decades, this view evolved into one in
which D.C. was viewed as "the grounds of the National Capital"
(President Grant, 1874). By 1877, after all self-government was withdrawn
from local citizens, President Hayes announced, "The capital of the
United States belongs to the nation, and it is natural that the American
people should take pride in the seat of their national government and
desire it to be an ornament to the country." Local D.C. was being
swept under the carpet—taxation without representation, alley housing,
racial segregation, and all. District residents mostly remained silent
about the situation—after all, they had a municipal debt to pay off, and
it had been the federal government who came to their "rescue."
The fact that a federally appointed official had created the debt seemed
to have been overlooked.
New Congressmen with little knowledge of history anger D.C. citizens—For
many citizens, it became increasingly clear that the governing arrangement
was not good for local residents. The fifty-fifty agreement (in which the
federal government would pay fifty percent of municipal costs) began to
erode as new Congressmen arrived in Washington with little knowledge of
local history. They began to question what was federal versus what was
local. For example, when Congress established the National (Smithsonian)
Zoo and Rock Creek Park, the costs were split 50/50. The titles were
immediately transferred to the federal government, prompting D.C. citizens
to claim they were federal, not local, properties. Congress, on the other
hand, argued that locals benefited more and should pay more. In 1915,
Congress abandoned the 50/50 agreement altogether and the percentages
quickly eroded to 80 percent by D.C. and 20 percent by the federal
D.C. pays off debt, steps up efforts to fight for greater political
rights—The next year, D.C. residents paid off the debt that had been
created by "Boss" Shepherd. That same year, they established the
Citizens’ Joint Committee on National Representation for the District of
Columbia (to pass a Constitutional Amendment for D.C. voting rights in
Congress), and in 1918 they established the Citizens’ Joint Committee
for an Elective School Board.
Many in Congress opposed passing an Amendment, because they said this
would be "virtual statehood." While most citizens and labor
unions supported both equal voting rights and local self-government, The
Board of Trade only supported Congressional representation, not local
self-government. The Chamber of Commerce supported Congressional
representation, with local self-government to be considered later.
Land-use disputes increase local citizen activism—Citizen activism
increased after 1945 when Congress gave the National Capital Planning
Commission (NCPC) authority to rebuild the District’s slum areas and to
build a new highway system, including an "inner loop" that would
have destroyed many homes and neighborhoods. In 1951, Southwest Washington
was chosen for redevelopment. The Redevelopment Land Agency decided to
demolish the whole neighborhood to eliminate slums and crime, for
reconstruction for wealthier families. Some called the project that
displaced 20,000 families "Negro removal." D.C. citizens became
an organized force, stopping the project from moving beyond the Southwest.
Reverend Walter Fauntroy led Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO)
in a project for low-income urban renewal. Residents called the federally
run government "an adventure in autocracy," and "no
government at all," but a "monster with 50 heads, snapping at
Opinion in Congress shifts in favor of restoring self-government in
D.C.—In 1946, Congress passed the Legislative Reorganization Act,
recommending "Congress divest itself of the duty of governing the
District of Columbia and provide for a referendum on adoption of
self-government by city charter."
The next year, a bi-racial Washington Home Rule Committee was
established to restore popular elections.
After this time, some members of Congress introduced bills for Home
Rule into nearly every session of Congress until it was approved in 1973.
But all attempts to restore an elected school board and home rule were
blocked by southern segregationists who feared "Negro rule." In
addition, the local Board of Trade opposed for fear that a liberal
government would be established and the federal financial contribution
would be reduced further.
U.S. Citizens support D.C. self-government—In 1949, The Gallup Poll
found that 65 percent of Americans said they thought citizens of D.C.
should elect their city officials. Only 20 percent said they should
continue to be appointed by the President.
Desegregation goes smoothly in D.C.—In 1954, Bolling v. Sharpe
invalidated the use of racially separated educational facilities. Two
years previously, the school board had instructed the Superintendent to
"study the possibility of desegregation." Within months, D.C.
desegregated with few problems. That year, the federal contribution for
local services dropped to 8.5 percent. Washington, D.C. became the first
majority-African-American U.S. city in 1960.
Congress allows other enclaves to vote in states—In June 1957, an
Intergovernmental Committee submitted a report examining the fact the
citizens living in all federal enclaves except D.C. (post offices,
arsenals, dams, roads, and 405,088,566 acres of federal land—21 percent
of the U.S.) were denied rights and privileges that states were claming
were contingent on their residing in a state—the right to vote, hold
public office, jury service. Some agencies argued they needed exclusive
jurisdiction to carry out their federal mandates. The Committee said,
"the Federal Government should not receive or retain any of the
States’ legislative jurisdiction within federally owned areas…"
President Eisenhower endorsed the recommendations, and in a series of
statutes, Congress retroceded jurisdiction to the states of the enclaves
located inside the boundaries of states. D.C., which performed the
functions of a state, was excluded.
D.C. granted limited right to vote for President—In 1961, Congress
approved the 23rd Amendment to grant D.C. citizens the right to electors
equal to the smallest state. State legislatures ratified the Amendment
within a year for fear that it would be used as cold war propaganda if not
approved. Thus, D.C. was granted a limited "half loaf" right to
vote for President. D.C. citizens were hardly consulted about their
opinion about having a limited vote put into the Constitution.
U.S. public supports D.C. home rule—That same year, a Louis Harris
poll found 66 percent of U.S. adults in favor of D.C. home rule. Americans
supported home rule, they said, because "every city should determine
its own destiny," and "every community has the right to
self-government." Those who opposed said there were "too many
Negroes, they would take over."
Civil Rights Movement in D.C.—Many civil rights leaders moved to D.C.
to fight for Home Rule. In 1965, Southern National Coordination Committee
(SNCC) field secretary, Marion Barry, was transferred to D.C. to help
organize citizens. He established the Free D.C. Movement, which encouraged
businesses who supported home rule to display a "Free D.C." sign
in their window. If they did not, citizens could choose to boycott their
President Johnson reorganizes D.C. government, prepares for home rule—President
Johnson submitted an Executive Order to Congress, reorganizing the
District government to be headed by an appointed executive commissioner, a
deputy commissioner and a 9-member council. Congress allowed it to become
effective in 1969. President Johnson appointed Walter Washington to head
D.C. Washington became D.C.’s appointed "mayor." Johnson also
appointed a black majority to the city council, including Walter Fauntroy,
Sterling Tucker, and Polly Shackleton.
D.C. granted elected school board—Segregationists and the Board of
Trade came out in support of an elected School Board, hoping to sidetrack
the Home Rule movement. After D.C. broke out in riots in 1968 when Martin
Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Congress granted D.C. an elected School
Board. This laid the foundation for home rule by establishing a ward
system for holding elections. The riots left D.C. with 1,200 burned
buildings and 5,000 fewer jobs. Flight to the suburbs accelerated. Marion
Barry’s ability to reason with the rioters elevated his standing among
city power brokers.
Statehood movement formed—In 1969, Reverend Doug Moore, Chuck Stone,
Jesse Anderson, Sam Smith, and African-American activists formed the D.C.
Statehood Committee. Sam Smith outlined how D.C. could become a state in
an article in the D.C. Gazette in 1970. That year, the Statehood Committee
established the D.C. Statehood Party to run Julius Hobson against Walter
Fauntroy for the District’s non-voting Delegate seat, and gained about
12 percent of the vote.
State level court system established for D.C.—President Nixon
supported a "state level" court system and a non-voting Delegate
to Congress. In 1970, the D.C. Superior Court was established, and the
D.C. Election Act gave D.C. a non-voting Delegate to the House of
Representatives. President Nixon, like Presidents Truman, Eisenhower,
Kennedy, and Johnson before, supported home rule in D.C. He established
the Nelson Commission to study local governance for D.C. The Commission
found that, despite two major reorganizations in 20 years, the government
did not control all the functions it should, its leaders lacked management
authority, and its organization diffused accountability.
D.C. granted limited home rule—A limited Home Rule bill passed
Congress in late 1973, granting D.C. local voting rights for the first
time in a century. President Nixon signed the bill. It established the
National Capital Service Area (NCSA), the monumental core (the mall), as
the main area of federal interest. It established a mayor, a 13-member
council, and continued the 11-member school board. The bill also
established Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, with each ANC Single
Member District composed of about 2,000 residents. Commissioners serve
two-year terms, receive no salary, and have no binding vote. They are to
be given "great weight" by the mayor and council. Walter
Washington was elected mayor, and Marion Barry was elected to the City
Council. Elected leaders took office in 1975.
Congress passes Amendment for D.C. voting rights—In 1978, Congress
passed the proposed 27th Amendment to grant D.C. equal voting
rights in Congress, but it had a 7-year time limit. D.C. had limited
resources to try to establish a national educational campaign. Opponents
called the proposed Amendment "nominal statehood," and argued
that it violated the principles of federalism. They also rejected
statehood on the ground that D.C. did not meet the standards.
D.C. viewed as "welfare child"—In 1979, Barry was elected
mayor by a biracial coalition. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected
President. He opposed both Congressional voting rights and statehood for
D.C., and viewed the District as a "welfare child." A new
conservatism and anti-government feeling swept the nation, and D.C. was
blurred into the federal government.
Majority of D.C. citizens support statehood, pass Constitution—Many
D.C. citizens kept working to explain the benefits of D.C. statehood, even
as The Washington Post and other local elites opposed the idea. By 1977, a
poll by Robert Hitlin found 51 percent of D.C. residents in support of
statehood, 28 percent opposed, and 21 percent were not sure. D.C.
statehood supporters collected signatures and put an Initiative on the
ballot to call a Constitutional Convention, which passed by 60 percent in
1980. The convention was held in 1981, on a slim $150,000 budget (for
comparison, Hawaii spent $1,500,000 in 1967). The constitution for the
state of New Columbia was controversial with some, but was approved by 53
percent in 1982. The mayor submitted to Congress a petition for admission
of the state of New Columbia. D.C. non-voting delegate, Walter Fauntroy,
introduced the D.C. Statehood bill in the House, and Senator Edward
Kennedy introduced it in the Senate. Each year, the bill was reintroduced.
D.C. citizens lose first City Hall to developer—In 1982, after D.C.
citizens had passed an Initiative to save their first City Hall, Rhodes
Tavern, federal and local officials approved its demolition by developer
Oliver Carr, Jr. Carr refused to place a plaque paid for by money
collected by school children on the new building. (It wasn’t until 1999,
after the new building was purchased by Mortimer Zuckerman, that the
plaque was put on the building.) That year, Mayor Barry was reelected to a
second term without the support of most white voters, but Washington’s
developers bankrolled his campaign. Congress granted D.C. the right to
float municipal bonds in 1984.
D.C. voting rights amendment fails—In 1985, time ran out on the
Voting Representation Amendment. D.C. needed thirty-eight states to
approve—but only 16 states did so after 7 years. The campaign had little
budget, was opposed by the Statehood Party and some conservatives who
called it "nominal statehood."
Wall Street helps reelect Marion Barry, Congress brings him down—Wall
Street contributed large sums to Barry’s 1986 reelection campaign.
Despite rumors of cocaine use, he was reelected mayor. Crime skyrocketed
with the crack cocaine epidemic. By 1990, as Barry prepared for a
re-election campaign, the FBI set him up by using an old girlfriend,
Rasheeda Moore, to lure him to the Vista Hotel, where he used crack
cocaine and was filmed on video. The video was released to the world. D.C.
citizens were angry and ashamed. Fifty-seven percent of D.C. residents
thought he should resign. But, many D.C. citizens felt federal
investigators had targeted Barry because he was black. Barry was convicted
of one misdemeanor, and was sentenced to a six-month jail sentence.
D.C. elects new mayor, but storm clouds appear on horizon—In 1990,
Sharon Pratt Dixon (later Kelly), was elected mayor. That same year, a
report by The Commission on Budget and Financial Priorities of the
District of Columbia led by Alice Rivlin, senior fellow of The Brookings
Institution, reported that D.C. would go into debt if immediate steps were
not taken. The "Rivlin Report" warned that the District had two
choices—either bring the budget into balance, or face "drastic and
arbitrary cuts in public services, massive layoffs of employees, and
emergency arrangements for financial bailout."
The report pointed out that while the federal government’s presence
offered benefits to D.C. and surrounding areas, the costs were imposed on
D.C. taxpayers. The federal government had straddled D.C. with liabilities
accumulated during their watch under the commissions, including a large
debt and a huge unfounded pension liability. The federal government had
also increased demands on the municipal system for services such as
increased levels of public safety for visiting heads of state, official
federal events, and frequent public demonstrations. In addition, they
imposed mandates, such as the number of fire trucks to be in each station.
And, the Rivlin Report noted, the District had never been given fiscal
autonomy. After the mayor and council agreed on the District’s budgetary
priorities, the federal Office of Management and Budget, eight committees
of Congress, the full Congress, and the president, had to approve the
budget. This added between seven to 11 months, at a cost to D.C. taxpayers
of $3 million. In addition, the federal government imposed restrictions on
D.C., exempting nearly 60 percent of local land from taxation, exempting
itself from paying taxes on $20.8 billion worth of property on 41 percent
of D.C. land. Congress also forbade D.C. from taxing income where it is
earned. Since 68 percent of income earned in D.C. left with employees who
live in Virginia and Maryland, D.C. citizens were stuck with a budget
shortfall and consequently the highest taxes in the region. D.C. was
"caught between a rock and a hard place."
Statehood bill fails in House of Representatives—In 1992, William
Jefferson Clinton was elected president. He said he would sign a bill for
statehood if it passed Congress. The next year, Delegate Eleanor Holmes
Norton introduced a bill for D.C. statehood in the House. The debate
lasted two days and failed by 63 votes—153 for, 277 against, four not
voting. The vote fell largely along partisan lines, with all but one
Republican opposing. However, President Clinton made little if any effort
to pass the bill, and it is suspected that many Democrats voted
"yea" because they knew it would fail.
D.C. citizens file human rights petition against federal government—After
the statehood bill failed, The Statehood Solidarity Committee, led by
Timothy Cooper and formed of 23 D.C. citizens, filed a petition against
the U.S. with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights. They argued that D.C. citizens had exhausted
all domestic remedies in seeking to political equality. They asserted that
the U.S. is in violation of International human rights laws signed by the
U.S. in 1992. (The case is still pending.)
Democrats allow D.C. symbolic vote, Republicans take it away—In 1993,
majority Democrats in the House allowed the District and the four
territories to vote on the floor of the House in the Committee of the
Whole—mainly a symbolic gesture, since the vote didn’t count if there
was a tie. Previously, delegates could only vote in committee. In 1994,
when Mayor Barry was reelected and the District teetered on the edge of
bankruptcy, "Radical Republicans" took control of the Congress.
In 1995, their first order of business was to abolish the delegate’s
right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.
Congress installs financial control board, abolishes home rule—The
new Congress installed a Financial Authority, or "control
board." They came to believe the local governing arrangement was no
longer tolerable, that Mayor Barry had to be forced out of office. Many
locals agreed, although the issue raised racial tension. In 1997, Congress
passed the "D.C. Revitalization Act," abolishing most powers of
the mayor and council and transferring them to the Control Board that had
been established in 1995. President Clinton signed the agreement. The bill
stipulated that D.C. could regain their limited home rule government if
they passed four consecutive balanced budgets (D.C. is expected to meet
this goal this year). Congresswoman Norton praised the financial package
part of the bill, and urged citizens to work together (The Washington
Post, Aug. 27, 1998): "Some are said to cheer the extinguishing of
their rights. I do not believe that. I believe that the cheers reflect
exasperation with Mayor Barry and other city officials about the condition
of the city. People don’t cheer about losing their rights. …As a
fourth-generation Washingtonian and a committed democrat, I find the loss
of home rule deeply humiliating. …My family was here when the District
lost home rule under Boss Shepherd. For me, the loss is personal. …Let’s
waste no more time. I hope residents on the ‘management side’ and
residents on the ‘home rule side’ will help form an ‘action now
side.’ Action is the only way to fix the city. Action is the only
realistic way to retrieve home rule. So we’re all on the same
Fight for the return of home rule—Washington citizens had many
feelings. Some were angry; some relieved; and most were ashamed. The
majority of D.C. citizens sat silently by and said nothing. Voting
participation dropped to under 10 percent in one local election.
The national press virtually ignored the issue, perhaps thinking as
George Will did that "D.C. is unfit for democracy." Many local
columnists wrote about the demise of democracy in the District. Colbert I.
King recalled his childhood in D.C. (Washington Post, Aug. 16, 1997), a
time when the unelected commissioners proclaimed an official song for the
city, which his all-black racially separated peers sang in a hand-me-down
school amidst a disenfranchised city—"WASH-ING-TON, the fair-est
ci-ty in the greatest land of all. Named for one, our coun-try’s fa-ther
who first an-swered free-dom’s call/God bless our White House, our Ca-pitol,
too/ And keep- ev-er fly-ing the Red, White and Blue." King wrote:
"District residents shouldn’t have to prove their worthiness to
have the same rights enjoyed by other Americans," then added that
"We’re here, in part, because we let down. …We committed the
cardinal sin of forgetting where we are; of deluding ourselves into
thinking that those downtown and Capitol Hill smiles meant acceptance and
that a golden age had arrived; of failing to remember the hard, bitter
truth that in this world there’s never a time when we as a people are
allowed the luxury of sitting back and relaxing and enjoying our meager
gains. We failed to pass on what we were taught: that every generation has
to press down and re-win the victory. That, as long as we draw breath on
this earth, it’s always a struggle."
Local leaders generally praised the financial part of the bill in which
the federal government assumed the pension liability it had dumped on the
District in 1973, as well as financial responsibility for D.C.’s courts
D.C. NBC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood noted that the Revitalization Act was
a distinct shift away from statehood because it made the federal
government a "state" partner by taking over D.C.’s courts and
But some citizens actively fought for the return of home rule. A
coalition of over 100 groups, the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C.
Coalition, organized protests and direct action to draw media attention to
the takeover. They held weekly organizing meetings, lobbied Congress, and
pressed for full representation and full self-government every way they
could think of. Local talk show personality Mark Plotkin aggressively
raised questions of elected officials and Congressmen on the weekly D.C.
Politics Hour. And citizens stayed involved through voluntary
organizations, their Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and through
themail@dcwatch, an E-mail discussion forum published twice weekly (www.dcwatch.com).
Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment proposed—Timothy Cooper
proposed an Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment in Legal Times, making a
clear distinction from the more limited Voting Rights Amendment. The
Amendment, he said, could read, "The residents of the District of
Columbia shall be treated as citizens of a state for all constitutional
intents and purposes." If passed, it would give D.C. citizens rights
equal to citizens living in states without making the District a state,
include full voting representation under Article 2 of the Constitution and
the 17th Amendment, the right to a republican form of
government under Article 4, the right to 9th and 10th
Amendment powers and privileges, and the right to equal protection under
the 14th Amendment.
Some oppose an amendment because it would be less than equal to the
rights enjoyed by citizens living in a state ("not a whole
loaf"), and it could be reversed. Attorney George LaRoche has
indicated that it may be nearly impossible to become a state once an
amendment is passed.
Americans support self government and equal voting rights for D.C.—A
national poll of U.S. adults in 1997 by Mark Richards found that most
opposed a federal takeover of D.C. for mismanagement in the nation’s
capital and large majorities supported D.C. home rule. Majorities agreed
that replacing elected officials with unelected ones goes against the
principles of the American democracy. Large majorities also supported
equal voting rights for D.C. citizens in Congress.
D.C. citizens file lawsuits against federal government—D.C. citizens
also prepared and took legal actions to win voting rights and home rule.
In one effort, Adams v. Clinton, ("Twenty D.C. citizens"), under
the counsel of George S. LaRoche, filed a lawsuit against the office of
the President and the Control Board (June 30, 1998), to demand their
Constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws and the right to
representative government (http://D.C.citizensfordemocracy.org).
another legal effort developed by American University law professor Jamin
Raskin, the municipal government and 58 D.C. citizens, under the guidance
of the D.C. Corporation Council and the law firm Covington and Burling,
filed Alexander v. Daley, based on the Constitutional principle of
"one person, one vote." They asked the Courts to order Congress
to use it plenary power over D.C. to create a legislative provision that
would allow D.C. to be represented in Congress. Although quite different
in what they asked the Court to do, and in some ways competitive, the
lawsuits were combined and heard by a three-judge panel from the Federal
District Court and the Appellate Court on April 19, 1999. The Court ruled
against the Plaintiffs on March 20, 2000 (www.DC.d.uscourts.gov/district-court.html)
and the Supreme Court upheld its decision. The Court indicated that the
issue must be solved in the political forum.
New mayor elected, citizen confidence grows—The mayoral election of
November 1998 pitted a newcomer who had shown management talent as the
city’s Chief Financial Officer, Anthony Williams, against four elected
officials on the Council. Williams beat all local leaders on a platform
emphasizing improved management and services. In a Washington Post poll
early in 2000, for the first time since 1984, a majority of D.C. citizens
said the quality of life is getting better—not worse or staying the
U.S. citizens support equal constitutional rights for D.C.—In April
2000, Democracy First, DC Vote, and the Stand Up for Democracy in D.C.
Coalition—three groups concerned with democracy in D.C., held a press
briefing and released national polls by Mark Richards that found that 72
percent of U.S. adults, 69 percent of college graduates who are registered
to vote, and 82 percent of progressive state and local elected officials
supported equal voting rights for D.C. in the Senate and the House of
Representatives. But, many Americans were not aware of the problem: 55
percent of college graduates registered to vote did not know that D.C.
citizens do not have Congressional voting rights.
Solutions—Many D.C. citizens remain committed to their birthright and
hope is that they can win the same rights as citizens who live in states.
They believe that a governing structure that is more suited to the nation’s
stated principles can be established—but Congress has blocked every
effort they have made.
There are three agreed upon ways that could be taken to grant D.C.
equal constitutional rights: (1) pass a Constitutional amendment, (2)
reduce the size of the District to the federal area and make the remaining
120 neighborhoods (most of the area) a state, or (3) reduce the size of
the District and merge the remaining neighborhoods into Maryland.
A poll by The Washington Post in 2000 found 58 percent of D.C.
residents support statehood. A poll by The Wirthlin Group in 1994 had
found similar support for statehood in D.C., but showed that a majority of
citizens living in the suburbs opposed D.C. statehood.
The Wirthlin poll found that only 19 percent of D.C. citizens and 25
percent of suburban-D.C. residents living in Maryland and Virginia
supported merging D.C.’s neighborhoods into Maryland. The Governor of
Maryland also expressed his opposition.
Some D.C. citizens are skeptical about a Constitutional amendment,
because it could be watered down in Congressional deal making and a
"half loaf" bill might be passed—like with the Presidential
voting rights amendment. In addition, some are skeptical that D.C. could
mount a campaign to pass an Amendment through the states in the limited
timeframe Congress is likely to give. Such a campaign would take
tremendous time and money, because so few Americans are aware of the
Some also believe Congress has the authority to pass legislation
granting D.C. voting rights in Congress.
Failure of exclusive jurisdiction—Congress has ruled D.C. for 200
years, and in the area they have cared about most—the National Capital
Service Area (NCSA) with the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme
Court—they have created a beautiful national capital. But, for the most
part, they have not helped D.C.’s citizens or their 120 neighborhoods.
Who can speak better for D.C. than D.C. citizens? There is no need for
D.C.’s neighborhoods to be governed by Congress. The Pentagon and the
CIA are located across the Potomac River, in the state of Virginia—and
Congress appears to be safe from citizens of that state. The only way to
solve this problem is to change D.C.’s status so that D.C. citizens can
speak for themselves—either by becoming a state, merging D.C. into
Maryland, or passing an Equal Constitutional Rights Amendment. But D.C.
citizens can’t do this alone. Most in Congress seem content to govern
the District so that residents have taxation without representation, and
responsibilities without rights and resources. D.C. citizens need the
active support of the American people—most of whom haven’t heard there
is even a problem.
Turning up the volume—For D.C. citizens, sometimes it seems that the
more things change, the more things stay the same. Many sit on the
sidelines and are apathetic. But many haven’t given up hope and are as
determined as ever to achieve political equality. In June 2000, the City
Council passed legislation to change the license plate motto from
"Celebrate and Discover" to "Taxation without
Representation." This is part of an effort to inform the public of
D.C.’s dilemma and to appeal for help. The New York Times headlined an
article about the license plate change "A Rebellion Is Brewing in
U.S. Capital Over Status." Indeed, a rebellion has been brewing for
200 years. In March 2001, D.C.’s non-voting Delegate introduced H.R.
1193 into the House of Representatives, calling for full voting
representation in the Congress for the citizens of the District, and an
exemption from federal income taxes until such full voting representation
takes effect. The bill has not been passed by Congress.
Organizations working on these issues include:
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