Newsroom

News and Analysis

Tag

Eleanor Holmes Norton

Mayor Vincent Gray testified on Capitol Hill on Monday, calling for D.C. statehood. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. and Mayor Vincent Gray testified on Capitol Hill on Monday, calling for D.C. statehood. Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

Updated: Sept. 16, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.

The long battle for D.C. statehood made progress Monday, though the historic moment was touched by some cynicism.

The U.S. Senate held its first hearing in more than 20 years on D.C. statehood on Monday. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson testified at the hearing, led by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who advocated for D.C  to become the nation’s 51st state.

Here are four key takeaways from the hearing.

1. “Not just a collection of government offices, monuments and museums”

Carper, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is sponsoring the bill that proposes D.C. become a state called New Columbia. He praised the vitality of D.C., and said the hearing was a way to “restart an old conversation.”

“This may not be the last chapter, but it attempts to right a wrong that should have been righted by now,” he said.

Carper argued that D.C., with more than 650,000 residents, should have representatives in Congress with the power to vote.

2. “No chance of success”

Coburn, the only other senator at the hearing, was more pessimistic of D.C.’s chances.

“Here we are again debating this issue, even though it has no chance of success,” he said.

Coburn pointed to past presidencies, such as Ronald Reagan’s administration, which found that several legal challenges would come with granting D.C. statehood.

3. D.C. is an “anomaly”

Norton, D.C.’s non-voting representative in Congress, was the first witness to speak during the panel, and argued that only statehood would allow her to fully represent the city’s residents.

She pointed to moments when she said she “felt” D.C. needed statehood, including when veterans from the District came home from Afghanistan and Iraq. She said they had fought for the democratic voting rights of citizens there, but they “came home without the same rights.”

“I feel it when the bell rings and I cannot vote on behalf of the residents,” she said.

4. Gray: “We were casualties of national politics.”

Gray spoke about the problems he saw with Congressional oversight of D.C. government. He cited the federal government shutdown last October, which prompted Gray to declare all D.C. government employees “essential.”

Gray added that under the New Columbia Admission Act, Congress would not have control over the District’s budget.

“We’re asking for the same treatment that all Americans get,” he said.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the federal government shutdown last year forced D.C. agencies to close. The city actually used reserve funds during the shutdown to keep agencies running. We regret this error.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

In March, the D.C. Council to replace jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 fine. Hatchet File Photo

In March, the D.C. Council voted to replace jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana with a $25 fine. Hatchet File Photo

A bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in D.C. faced a major setback Wednesday when House Republicans voted to prevent the District from implementing the law.

Unless budget negotiations between the two chambers of Congress lead to restored funding for the law, the House Appropriations Committee just dealt a death blow to the D.C. Council’s effort to join the 17 states that keep many pot smokers out of jail, the Washington Post reported.

The Council voted in March to replace jail time for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana with a $25 fine. The legislation had been in a congressional review period and would have gone into effect in July without action from Congress.

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., led the charge to block the law, proposing an amendment to a spending bill that would keep D.C. from using even its own tax income to roll out the measure.

Harris is Maryland’s only Republican congressman. Two months ago, Governor Martin O’Malley signed legislation decriminalizing marijuana.

D.C. lawmakers pushed to pass the decriminalization bill to reduce the racial gap in marijuana-related arrests in the District. Black residents are “eight times more likely than non-blacks to be arrested for marijuana possession,” according to a 2013 study by the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The District’s non-voting congresswoman, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., issued a statement Tuesday before the following day’s vote and criticized Republicans for singling out the city’s decriminalization law.

“I had hoped that D.C. was in good company with the 17 states that had decriminalized marijuana before the city did,” Norton said. “We simply have to fight, and fight we will.”

House Republicans scrutinized D.C.’s decriminalization measure last month, but it was not clear at the time whether they would overrule D.C.’s legislative body.

D.C. decriminalization would not affect GW’s drug enforcement policies. University Police Department Chief Kevin Hay said in October that students caught smoking would still face disciplinary action.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

The Washington Monument’s elevator broke down Wednesday – just two days after it opened for the first time in three years. Photo used under the Creative Commons license.

The Washington Monument’s elevator broke down Wednesday – just two days after it opened for the first time in three years. Photo used under the Creative Commons license.

    Dozens of visitors were temporarily stuck inside the Washington Monument on Wednesday when the elevator’s door broke down, just over 48 hours after the tourist attraction reopened to the public.

    Eighteen elevator passengers eventually exited and 61 other visitors walked almost 900 steps down from the observation deck, the Washington Post reported.

The elevator was out of service from 10:53 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. and all visitors made it down safely, according to the National Park Service.

D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who attended the Monument’s opening ceremony Monday, blasted the breakdown, and said the elevator has the potential to disrupt D.C. tourism.

“This elevator is perhaps more important to the city than any other because the Monument is a big draw for tourism and this elevator transports tourists and residents up for D.C.’s best view,” she said.

The Monument reopened Monday after almost three years renovations following a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that damaged the structure in several places.

  • Permalink
  • Comments

This post was written by assistant news editor Zaid Shoorbajee.

Congress scrutinized D.C.’s proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana Friday, poking holes in the legislation that the federal government has the power to overturn.

A U.S. House of Representatives oversight subcommittee voiced concerns that the measure would have negative effects on public health and questioned whether it would be able to combat racial disparities in drug arrests, which was why many D.C. Council members supported it in March.

Congress has about 50 days to review the law, which Mayor Vincent Gray signed on March 31. Both houses of Congress would have to pass and President Barack Obama would have sign legislation to overturn it.

If approved, those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana in D.C. would face a $25 fine instead of criminal charges. Smoking in public would still be a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting representative in Congress, attacked the hearing because it was the first in more than a decade to only focus on a D.C. law, the Washington Post reported.

Representatives also challenged the measure for possibly conflicting with enforcement of federal law.

Deputy Chief of the U.S. Park Police Robert Mclean said at the hearing that the change wouldn’t impact enforcement on federal land. Federal parks, which make up about 22 percent of the land that falls within city limits, are under the jurisdiction of the Park Police.

Those arrested on federal property for marijuana possession face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said GW would wait until Congress approves the law before it considers changing punishments for marijuana possession on campus. University Police Chief Kevin Hay said in October that students would still face disciplinary action if they are caught smoking in their rooms.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gives his State of the District speech last year. Federal prosecutors are now alleging he knew about the shadow campaign. Hatchet File Photo.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gives his State of the District speech last year. Federal prosecutors are now alleging he knew about the shadow campaign. Hatchet File Photo.

Federal prosecutors said Monday that Mayor Vincent Gray had asked for the help of D.C. businessman Jeffrey Thompson before he illegally funnelled more than a half-million dollars into Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, The Washington Post reported.

Thompson pled guilty to two conspiracy counts Monday, including the financing of a $668,800 shadow campaign for Gray’s first mayoral bid between May and September 2010 – a figure that was higher than previously reported. Prosecutors said that Gray had met with Thompson several times and helped keep Thompson’s identity a secret by calling him “Uncle Earl.”

Gray said Monday that he used the nickname to keep Thompson’s identity a secret from former mayor Adrian Fenty, who also received money. Gray has repeatedly denied knowledge of the fund, though he publicly apologized for the 2010 campaign after launching his reelection bid in January.

He dismissed prosecutor’s charges when talking to a Washington Post reporter Monday.

“It’s shocking to me. Lies. These are lies,” Gray said, adding that Thompson implicated him to lessen the time he’d have to spend in prison.

“The only thing I can tell people is what has been and continues to be the truth for me, and you know what that is. I don’t need to repeat that for the 933rd time,” Gray said.

Thompson could have faced 18 months in prison but as a result of the plea, he will face at most six months in prison and a three-year supervised release.

Thompson’s court appearance, as well as the documents, unveil a tangled web of funding to federal and local political campaigns, which totalled more than $2 million. The cash also went toward Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and Council member Vincent Orange’s 2011 At-Large Council campaign.

Thompson gave money to at least 13 federal candidates – including D.C.’s delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton – between 2006 and 2010, according to the documents.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen described the court appearance as a “major turning point” though he said there were “varying degrees of knowledge” about the funds among the candidates who received funding from Thompson. Machen declined to comment if Gray had cooperated with the investigation.

“What you learned about today was only the tip of the iceberg,” Machen said, adding there was no timeline to release more information about Gray before April’s Democratic mayoral primary.

Thompson said at the hearing that Orange – who is also running for mayor – did not know about the fund.

In a release, Gray’s campaign manager Chuck Thies cautioned about the “innuendo” of the charges.

“The Jeffrey Thompson charging document should be read carefully. Common misconceptions espoused by our opponents and echoed in the media are not substantiated in the Jeffrey Thompson charging documents. Read carefully,” Thies said.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Hatchet File Photo

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Hatchet File Photo

It’s day eight of the government shutdown, and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray warned the Obama administration that the city is barely holding on.

Gray penned a letter to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, demanding that he free “innocent bystanders,” like District residents, from the shutdown order.

“Time is running out,” Gray said. “I have done all I possibly can to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of District residents is not endangered by a crisis that our city has had no hand in creating.”

The mayor, who is an alumnus, has adamantly opposed the shutdown. He ordered D.C. agencies last week to remain open, even though the city’s checkbook technically closed Oct. 1.

Gray argued that because D.C. does not have a vote in Congress, its residents – and its budget – should not be impacted by the fiscal crisis.

The House passed a bill last week allowing city leaders to spend tax dollars during the shutdown, but the Senate blocked the measure. The bill would have relieved the District until Dec. 15.

So far, Gray has scraped together funds to remain open despite the shutdown, though the city’s $140 million reserve fund may soon drain from the city’s emergency budget.

Employee paychecks totaling $98 million are due Oct. 15.

In a Tuesday press conference, Obama renewed his call for the House to pass legislation ending the shutdown. “Let’s stop the excuses,” Obama said.

Gray will head to the Hill on Monday, flanked by D.C. council members and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to continue laying out his demands.

  • Permalink
  • Comments (1)

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Tiana Pigford.

Fifty years after civil rights trail blazers demanded racial equality on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, their children and grandchildren joined thousands of others Saturday to commemorate their struggle.

On GW’s move-in day, more than 50 students were part of the anniversary march across the National Mall, sharing stories of the challenges their ancestors faced as immigrants or as members of ethnic or racial minorities.

Senior Danica Brown, president of the Black Student Union, said the original march impacted her parents, who emigrated from Jamaica and had their outlook on civil rights shaped by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

But, Brown said, “today is not just about Dr. King’s speech. It’s about the mobilization of people all over the country and all over the world and being inspired.”

Demonstrators started off at the D.C. War Memorial, where Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., declared the fight for equality far from over, especially in the District. The officials spoke out for D.C. statehood and congressional voting rights.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., spoke out for D.C. statehood rights Saturday. Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

Attorney General Eric Holder and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also spoke during events throughout the day.

Bryson Thomas, director of multicultural affairs for the Student Association, said he took part in the march to honor his grandparents, who were expelled from schools in New Orleans because of their race.

Marchers from across the country bore signs and sported t-shirts that blasted the Supreme Court’s recent ruling to strike down a part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a jury’s decision to acquit George Zimmerman of murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. Both events stirred national discourse over the summer about race, including a candid speech from President Barack Obama, who will speak Wednesday on the anniversary of King’s speech.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion coordinated the GW-led group, which included members of the University’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Racially and Ethnically Mixed Student Association.

Camille Milton, a freshman from Indiana, said the event helped take note of political issues like minimum wage laws.

“There are so many issues that need to be addressed, and you can’t just do that by talking to your friends about it. I’m glad that I can physically be here and not just think about it from home,” she said.

Whitney Dixon, the leader of the NAACP chapter at GW, echoed political commentators when she said many of the problems brought to the national agenda in 1963 were still unresolved.

“We should always be working towards progress. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that things had been better than his ancestors, but he wanted the best. He wanted change. It didn’t matter if it seemed unrealistic. He wanted that dream and that’s why I’m here today,” Dixon said.

Thousands gathered on the National Mall on Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

  • Permalink
  • Comments

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this weekend. Hatchet file photo

The historic March on Washington not only changed a national conversation about race, but also paved the way for mass demonstrations to actually affect policy, the District’s delegate to Congress said this week.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was 26 years old and living in D.C. during the march, told PBS NewsHour Wednesday that the 200,000-person march was “the dawning of a new era.”

“Now, that mold has set the pattern for marches that are held on every conceivable subject today,” Norton said. “It broke open the notion that mass movements couldn’t happen. We had just come out of the fifties, which were the most complacent of decades.”

That summer in 1963, Norton joined civil rights leader Bayard Rustin in D.C. to help organize the march.

“We had no precedent to follow. The officials in Washington, from the president on down, were very afraid of what they hadn’t seen before. They would have preferred that there be no March on Washington,” Norton said.

The city is gearing up for the 50th anniversary of the march this weekend, with Norton slated to participate in multiple events, including the “March for Jobs and Justice” on the Mall, which will culminate in a speech by President Barack Obama.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has served as the District’s representative in Congress since 1991, has celebrated multiple moves by the federal government to grant the city budget autonomy. Hatchet File Photo

A Senate committee signed off on a bill Thursday freeing up the District’s tax dollars without congressional approval – the latest legal success that could allow for greater budget autonomy.

While the measure clashes with a spending bill in the House of Representatives, it comes days after Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. introduced a separate bill Tuesday to amend the D.C. Home Rule Act and allow the city to spend funds without congressional approval.

D.C. has historically aligned its fiscal year with the federal government’s on Oct. 1, but most states begin July 1 to allow for school budget use.

“The District has now moved closer to budget autonomy than ever in its history,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said of the Senate bill in a statement Friday. She is the District’s lone, nonvoting representative in Congress.

The city’s budget autonomy referendum, which was approved in April, will also go into effect next year after Congress allowed the legislative review period to expire this week.

Congress could pass a law nullifying the referendum retrospectively, but the Post reported President Barack Obama and the Democrat-lead Senate are unlikely to support such action.

The House bill, which a committee advanced last week, also cuts federal funding for D.C. by 6 percent. The other chamber’s proposal slightly increased funding, which makes up about 2 percent of the District’s budget and mostly pays for its court system.

The Senate committee measure would also end a restriction on D.C. from spending taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions for low-income women, but the House bill leaves the ban intact.

  • Permalink
  • Comments
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has served as the District’s lone delegate to Congress since 1991, lashed out at a Republican congressman this week for his plans to propose a bill that would ban the city’s traffic camera system. Hatchet File Photo.

A Republican congressman from Michigan is moving forward with a bill to ban traffic cameras in D.C., which the city’s sole representative in Congress has attacked as an intrusion into local affairs.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. is fighting against  the possible legislation by Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., which would ban red light and speed cameras.

“In the District of Columbia, like everywhere else, local traffic laws are written by local elected officials, not members of Congress who are unaccountable to D.C. residents,” Norton said in a release.

“If Representative Bentivolio wants to write local traffic rules, he should resign from Congress and run for local office in Michigan,” she added.

Bentivolio has not yet introduced the bill, but found two co-sponsors, Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., and Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, a spokesman for Norton wrote in an email Thursday.

Norton has railed against his effort as the “anti self-government” bill.

A dozen states have tried to outlaw their speed camera systems, which are used by hundreds of jurisdictions in 24 states, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Proponents claim the cameras allow police officers to focus on other crimes, while skeptics argue they can deprive drivers of due process.

A survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety earlier this year found that the majority of D.C. residents — 87 percent — supported the use of red-light cameras and 76 percent supported the speed camera system.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent Gray, told the DCist that the camera system has helped lower traffic fatalities in the city by 73 percent since 2001. Speed and red-light cameras also generated $85 million in revenue during the last fiscal year.

The draft bill comes as home-rule advocates have long fought to obtain a voting representative in Congress or even have the federal government grant the District statehood. Residents voted overwhelmingly in April to give D.C. power to spend its own tax dollars without congressional approval, but lawmakers can still push bills, such as the 2012 effort to ban abortions after 20 weeks, if they do not live in the District.

  • Permalink
  • Comments