News and Analysis


Eleanor Holmes Norton

John Oliver may have just made himself the apple of every D.C. politician’s eye.

The host of the HBO satirical news show “Last Week Tonight” advocated for D.C. statehood Sunday night – with song – arousing praise from the D.C. community who objects to the District’s inability to pass laws or define its own budget without Congressional approval.

“There is one other U.S. population who suffers a lack of representation in D.C., and that is D.C. itself,” Oliver said on the show. “If you’ve ever visited, their license plates say ‘taxation without representation,’ and that is for a pretty good reason.”

The show included a run-down on the origins of the District’s political situation and showed clips of D.C.’S non-voting Congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, standing her ground on statehood in an argument. D.C. residents only received the right to vote in presidential elections with the 23rd amendment in the 1960s and only being able to elect its own mayor and council members with the creation of the Home Rule Act in the next decade.

Oliver cited a number of incidents in recent D.C. history he considered unfair, including D.C.’s inability to use tax money to legalize the sale of marijuana, even though the city allows residents to grow, smoke and possess the substance for recreational use. The show also mentioned Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga, voting against D.C. using its tax money for a needle exchange program in the city, although Barr’s home state of Georgia has its own needle program.

“It seems that Congress just forces riders on D.C. whenever they disapprove on how they’re spending their money,” Oliver said. “They are treating more than 600,000 people right now like children.”

Oliver’s comments have lead local politicians such as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council members to chime in on the debate and support Oliver’s statements.

The topic of D.C. statehood was discussed for the first time in more than 20 years in the U.S. Senate last year when Norton, along with then-mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and two senators argued for statehood. Since leaving office in January, Gray has been working to strengthen the statehood movement in the District.

D.C. Council Member Anita Bonds, At-Large, also introduced a resolution for D.C. statehood to the National Conference of State Legislators Summit in Seattle, Washington, which lasts from Monday through Thursday, according to a press release. Council members Vincent Orange, At-Large, Charles Allen from Ward 6, and Kenyan McDuffie from Ward 5, were also a part of submitting the resolution.

Missed Oliver’s segment? Be sure to watch it below.

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University President Steven Knapp awarded the highest award he can give, the George Washington University President’s Metal, to crooner Tony Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto, for their dedication to the arts at the Corcoran building Thursday night.

“It’s a particular pleasure to recognize the contributions of Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto to arts education at the home of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, one of the most iconic buildings in our nation’s capital,” Knapp said in a press release.

The award ceremony Thursday included a private exhibit of 18 pieces of Bennett’s art, two of which are from the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection: a portrait of Duke Ellington and a painting of Central Park. Bennett’s portrait of Ella Fitzgerald is also housed in a Smithsonian collection.

University presidents award the President’s Medal to people who “have exhibited courage, character and leadership in their chosen fields and who exemplify the ability of all human beings to improve the lives of others,” according to the release. The award was established in 1988, and previous recipients include former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and journalist Walter Cronkite.

Fellow singer Lady Gaga, who has recorded an album with Bennett, put in an appearance with her parents, as did Kim Sajet, the director of the National Portrait Gallery and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

“I could never dream of anything this beautiful happening to me. After years of work and wondering where it is all going to end up, this is a great experience in my life,” Bennett said in the release.

Bennett received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from GW in 2001 when he was honored at that year’s Commencement ceremony.

Bennett was also an advocate for civil rights and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, in addition to refusing to perform in South Africa during the apartheid. He also raises money to diabetes and cancer research, and his artwork is on the cover of the American Cancer Society’s holiday card every year.

Bennett and Benedetto founded the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, where Benedetto previously served as a social studies teacher and the principal. The couple also founded the nonprofit arts education organization, Exploring the Arts, which has partnerships with 23 public schools in New York City and Los Angeles.

“All students deserve access to a high-quality education, and a belief in the profound impact of the arts, is what fuels our work,” Benedetto said in the release. “A very heartfelt thank you to Tony for exemplifying the power of the arts, the importance of giving back and inspiring us all in the process.”

Benedetto, who is a graduate of Fordham University and Columbia University’s Teachers College, was also the owner of an artist consultation and management firm Creative Artists Management.

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The District’s Circulator bus will begin its new route through the National Mall this Sunday, according to Greater Greater Washington.

The Circulator’s new route was mad possible by funding from the National Park Service that began in 2011, a change that allows the bus to now provide service through the interior of the Mall. The District Department of Transportation announced the new route in December.

The bus will provide service until 8 p.m. in the summer and 7 p.m. in the winter. The route will begin at Union Station and continue along Louisiana Avenue and through the Mall by Madison Drive, West Basin Drive, Ohio Drive, Constitution Avenue and Jefferson Drive.

The Circulator ceased services on a route near but not inside the National Mall in 2011, the same year the D.C. interpretive tour service Tourmobile shut down. Sunday will mark the first public bus service on the Mall since then.

Due to the expected increase in bus demand, DDOT purchased 18 new hybrid buses, bringing the Circulator fleet to a total of 67 buses. The new buses include improved air conditioning units and 19 USB ports on each for charging electronics.

The department will host a launch event for the new route this Friday at 11 a.m. at the Lincoln Memorial. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) are expected to attend.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter Henry Klapper.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D–D.C.) hosted a panel on threats to women’s reproductive health in a talk at GW Hospital Tuesday.

Norton spoke alongside leaders from Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Rights Action League. The group urged the audience to “Fight for our right to choose.”

1. Spreading awareness

Norton said women need to “go on the offensive” in the fight for women’s rights to make choices about their reproductive health. She said being aware was the first step to reforming anti-abortion laws across the nation.

“Nothing is more under attack than reproductive choice in America today,” Norton said.

Norton said that the progress made for women in the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision is quickly being lost following Republican efforts at the state and federal levels.

In 2013, nearly two dozen states enacted 70 anti-abortion regulations ranging from requirements at clinics to bans on insurance coverage of abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“We need to be visible in the fight,” said Norton. “We need evidence of our consciousness.”

Jacqueline Ayers, director of legislative affairs of Planned Parenthood said women need to be vocal about “anything that interferes with our health.”

2. Not just a woman’s problem

Norton said that reproductive health is a broader family issue – not just a woman’s problem.

The panel invited several guest speakers to share their stories on the importance of giving a woman the right to choose.

One speaker was Christy Zink, an assistant writing professor and the director of the University Writing Center. Zink shared her story about the decision she and her husband made to terminate her second pregnancy after she learned her child would be born with a birth defect that would lead to severe pain and constant seizures.

“The choice didn’t come out of laziness, contrary to the common arguments against abortion,” Zink said, adding that she was speaking as a mother at the panel, not a professor.

3. Call to action

Norton repeatedly said pro-choice women need to make themselves visible – and make themselves heard.

“There are disadvantages to social media,” Norton said. “You need to march, you need to demonstrate evidence of your ideas.”

She said students should be “on the front lines” of fighting for reproductive rights. She said she decided to hold the panel at GW because she was “very impressed” with students’ activism around the issue.

Shannon MacLeod, the president of GW Voices for Choices, also spoke at the panel.

“Choice is an issue that directly affects young women,” MacLeod said. “Women are extremely affected by the stigma around abortion in the media and women are paying attention to it. People aren’t aware of what they are facing.”

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Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 11:21 p.m.

Holmes Norton wins re-election

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who has served as the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress since 1991, is projected to have won re-election, according to the Washington Post. Hatchet File Photo

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Pim Anukularmphai.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., was re-elected as the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress on Tuesday, the Washington Post has projected.

With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting as of about 11:15 p.m., Norton had received 85 percent of the vote.

Norton ran against Independent candidate Timothy Krepp, D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate Natale Stracuzzi and Republican candidate Nelson Rimensnyder.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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