Vince Gray might be right man for new time, D.C. voting rights advocates say

September 16, 2010 - 04:27 PM
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The push for congressional representation for the District may get an energy boost now that Vincent Gray – a true believer – is poised to become mayor.

It’s true: there’s a harsh irony in the timing of his ascendancy. The November 2nd election that seals his win could also usher in a new political environment that makes the city’s push for enfranchisement even more difficult. But backers of the city’s fight for a vote in the U.S. House see a silver lining.

“We might be getting the right person at the right time,” says DC Vote’s Ilir Zherka.

The District’s second-class status on Capitol Hill never reached the top of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s to-do list. He started strong, says Zherka, pointing to the administration’s active involvement in the April 2007 voting rights march, “but we haven’t seen that level of energy in the last couple of years.”

Michael A. Brown, chairman of the D.C. Council Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, says “I don’t think anyone would dispute that” Fenty put more emphasis on other issues. As a result, there was “a lack of partnership” with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Vincent Gray, by contrast, speaks frequently and passionately about the city’s lack of congressional representation, and he may not limit himself to those roles proscribed by Norton. He talked during the campaign about the need for city leaders and residents to be more active, including possible acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to the cause.

And that may be a good thing, says Zherka, who wants Democratic leaders to move a measure giving D.C. a vote in the House – without NRA-backed gun amendments – during a lame-duck session after the election.

“The next Congress is going to harder for us,” he tells TBD, a reference to the widespread belief that Republicans, who frequently oppose measures backed by city leaders, will gain a significant number of seats in November. “We need some urgency right now. Congress hasn’t fully adjourned and there are some efforts that we need to engage in a little more loudly and a little more urgently.”

Gray’s willingness to confront the city’s opponents in Congress may also be helpful if a new GOP majority tries to reverse measures passed during the past two years, including needle exchange, medical marijuana and gay marriage.

Lastly, if Gray and Fenty want an issue on which they can work together during the transition – perhaps to help close whatever racial gap that may have opened during the campaign, a united front on the Hill would the perfect place, says Zherka.

“That would be a great way to unite the city.”

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