D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray is again using the dedication of the Martin Luther King National Memorial on the Mall to help draw attention to the city's efforts to achieve voting rights in Congress. But this time he must also rekindle the momentum he generated earlier this year and channel the energy of competing interests.
Mr. Gray, a Democrat, took the decades-long effort to achieve voting rights to new heights in April when he and several City Council members were arrested on Capitol Hill during a protest sponsored by the D.C. Vote group over a federal spending deal that imposed controversial riders on the District.
Six months later, the attention of city residents along with the rest of Americans seems to have refocused on such issues as the economy and who they will elect to lead the country out of a malaise.
Even the mayor has acknowledged the predicament — as his voting-rights rallies must share space Saturday on Freedom Plaza with anti-government, anti-corporate protesters who have grabbed attention since setting up camp there last week.
Mr. Gray said city leaders thought the "stars were aligned" to improve D.C. home-rule when President Obama, a Democrat, was elected in 2008 with a Democrat-controlled Congress.
"But we're no further along than we were then," he said this week. "And frankly, once again, it underscores to me that if we don't take control of our own destiny, we shouldn't expect someone to do it for us."
Even, Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, acknowledged this week that the energy from earlier this year might be tough to recapture.
In the days prior to the original Aug. 28 dedication ceremony, canceled because of Hurricane Irene, Mr. Gray helped organize a series of events to highlight efforts to achieve voting rights.
Among the events were a special preview of the King memorial for District residents, a Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue street dedication, a welcoming reception for out-of-town dignitaries and a D.C. Full Democracy Freedom rally and march.
"The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a revolution that transformed the world," Mr. Gray said at the time. "We in the District of Columbia are taking that revolution to the next level in our quest for self-determination."
Saturday's rally is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. amid the anti-government, anti-corporate protesters who, for their part, have embraced the city leaders' efforts and have eagerly offered to move their tents, sleeping bags and otherwise share space.
Mr. Gray will be joined by former presidential candidate and activist Ralph Nader.
Earlier this week, Mr. Nader called the District's lack of representation in Congress "inexplicable" and without justification, given the United States' history of establishing voting rights for both genders and all races.
"It's because the determination to make this a top priority is not there," said Mr. Nader, who proposed a limited work strike at D.C. businesses to drive home the point.
District residents have congressional representation in Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she does not have full House voting privileges.
Mr. Gray, city officials and other pro-District marchers are also scheduled Saturday to join the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network March for Jobs and Justice at the Sylvan Theater on 15th Street and Independence Avenue Northwest.
Metropolitan Police officials said they will have extra officers in place over the weekend in anticipation of 50,000 or more visitors.
The Metro system will open two hours early Sunday, at 5 a.m., and run more eight-car trains to accommodate the influx of riders for the King memorial dedication, said agency General Manager Richard Sarles.
Mr. Sarles said riders heading to the memorial should consider using the L'Enfant Plaza or Arlington National Cemetery stops instead of getting off at the Smithsonian station, which is often busy, or at Foggy Bottom, which has ongoing escalator maintenance.
"The walk is about the same and the experience will be more pleasant," he said.
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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