- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2000

Washington, D.C.'s leaders gathered at New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest yesterday to rally support among city residents for restoring the District's full vote in Congress.

During the morning service, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams encouraged the church's congregation to join a letter-writing campaign to win back the delegate's House voting privileges that were taken away by the 104th Congress in 1995.

Mrs. Norton said denying residents their right to voting representation in Congress while having them pay federal taxes is "an unfair infringement on their civil rights." Under the law, delegates to the House have the responsibilities and privileges of any other member of Congress except the right to vote on final passage of legislation.

District residents, Mrs. Norton said, are the only Americans who pay federal taxes but are denied a voice in the House and Senate.

"It's very simple," Mrs. Norton told about 100 congregants at the church, whose pastor, the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, was the city's first delegate to Congress. "If you pay taxes, then you deserve your vote back."

Yesterday's event was part of a monthlong effort called the "Give It Back" campaign, aimed at convincing the 107th Congress to return the District's vote on the House floor. The new Congress will vote on rules that could include the D.C. vote on Jan. 3.

"This is a matter of simple justice," said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, a national organization that has organized the campaign. "We have to remember [the late civil rights leader] Martin Luther King Jr., who said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Justice matters."

During the two-hour church service, Mr. Fauntroy and his successor, Mrs. Norton, asked city residents to write letters to members of Congress and members of the House Rules Committee, urging their elected officials to restore the city delegate's vote.

"It's time to get up and take back our vote," Mr. Fauntroy told congregants during his sermon. "It's time to end this tyranny of taxation without representation. It's time for a new day."

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat, won a vote for the city residents in the Committee of the Whole in 1993 when she submitted a legal memorandum. In the memo, Mrs. Norton stated that since the delegate already had a full vote in the House committees, he or she should be allowed to vote on the House floor in the Committee of the Whole, where nearly all of the House's floor business is conducted.

At the time, a Democratic-controlled House gave the delegates from the District, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and American Samoa the right to vote on the House floor. The vote was voided, though, if it was the deciding one.

Soon after, the U.S. District Court and the Court of Appeals affirmed the right of the House to grant a city delegate's vote on the House floor.

Two years later, in 1995, Republicans, who had gained control of the House, howled that the move was simply a bid by Democrats to increase their power. All five delegates were Democrats.

Republican leaders said the District and the territories were not entitled to full-fledged votes because they were not states. As a result, the House approved a provision to strip the House's five delegates, including Mrs. Norton, of the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

Since then, Mrs. Norton has repeatedly testified before the House Rules Committee prior to each Congress, asking for a return of the District's vote. The delegates from other U.S. territories have not made any efforts to regain their votes.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said getting back the vote surpasses party lines. "It's not a liberal thing or a Republican thing," the mayor said. "It's the right thing."

Without a vote, the mayor said, the city doesn't have a voice in Congress. "What is fair about our citizens paying taxes and not have a vote in Congress?" Mr. Williams asked the congregants. "It is fundamentally unfair and not right."

The campaign ends with a prayer vigil Jan. 2 on Capitol Hill, the day before the new Congress is expected to vote on the D.C. vote status.

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