- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

A few months back, the District’s congressional representative picked a fight over school vouchers with Rep. Jeff Flake, who D.C. School Choice Act would provide children with $45 million over five years for educational scholarship to the school of their parents’ choosing. “If he wants a fight, he will get one — a big one,” Mrs. Norton said. Last week, she spewed nasty words at Mayor Tony Williams, who has finally come around to appreciate the academic opportunities offered by vouchers. Mrs. Norton said the mayor is “selling out” home rule and “shopping home rule” for federal money. Don’t be too surprised by Mrs. Norton’s rhetoric. After all, if you were in her shoes, facing that glass ceiling in the U.S. Capitol, you’d be frustrated, too, with no where to turn. That frustration, however, does not grant Mrs. Norton the right to stand Orval Faubus-like at the schoolhouse door.

That is precisely what she did last Thursday at a charter school in Southeast. Mrs. Norton was there under the pretense of a new pro-school choice but anti-voucher coalition. But, when two dozen honest pro-choice parents came knocking, Mrs. Norton denied them entry — ugly shades of Arkansas Gov. Faubus and the National Guard in 1957. “There is no more important civil right than the right to a good education,” says one of the shut-out moms, Virginia Walden Ford.

Much has been said about Mrs. Norton’s outrageous behavior, and it’s anyone’s guess what she’ll do or say next year — the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, and when the mayor and parents hope that the voucher plan will be in effect.

But, if I were a wagering woman, I wouldn’t put my hard-earned dollars on Mrs. Norton being anti-voucher because she walks in lock step with the teachers and the Teamsters unions, as many of her fellow Democrats are. Mrs. Norton’s problem, and it is indeed a huge problem, is that her politics have become flawlessly self-serving — for several reasons.

Rhetoric is Eleanor Norton’s only weapon on Capitol Hill. She is the District’s nonvoting delegate. She has no vote. The District has no senators — just so-called shadow senators and representatives, lurking around the halls of Congress and state legislatures and trying to gin up support for Mrs. Norton’s push for full congressional voting rights.

So, Mrs. Norton is in a very small and lonely place. She can’t run for higher office, because there is no higher office. No Senate seat. No gubernatorial race or governor’s mansion to look forward to. There is nowhere for Mrs. Norton to turn — except to her House colleagues, who have their own political hides to think about every two years.

Those are the cold realities for this native Washingtonian, who placed so much on the line to win her first election in 1990 (amid serious allegations of tax evasion). Another is the tough fights she had in the 1990s, after Republicans won control of the House and placed her politically and financially bankrupt hometown on a very, and necessarily so, short leash. It was a particularly tough time for Mrs. Norton, who oftentimes was but many times wasn’t in the room when congressional leaders discussed the city’s bumpy ride toward reconstruction.

For Mrs. Norton, unlike the city’s other elected leaders, it hit her hard when she lost her vote in the House. No vote, no bargaining chips. No bargaining chips, you have to take whatever comes down the pike — and say thanks.

Now, with the mayor and other important liberal voices coming out in support of vouchers, another reality is smacking Mrs. Norton in the face as she tries to protect her home turf on the Hill and watch her back at the same time — something that isn’t easy to accomplish.

While parents, Education Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous and School Board Chairman Pegy Cooper Cafritz are trying to improve the city’s educational offerings for youths, what does Mrs. Norton do? Well, besides blocking the schoolhouse door, Mrs. Norton is taking on the mayor, essentially daring him not to run against her.

What else to make of her I-guess-he-doesn’t-want-to-run-for-mayor-again quote? What else to make of her calling him a sellout?

Surely, Tony Williams doesn’t want to run for a third mayoral term. And I can’t imagine him as chairman of the D.C. Council. He can’t run for the Senate or governor. And the shadow congressional seats are, well, a long-running joke. (Ask Jesse Jackson.)

Tony Williams should be thinking about moving up to Capitol Hill. Rep. Tony Williams has a nice ring. Besides, why not? Eleanor Holmes Norton certainly is thinking about her political longevity.

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