- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Good neighbors are as precious as rare gems and as difficult to come by for too many who spread terrible “knucklehead neighbors” tales.

President-elect Barack Obama and his family have barely moved to the nation’s capital and already Washingtonians are reeling from the positive and negative effects of the presence of their new neighbors.

Traffic tie-ups and long delays marked the first family-elect’s back-to-work and school Monday as media hounds hawked the Obama girls on their first day to the posh private Sidwell Friends School in Northwest.

Let’s not make that gridlocked trek a daily occurrence, not just for the sake of stressed area commuters but more for the privacy of the young girls, Malia and Sasha.

In an initial show of good neighborliness, Mr. Obama and the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Monday that the main ball on Jan. 20 will be dubbed a “Neighborhood Ball” and focus on average Americans, particularly those disenfranchised residents of the District.

“This is an inauguration for all Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “I want to make sure that we had an event that would be open to our new neighborhood here in Washington, D.C., and also neighborhoods across the country.”

All Americans? Surely Mr. Obama knows that D.C. residents do not enjoy the fundamental rights of “all Americans.”

Tickets are specifically being set aside for D.C. residents to attend the premiere event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, named after the city’s first elected mayor, and “will be free or at an affordable price.”

How nice of you, neighbor.

No word yet, though, on whether the limousine transporting the historic 44th president down America’s Main Street will display the “Taxation without Representation” license plates, as the D.C. Council requested to subtly let the world know that 600,000 Americans do not have voting rights in Congress.

Symbolic gestures are fine, but they are no substitute for the real thing.

No doubt D.C. residents are pleased that the president-elect is hosting a party, in part, to recognize his new neighbors, but they may be even more welcome if he got the leaders of his party to enact legislation that would grant the city’s only delegate a vote in the House, ASAP.

“Obama in the house.” What about “Dee Cee” in the House?

On Tuesday, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, reintroduced the D.C. House Voting Rights Act as Congress began its 111th session.

The bill, which raises the number of U.S. representatives from 435 to 437, allows for one vote for D.C. residents, who are predominantly Democrats, and an additional vote for Utah citizens, who are predominantly Republicans.

“Straight out the box, let’s do it,” Mrs. Norton said Tuesday.

For starters, D.C. voting rights advocates are more hopeful than they have been in decades because Mr. Obama, as a senator, was a co-sponsor of the last congressional attempt to win D.C. voting rights when the bill passed the House and was narrowly defeated in the Senate. The certainty of a presidential veto of the measure has been removed.

President Bush did not favor D.C. voting rights and removed the “Taxation without Representation” D.C. tags from the presidential limousine after his predecessor, Bill Clinton, left office. Also, many of the Republicans who opposed the bill on constitutional grounds were not re-elected.

Mrs. Norton, a constitutional scholar and law professor like Mr. Obama, said national polls, some conducted by the nonprofit organization DC Vote, indicated that “Our bill has broad bipartisan support from the American people.”

It must be noted here, however, that some longtime D.C. residents do not support this legislation because they prefer full voting rights in both chambers of Congress as well as statehood for the capital of the free world.

“The righting of this historic wrong is long overdue,” said Mr. Lieberman. “The people of the District have been the direct target of a terrorist attack but they have no vote on how the federal government provides for their homeland security. Men and women of the District have fought bravely in our wars, many giving their lives in defense of our country, yet they have no vote on the serious questions of war and peace.

“It is time to grant a vote to those citizens living in our nation’s capital so their voices can be rightfully heard as we debate the great issues of our time,” he said.

With those “weighty issues” coming before Congress, such as the stimulus package, Mrs. Norton said it is important now more than ever for D.C. residents to have a say in “the future of this nation.”

“This should not be a hard vote for anybody, certainly not for Democrats who have had [D.C. voting rights] in their platform for decades,” she said.

Though she seeks a speedy passage, last month Mrs. Norton sent a letter asking congressional leaders to follow the suggestion of Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, to set a passage date close to Feb. 17. That day coincides with the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth and the centennial of the NAACP’s founding.

Since its inception as the federal city, D.C. residents have been under the yoke of congressional overseers, a long line of state’s rights advocates, who would not stand for national intervention in local laws. For example, this city’s children, unlike Malia and Sasha, have been forced to endure all manner of educational experiments mandated by Congress and still do not have decent schooling. To this day, even the city’s budget, raised by local residents and businesses, requires congressional approval.

It may not be a clear analogy, as Mrs. Norton suggests, but allow me this indulgence. Clearly, Illinois politicians and officials are not so aware of the District’s congressional sub-status. Some, including Democratic Rep. Danny K. Davis, bristled at the way they viewed Congress, more specifically the Senate, as meddling in their state’s affairs.

Even prior to Tuesday’s rejection of tainted Democratic Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich’s controversial appointment of Roland Burris, a former Illinois attorney general, to the Senate seat vacated by Mr. Obama, Mr. Davis asked, “How can [Senator] Harry Reid determine who can get elected to what in Illinois?”

Mr. Burris said at an earlier rally, “Faced with these challenges and challenged with these crises, it is incomprehensible that the people of the great state of Illinois will enter the 111th Congress short-handed.”

No kidding. Welcome, new Windy City neighbors, to non-voting “Dee Cee.”

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