- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and D.C.-rights advocates will resurrect their “D.C. Full Democracy Rally and March” in conjunction with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, now scheduled for Oct. 16.

Plans for the rally, initially scheduled for the day before the memorial ceremony, were scrapped last month along with the dedication when Hurricane Irene swept up the East Coast. About 250,000 people were expected to attend events in the District honoring the slain civil rights leader that were to culminate in the Aug. 28 dedication of the memorial on the Tidal Basin.

The White House said Tuesday that President Obama, who had been scheduled to speak at the August event, would speak at the rescheduled ceremony.

Beyond that, plans for the dedication were uncertain. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, which is organizing the dedication, did not return calls for comment and no updated event information was posted on the group’s website.

Mr. Gray had announced plans to highlight D.C. rights in the spirit of King, who in 1965 said that Congress had been “derelict” in its duty to make freedom a reality for all residents of the District, the mayor said.

Now, his office appears to be taking the lead on rescheduling the rally in a reboot of D.C.-centric events that were scheduled around the initial dedication date.

D.C. Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said a firm date and other plans will probably come into focus over the next few days, but his organization is waiting on Mr. Gray’s office to decide “what they want to do and when and how.”

“We are moving forward with the rally and other related activities, building upon what was done last month,” Linda Wharton-Boyd, a spokeswoman for Mr. Gray, said on Tuesday.

Mr. Gray had asked the city’s Office of Motion Picture and Television Development to find celebrities willing to do 30-second media spots in support of the District, although it appears no one has been enlisted so far.

“We are renewing our efforts now that there has been a confirmed date for the MLK events,” Leslie Green, a spokeswoman for the motion picture office, said on Tuesday.

Organizers will also look to the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose march for jobs and justice was supposed to link up with the D.C. autonomy march on its way to the MLK memorial along the Tidal Basin.

Plans for the rally are coming together amid mounting fears of congressional intervention in D.C. affairs. The U.S. Senate scheduled mark-ups this week on appropriations bills that include funding for the District, placing groups like D.C. Vote on high alert.

City advocates are girding for the possibility that legislative riders might be attached to funding bills, prohibiting spending of city money on controversial social programs.

One such rider, to prevent the District from using local dollars to fund abortions for low-income women, was included in a short-term spending measure in April and also submitted by the House Appropriations Committee over the summer.

“I would suspect the same folks who pushed for that rider will push for it again,” Mr. Zherka said.

On Monday, nearly 60 House Democrats signed on to a letter that urges appropriators from their party in both chambers of Congress “to protect the health and reproductive rights of low-income women in the District of Columbia.”

“Republicans have spent much of the 112th Congress interfering in local District matters,” the letter said. “Each time Democrats accede to violations of the Districts home rule, we embolden Republicans to continue their attacks.”

Mr. Zherka said he is pleased that D.C. programs such as medical marijuana have not been infringed by Congress.

However, he added, “We’re not going to stop just ‘cause there’s one rider.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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