Officials in the District are accustomed to asking Congress for full voting rights on behalf of the city’s 600,000 residents or for greater control of city finances - and getting no satisfaction.
So when members of Congress proposed the “nationalization” of the District of Columbia World War I Memorial — the only memorial on the Mall exclusively for D.C. veterans — city officials did not jump to support the plan.
“The District of Columbia Memorial is for the people of the District of Columbia and it will never be otherwise,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting member of Congress, said Monday.
She made the comment a day before the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands is scheduled to consider a bill that would rededicate the city’s memorial as the District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican, and a companion bill by Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, also would rededicate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., as the National World War I Museum and Memorial.
No national memorial to the “great war” has been built on the Mall, and a 2003 law essentially bans new memorials on the strip of federal land. The Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial dedicated in October marked the end of large-scale construction.
The D.C. memorial, dedicated by President Hoover in 1931, honors the 26,000 city residents who fought in World War I and, among them, the 499 who never made it home.
The World War I Memorial Foundation supports Mr. Poe’s bill as a way to highlight the coming centennial of the 1914-18 conflict to make sure it is not marginalized in the annals of U.S. history.
Their principals say they want to elevate the local memorial, not take away from it, with minimal adornments that do not significantly alter the monument.
City officials have said they support a national memorial on the Mall that would accompany monuments to World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. But they are not fond of using their own memorial to accomplish that goal.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said almost every state in the country has a World War I memorial of their own.
“Why can’t we retain what we already have?” Mr. Gray said. “We should resist this with every fiber of our being.”
Asked whether the memorial could be used as leverage in the city’s ongoing fight for full voting rights in Congress or statehood, Mr. Gray said that is not his intention.
“I would think it wouldn’t come to that,” he said.
Some proponents of a national memorial point to Pershing Park, named for World War I Gen. John J. Pershing and located near the White House, as an alternative location.
The existing memorial is north of the King memorial in West Potomac Park, tucked into a clearing about halfway between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The National Park Service and city officials celebrated the reopening of the memorial in November after a yearlong, $2.3 million project to refurbish the domed, round, columned structure and conduct much-needed landscaping around the site.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Kerwin E. Miller, chairman of Mrs. Norton’s U.S. Service Academy Nomination Board, said he is “truly shocked and personally offended” by moves to nationalize the site.
“We’re mad as hell,” he said, “and we’re not going to take it anymore.”