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DC Voters to Consider Statehood

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    In the District, residents will get to vote on whether they want statehood - lthough the vote won't necessarily get the District any closer to that far-fetched destination. News4's Kristin Wright reports. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016)

    Turning the District of Columbia into the nation's 51st state has long been a popular political position among city residents and their elected leaders. On Tuesday, they'll get to vote on whether they want statehood - although the vote won't necessarily get the District any closer to that far-fetched destination.

    The statehood referendum provides the most intrigue to a sleepy general election in the nation's capital, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 12-to-1. Hillary Clinton is expected to easily win the District's three electoral votes. President Barack Obama received more than 90 percent of the District's vote in each of his campaigns.

    On the statehood question, voters will be asked to endorse a draft constitution that would have city residents electing a governor, not a mayor, and a 21-seat state legislature instead of a city council. The constitution includes new borders for the proposed state, with the White House, the Capitol and the National Mall carved out as a separate federal enclave.

    Ann Loikow, a longtime statehood advocate, said she's excited to vote for the referendum despite some concerns about how the constitution was crafted.

    "It's our first chance at a public opinion poll of the voters since 1982 of whether they're for statehood,'' Loikow said. "It's a positive step because it's got people talking about it.''

    If the constitution is approved as expected, city leaders would then submit it to Congress, following the "Tennessee model'' for statehood under which Congress can admit a new state into the union by simply voting to approve the document. But Republicans remain deeply opposed to statehood for both constitutional and partisan reasons: Making the District a state would dramatically shift the balance of power by all but guaranteeing two new Senate seats for Democrats.

    As it stands, the city's lone representative in Congress is Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is barred from voting on the House floor. Norton, a 79-year-old Democrat, faces only token opposition in her bid for a 14th term.

    None of the D.C. Council races is expected to be competitive. The most noteworthy involves former mayor Vincent Gray, who did his heavy lifting in the June Democratic primary, when he defeated incumbent council member Yvette Alexander.

    Gray would represent his home ward on the council. His bid for a second term as mayor was derailed by a long-running federal investigation that exposed corruption in his 2010 campaign. Six people who helped Gray get elected pleaded guilty to felonies. Federal prosecutors said Gray knew about the illegal funds that aided his campaign, an allegation that Gray denied, and after five years, prosecutors declined to charge the former mayor.

    On the Council, Gray could serve as an antagonist to Mayor Muriel Bowser, who defeated him in the 2014 Democratic primary. The two politicians have a deep-seated personal animosity even though they lack major policy differences. Gray, 73, has not ruled out a run for mayor in 2018, although his support citywide is much weaker than in his ward, which is overwhelmingly black and poorer than most of the city.