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Opinion: Our Fourth, Kinda Celebrated

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Opinion: Our Fourth, Kinda Celebrated

NBCWashington.com

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There was some good news for the District’s second-class citizens as we headed into the Fourth of July holiday week celebrating independence: It appeared that Congress is backing away from a disputed plan to co-opt the District’s elegant World War I Memorial and turn it into a “national” memorial for that war.

"The D.C. War Memorial was built with the blood and treasure of D.C. residents, including funds from schoolchildren," said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in a prepared statement to the media. "I am relieved and gratified that the D.C. War Memorial will remain dedicated as intended.”

The unique memorial, shaped like a bandstand, sits near the elaborate National World War II Memorial. The 1931 structure, recently restored, contains the names of 499 District citizens who died in World War I. The names are listed without regard to rank, sex or race.

And there also was news on the Hill that the city finally would be allowed to display a statue of Frederick Douglass in Congress. The statue, which has been sitting around since 2008, will join 120 other statues representative of other states and jurisdictions.

But, of course, these modest if symbolic achievements were overshadowed by real-life politics.

A bill supported by Republicans in the House was sidetracked in the Senate. The bill would have given the city “budget autonomy” so that it could spend its tax monies separate from the federal calendar and even if there was a federal government “shutdown.”

But supporters of the bill pulled it from consideration after Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attached amendments that the city considered poison pills.

One would make permanent the ban on spending any funds for abortion.

Another would force the city to adopt a “concealed carry” law that would allow District citizens to carry handguns with them throughout the city.

The provision also would force the city to accept “concealed carry” laws of the states. That would mean possibly tens of thousands of visitors to the city would come carrying guns.

That’s just what we need, thousands of tourists packing heat to our city and Capitol Hill. Do you think for a minute the visitors will be allowed to carry those guns into the halls of Congress where Sen. Rand Paul works?

• Once again. The horrific derecho storm that crashed through our area had one predictable result. It showed once again that the metropolitan region -- despite endless meetings, planning and tons of money -- still doesn’t react in unison during emergencies. In some cases, 911 service went out in Virginia, Montgomery County’s traffic signals apparently have no backup and roadway traffic at darkened intersections all over was at best chaotic.

Not once during the weekend did we get the sense that the area’s emergency command centers were coordinating any responses. The problem is we have many jigsaw parts, and in emergencies they don’t fit together very well.

• The Gandhi go-ahead. Your Notebook turned a few eyes when we came off of our staycation last week to sit in on the confirmation hearing for Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi.

The Thursday hearing by Finance and Revenue Committee Chair Jack Evans, the Ward 2 council member, drew a stellar witness list of folks anxious to support Gandhi.

The leadoff witness was former Mayor Anthony Williams. He praised Gandhi’s role in leading the city back to solvency and he disputed the idea that there should be a national search to consider others. “I’m not a big, big fan of these global searches,” Williams said. “At this point in our history, Gandhi is a stabilizing force.”

Of course, the former mayor was referring to the economic uncertainty, not the political scandals wracking the city.

Others who testified included Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade; longtime labor leader Geo T. Johnson of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Barbara Lang, president of the DC Chamber of Commerce; Ernie Jarvis of the District of Columbia Building Industry Association; and former D.C. Council members Kathy Patterson and Charlene Drew Jarvis (yes, Ernie’s mother).

John Hill, the outgoing executive director of the DC Federal City Council, praised Gandhi, too. He said when Gandhi took over as chief financial officer, the city’s tax system “was not just broken, it was almost nonexistent.” Hill -- who ran the control board at the time -- recalled that crucial tax records were piled in boxes on office floors.

Gandhi modestly accepted all the praise and recalled his “worst day” in office, when authorities disclosed that Harriette Walters had stolen nearly $50 million over several years.

Gandhi had a good hearing despite reference to that scandal and a few other complaints of his leadership. But he didn’t escape entirely.

When Evans’s committee voted on Gandhi on Friday, at-large Council member David Catania weighed in heavily. Catania is among Gandhi’s most severe critics, but had been out of town for the hearing.

Mike DeBonis of The Washington Post reported that Catania spent 11 minutes raking Gandhi’s service failures, from the extraordinary theft by Walters to faulty revenue projections, questions over a disputed lottery contract and other shortcomings.

"I think we can do better,” Catania said, as reported by The Post. “Others disagree, but my conscience won’t let me cast a vote in favor of his re-confirmation.”

The five-member committee then voted 4-1 to move Gandhi’s reappointment to the full council for a vote next week.

• A final Fourth word. If you’re by chance reading this early on the Fourth of July, we hope you’ll make it to the annual Palisades Parade on MacArthur Boulevard NW. Say hello if we’re there with our News4 camera. The parade is a true measure of our “hometown” that folks like Sen. Paul don’t know, don’t see and -- apparently -- don’t care about.

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