Gray: Jail for Statehood?

Mayoral candidates debate civil disobedience

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    WASHINGTON - APRIL 16: Council Chairman Vincent Gray (L), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) (2nd-L), Mayor Adrian Fenty (3rd-L), and Councilmember Kwame Brown (R) participate in a march to ask for voting representation for the nation's capital in the U.S. House of Representatives April 16, 2007 in Washington, DC. Thousands of residents of Washington, DC, marched to Capitol Hill to demand a voting right for the District. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    D.C. mayoral candidates assembled in a mostly civil candidate forum in Ward 8 Monday night. One of the few interesting moments came when the contenders were asked how they felt about civil disobedience as a means to statehood.

    Mayoral challenger and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray won cheers from the crowd when he said he would be willing to go to jail for statehood, but “only if anyone here goes with me.” Incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty was less sold on that strategy, noting that Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly was arrested in 1993 during a statehood sit-in and that nothing came of it.

    But Mayor Fenty, who has been more vocal about pursuing statehood in recent weeks, said he agreed with Gray that a renewed push should be a priority.

    The raising of the statehood banner for the umpteenth time shows how desperate the D.C. voting rights situation has become. Earlier this year, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer rejected a scheme to grant D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood in tandem – an approach backed last night by candidate Leo Alexander. There is no new voting rights legislation on the horizon.

    The latest round of cries for statehood make the point: Half-measures are not going to work. D.C. needs to go for all or nothing – even if it means ending up with nothing.

    On the Washington Post website last Friday, WTOP’s Mark Plotkin – one of the city’s veteran statehood crusaders – wrote, “Let’s go for statehood for D.C. That’s what we really want, and it is doable.” Plotkin says “a change in citizen attitude” is required to get there. He writes that Jesse Jackson – who was arrested with Mayor Kelly in 1993 – once told him that D.C.’s “second-class status would change only ‘when it rises to the level of personal insult.’”

    Plotkin says D.C.’s congressional delegate should introduce a statehood bill each and every year, building support and momentum over time. He compares the issue to the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday holiday – “at first, very few signed on, but momentum grew,” with Republicans eventually signing on and a Republican president signing the bill into law.

    D.C. Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown, who is running for At-Large Council this year, also says statehood is the best, and possibly only, option. He wrote on the Post website, “Last year, Puerto Rico put $20 million into its effort to become a state; the District has budgeted $0 for fiscal 2011. I went to a statehood rally last week, and fewer than 100 people showed up. Until the city budgets real money and Washingtonians show their support, the movement will go nowhere.”

    Of course, the difference between the King holiday and the State of Columbia is that the latter would add two more Democrats to the U.S. Senate. It will be hard to convince even the most fair-minded Republicans that that is in their interest.