As mentioned this morning, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) used his moment under the klieg lights at Sunday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication to stump for the cause of equal congressional voting rights for the District.
It was the most prominent use of the bully pulpit by a D.C. politico for voting rights in many years, and the words were indeed powerful: “We pay our nation’s taxes, we fight our nation’s wars, but we have no vote.”
I asked WTOP commentator Mark Plotkin, undoubtedly the most persistent person poking pols to object loudly and frequently to the District’s treatment by the federal government, whether Gray’s speech met his high standards of public activism.
Yes and no, Plotkin said.
Plotkin had no qualms about Gray’s remarks. “They were terrific,” he said — particularly the call to “implore” President Barack Obama and Congress to act on behalf of the District’s residents. “That was the appropriate word,” he said.
But in terms of the symbolism of the moment, Plotkin said, it fell short. That’s because the main guy Gray was imploring, Obama, wasn’t there with him. Gray’s welcome speech came early in the program, right after the invocation and before Obama and other dignitaries arrived. Obama, in fact, did not deliver his speech from the ceremonial rostrum that most speakers used; he spoke from a smaller podium next to the memorial itself.
“He’s got to do that when the president is sitting on the stage; he’s got to do that when he’s there,” Plotkin said. “I’m glad he said what he said; he used the right words. But the president has to be embarrassed by his silence and deliberate indifference.”
In other words, to pass the Plotkin test, Gray’s gotta say it to his face. Call him out. In public.
For all of Sunday’s pomp and dignitaries, he argues, “it wasn’t the setting, it wasn’t the venue, it wasn’t the domain” for a truly impactful gesture in support of D.C.’s rights.