D.C. Council calls on Washington Redskins to ditch ‘racist and derogatory’ name


In this May photo, Redskins owner Dan Snyder walks by players during a rookie minicamp practice session at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Va. (Evan Vucci/AP)

In the latest challenge to the Washington Redskins’ name, District lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to call on the team to change it, saying it is widely recognized as “racist and derogatory.”

“Enough is enough — the name must go,” said David Grosso (I-At Large), who first introduced the name-change resolution in May.

The version of the “Sense of the Council to Rename the Washington National Football League Team Resolution of 2013” approved by the council was worded less strongly than the original, which called the team name “insulting and debasing.” But Grosso pulled few punches in comments on the council dais.

The notion that the “Redskins” name should be kept as a symbol of the team’s heritage, he said, “is akin to saying to the Native American people . . . your pain has less worth than our football memories.”

Team owner Daniel Snyder has said he is not considering changing the name, calling it a “badge of honor,” and NFL officials have told Native American leaders that they continue to stand by the name.

Asked to comment on the vote, Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie referred to the letter defending the name that Snyder sent to fans last month. “Right now our focus is on our game this Thursday,” Wyllie said.

The name-change resolution was a high-profile but brief stop on a lengthy council agenda that also included campaign finance reform and the confirmation of a new chief financial officer. And in another closely watched matter, lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to begin applying for special District driver’s licenses and identification cards next year.

The move backed off a council committee’s earlier decision to issue illegal immigrants licenses that would be indistinguishable from those it prints for U.S. citizens and resident aliens.

The special marking is similar to one that lawmakers in Maryland, California and about a dozen other states have voted to begin using to grant illegal immigrants driving privileges while also complying with an as-yet-unenforced federal law known as the REAL ID Act.

Under the 2005 measure, states that do not tighten eligibility for driver’s licenses could have all state IDs revoked as identification to enter federal buildings or to board commercial airline flights.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the measure amounted to a “balancing act” that would let many of the city’s estimated 25,000 illegal immigrants drive legally and get insurance, while also making sure that the vast majority of District residents would not be inconvenienced.

After years of delays, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said it will begin a phased enforcement of the law beginning next year. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who drafted the revised bill, said the experience of Utah, where a third of the state’s estimated 110,000 illegal immigrants signed up for a special license in the first year, suggests specially marked licenses will be far better than none at all.

 

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Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Grosso disagreed. In an 8 to 3 vote, they warned that the special licenses would undeniably label the city’s illegal immigrants in the eyes of law enforcement officers, who unevenly enforce federal immigration rules.

The council also gave initial approval to a long-in-the-making package of campaign finance reforms aimed at combating “pay to play” culture in District politics and government.

The bill would, among other things, restrict the ability of different companies owned by the same parties to donate to the same candidate in an attempt to evade contribution limits. The bill also places new restrictions on donation “bundling” — the practice of a single fundraiser aggregating checks from his or her personal or professional network for a candidate’s benefit.

Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who assembled the package, said it was “definitely a challenge” crafting a bill that could garner broad support — particularly going into an election year. “What we passed was a balanced approach,” he said.

Campaign season played out in the council chamber to a degree, with Wells, a mayoral candidate running on an ethics-heavy platform, attempting to amend the bill to ban all corporate campaign donations or, alternately, all donations from city contractors. Both were voted down by acclamation

Afterward, Wells credited McDuffie for “getting as much as he could” but said more needs to be done to keep money from corroding the District’s political system. “It’s only one step in a larger journey, but we made progress today,” he said.

Another vote Tuesday could have the biggest impact on the city’s day-to-day operations. The council voted unanimously to confirm Jeffrey S. DeWitt, a longtime finance official in Phoenix, as the District’s next chief financial officer.

DeWitt will complete the term of Natwar M. Gandhi, who is retiring as only the city’s third chief financial officer since the powerful post was created by Congress nearly two decades ago.

DeWitt, who is likely to start work in December, will oversee the office that has been criticized in recent months for an aggressive practice of collecting property tax debts that has forced some elderly and mentally ill residents from their homes over what began as small tax liens.

On Tuesday, council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) introduced legislation that would radically change the process, allowing residents to retain much of the equity in their homes when sold to recover tax liens.

There was little discussion on the dais prior to DeWitt’s nomination, nor was there any debate over the Redskins resolution. Grosso was the only one of the council’s 13 members to speak. Two members, Orange and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), were absent for the vote; Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) voted present, declining to take a position on the resolution.

“I don’t think the council should have a say one way or another,” Alexander said before Tuesday’s meeting.

The council has no authority to force a name change for the team, which practices in Virginia and plays home games in Maryland. But Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and several council members have openly discussed trying to lure the team back to the District, perhaps to a new facility on the site of RFK Stadium, which the Redskins abandoned in 1997.

The vote came a day after Washington Redskins management asked the team's fans in the District to contact their lawmakers and share “what #Redskins­Pride means.”

Grosso said before the vote that he had received about 150 e-mails on the name-change issue after the team asked fans to weigh in. He said about half of those agreed that the name ought to change.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.
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