“It’s a symbol of hope,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who added that he will “always remember” the “800-002” digits assigned to the presidential plate.
But as the initial rush of excitement fades, there’s little to suggest the White House is poised to do more on D.C. autonomy beyond its license-plate decision. In a Democratic city that gave Obama 91 percent of its vote, some officials remain conflicted about what kind of friend they have in the White House.
“The president needs to do a lot more, and it’s as simple as that,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), a former four-term mayor who has pressed for statehood and voting rights since the 1970s.
With his announcement, Obama acknowledged his connection to the District and surprised city leaders by endorsing most of the city’s agenda for more autonomy.
The president said that as a four-year resident of the District, he had “seen firsthand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress.”
By agreeing to use the plates, a White House spokesman said, Obama demonstrated his “commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, home rule and budget autonomy for the District.”
But with the president facing battles over gun control, spending and immigration reform in Congress, few expect city issues to be a priority for him.
The White House has not announced any new actions in support of District autonomy, and spokesman Jay Carney stuck to the themes of Obama’s earlier statement when reporters asked him about the matter Thursday.
A week earlier, council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) met with David Agnew, a deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs, after the council had approved a resolution urging Obama to use the plates.
But Mendelson said Agnew, a District resident, talked more about city schools than about other issues. And in a city where hopes for statehood or voting rights have been getting crushed for more than a generation, advocates say they are bracing to be let down again.
Obama’s general support of voting rights dates to at least July 2007, when then-mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) endorsed his budding presidential campaign when most Democrats expected Hillary Rodham Clinton to earn the party’s nomination.
“Folks in D.C. still don’t have a voice in their national government. That’s wrong,” Obama said after Fenty’s endorsement. “Residents shouldn’t be treated like tenants.”