Leggett considers asking Montgomery council to join in call for renaming Redskins


Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
November 18, 2013

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is considering asking the County Council to stand with District lawmakers and pass a resolution urging the Washington Redskins to change their name.

At a minimum, Leggett (D) said, he will drop “Redskins” from all of his office’s announcements and news releases.

He disclosed his intentions Sunday in response to an e-mail from Bethesda resident Joshua Silver, who urged him to join in the call for a different team name.

“Personally, I agree with you,” Leggett told Silver, who is vice president for research and policy at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for fair lending and banking practices.

“As for action by the County, I am asking our Office of Human Rights to review the matter and make a formal recommendation to me before I forward an official recommendation to the County Council,” he said.

It’s not exactly clear what OHR’s role will be. Director James Stowe did not return phone or e-mail messages Monday.

Team owner Dan Snyder, a Montgomery resident who lives in Potomac, has vowed that the team name will never change. But he has been under intense pressure to reverse his position, with even President Obama saying that he’d be considering a name change if he owned the team.

Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said there’s no expectation that Montgomery’s gestures will be anything other than symbolic.

“Obviously, anything we do has no control over the owner of the Redskins and what he calls his team,” Lacefield said.

The D.C. Council voted overwhelmingly Nov. 5 to call on the team to change its name, condemning it as “racist and derogatory.” Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has dropped “Redskins” from his public statements, but has stopped short of denouncing the name as racist or offensive.

Silver, who said he was speaking only for himself, not his nonprofit, in approaching Leggett, was pleased with the response.

“I’ve hated to have to root for a team whose name I’m ashamed of,” he said.

It’s difficult to imagine the council actually rejecting a Leggett-sponsored resolution on the issue. But when Silver sounded out his council member, Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), about sponsoring a resolution, there wasn’t much interest. Berliner said it simply wasn’t the best use of the council’s time.

“While I personally believe there are compelling arguments as to why the use of ‘Redskins’ is no longer acceptable, I do not believe this issue is one that should come in front of the council,” Berliner said in a Nov. 6 e-mail to Silver. “I have been an advocate for the Council to weigh in on issues that are germane to ... and affect the work of the Council. Since the geographic identifier with the Redskins has always been ‘Washington,’ I can see why the D.C. Council would bring up this issue.

Silver also tried council member George Leventhal (D-At Large), telling him:

“I fully understand that a resolution does not have the force of law. No one needs to remind me of that. But I urge the Council to stand with an injured people. Join with the President of the United States in making a statement. It is the right thing to do and sends a powerful statement to the owner of the Washington pro football team. The civil rights movement teaches us that moral suasion matters also.

Leventhal said Silver had his history wrong, but that he would take the matter up informally with his colleagues nevertheless.

“Your comparison to the civil rights struggle is, I think, inapt,” Leventhal wrote back Nov. 8. “Those who were in a position to change the law and enact civil rights protections had the moral obligation to do so. The Montgomery County Council has no authority over the names of NFL teams. If we were to pass a resolution like the one that passed the D.C. Council earlier this week, its effect would be only hortatory and would be perceived by many as grandstanding.

“Having said that, I am happy to discuss with my colleagues whether there is a majority sentiment to take up this matter. I appreciate that you feel very strongly about this issue and I understand that you are not alone in this sentiment.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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