Rallying Support For Voting Rights

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, second from right, says city residents'
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, second from right, says city residents' "patience has worn thin" on voting rights. With Fenty are Neil Richardson, left, Fenty's deputy chief of staff; council members Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2); Ilir Zherka of D.C. Vote; and D.C. shadow Sen. Michael Brown (D). (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

District leaders hung a large red banner outside city hall yesterday advertising a march for D.C. voting rights and said they were working to turn out thousands of residents for the event Monday.

Standing on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and voting rights activists laid out details: Activities will begin with a rally outside the Wilson Building at 2:30 p.m., followed by the march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol at 3 p.m., and then remarks by several local and national politicians outside the Capitol at 4 p.m.

"This is the first march in 10 years for D.C. voting rights," Fenty said. "I think residents have a sense of urgency, and their patience has worn thin."

The demonstration comes as the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to resume action on a bill that would give the District a full vote in that chamber. Republicans had derailed a vote on the bill last month by attaching language that would have thrown out the District's strict anti-gun laws.

The D.C. vote bill, crafted by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (D-Va.), is a compromise. It would add a House seat for the heavily Democratic District and another for the next state in line to expand its delegation -- Republican-leaning Utah.

House Democrats said they will resume action on the bill when members return from a recess next week. They said they will try to prevent Republicans from attaching amendments such as the gun-rights language to the bill.

Even if the House approves the measure, it still faces a tough fight in the Senate. And aides to President Bush have said they will recommend a veto.

"I think that's just a strategy to prevent Congress from passing it," Fenty said of the White House's position, adding that he thinks Bush would sign the legislation if it reaches him.

Monday is Emancipation Day in the District, commemorating the day that slaves were freed in the city, and is a holiday for city employees. But is not clear how many will attend the rally.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, said his organization and city officials have handed out 50,000 pieces of literature advertising the rally. He said that thousands of residents have signed up to attend and that his organization will try to remind them in the coming days.

Zherka said speakers at the rally in front of the Capitol will include Norton, Davis and former representative Jack Kemp (D-N.Y.). Norton can vote in House committees but not on final passage of legislation.

"I'm confident that residents will show up," Fenty said. "They're fed up, and they're going to come out and express that frustration."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company