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D.C.'s Identity Lost in the Mail

Cang Nguyen dumps mail into a processor at a Gaithersburg facility, where most mail that originates in Washington is sent for sorting.
Cang Nguyen dumps mail into a processor at a Gaithersburg facility, where most mail that originates in Washington is sent for sorting. (Ricky Carioti - The Washington Post)

But, she and the Postal Service said, there is a good reason. Other cities have lost their automated postmarks because of post office consolidations.

Places such as Steubenville, Ohio; Greensburg, Penn.; Waterbury, Conn.; Mojave, Calif.; and Olympia, Wash., are no longer memorialized in mail. Some cities have protested, enlisting the help of senators to try to save their postal identity. Congress even threatened hearings.

Washington's situation is different.

The lost postmark is "not a case of wiping D.C. off the map," Norton said. "It's a case of wiping most of the region off the map." Not only Washington shares the suburban Maryland postmark with Olney and Damascus -- Bethesda and Chevy Chase do, too.

"Times are changing," Norton said, "and we have to recognize what we can fight about and what we can let change."

She is on Congress's Postal Service subcommittee, and she knows the economic pressures on the agency. "Don't raise the cost of stamps, and don't raise the cost of periodicals and other things that get sent through the mail," Norton said. "We have to watch what other kind of pressure we put on them." The post office, once beleaguered by competition from the fax machine, has suffered even more with the growth of e-mail and online bill-paying.

"The use of the post office has declined precipitously," Norton said, yet "we insist they deliver every place, and they deliver six days a week, and at the same time we flagellate them for efficiency."

It's a no-win situation for one of the nation's great institutions, and a predicament for which she has empathy.

"I'm still trying to get the damn coin," Norton said, laughing. "We get no respect."


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