D.C. Gets 25 Cents' Worth of Respect
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The District has no vote in Congress, its laws can be trampled by federal legislators and even its streets can be closed by the feds on a moment's notice.
But after nearly 10 years of fighting, the city finally won a new mark of respect this week.
It will have its very own quarter.
The measure, tucked into a giant federal spending bill, puts the District on the same level as the 50 states, at least when it comes to the popular coins showcasing home-state icons such as mountains, birds, race cars and fiddles. The D.C. quarter is due in 2009, with a design yet to be determined.
"Can you believe it? How many years have I tried to get that?" exulted the city's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who has repeatedly introduced bills to get the District a place on the quarter's flip side.
Despite Norton's vigorous lobbying and arm-twisting, it was not the District's quest for equality that ultimately carried the day.
It was Puerto Rico's.
Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) inserted language into the spending bill to provide quarters for his native Puerto Rico, as well as the District, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Serrano became chairman this year of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services, which oversees important agencies such as the U.S. Treasury. That gave him the power of the purse, or at least the quarter.
"I said 'Ah-ha!' " Serrano recalled. "So I said, 'Puerto Rico will get a quarter. But it shouldn't be just Puerto Rico; it should be all the territories.' "
Not that the District is a territory, he quickly pointed out. "But it's certainly treated that way."
The District and the territories were left out when a law establishing the nationwide quarters program was passed in 1998. The U.S. Mint began issuing the coins the following year, rolling them out in the order that states were admitted to the union. The program was to wind up next year; so far, about 30 billion coins have been minted.