On the Road to Push For Voting Rights

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty testifies for congressional representation for D.C. before a New Hampshire legislative panel.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty testifies for congressional representation for D.C. before a New Hampshire legislative panel. (By Jim Cole -- Associated Press)
By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and the D.C. Council have not always agreed in recent weeks, yet they put on a united front yesterday as they launched a strategy in the pursuit of voting rights in Congress: road trip!

Fenty (D) and eight council members visited the New Hampshire legislature yesterday, testifying before a committee to urge the state's two U.S. senators to reverse their opposition to the D.C. voting rights bill in Congress.

The move to press Republican Sens. John E. Sununu and Judd Gregg to support the legislation brought together the city's leaders in an unprecedented lobbying move and a bit of a bonding experience. In addition to council members and Fenty, who had arrived earlier to stump for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), voting rights advocates and the city's three shadow representatives went on the trip.

"It's a galvanizing issue," council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said. "We all have a sense that we are equally disenfranchised."

Last year, the District came closer than ever to getting voting rights but was stopped in September after Republicans blocked a vote on the bill. Yesterday highlighted the city's new strategy to get state leaders to pressure their congressional members. It's a plan D.C. leaders say they will expand in the coming months.

The failed vote angered council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) enough to persuade New Hampshire state Rep. Cindy Rosenwald (D) to sponsor a local bill to push the two senators. Rosenwald and Catania met through a state legislators group that advocates lower prescription drug prices.

Catania led the District's contingent to testify before the House state-federal relations and veterans affairs committee. In addition to delivering speeches about the District's second-class status, they met briefly with Gov. John Lynch (D). They also shared gossipy chatter about each other and got to hear Catania reading horoscopes during the flight.

Starting with a 6:15 a.m. bus ride to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, there was a clear division of morning people and night owls. When Catania asked the officials to gather for a television interview, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) groused good-naturedly, "If we're going to get up this early, we might as well get on camera."

Members Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) appeared fully rested by the time they marched along State and Capitol streets in Concord to go to the hearing.

The remnants of New Hampshire's dramatic presidential primary Tuesday were everywhere, providing poignant visuals that seemed to underscore for District officials the timeliness of their visit. New Hampshire, whose motto is "Live Free or Die," has 400 state representatives, the most in the country. "For every 3,000 residents, there's one of us," Rosenwald said.

Rosenwald's bill urges Sununu and Gregg to reverse their stance; it's an amendment from her earlier measure to require the legislature to say it "expressed regret" over the senators' vote.

The House state-federal relations and veterans affairs committee will vote on the measure Jan. 29. Rep. Kris Roberts (D), who heads the committee, said the change in language would help the bill gain support.

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