By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The U.S. Mint wasted no time in rejecting the District's idea for a commemorative quarter yesterday, saying a proposed inscription protesting the city's limited representation in Congress would be unsuitable "as an element of design for United States coinage."
The Mint, which has nearly finished producing quarters with designs for each of the 50 states, received the District's proposals for its coin Monday -- and within 48 hours, it told the city to come up with something else.
"Never have I seen the government move so fast on anything," said Paul Strauss (D), the city's nonvoting shadow senator. "You get the sense that no one over there even looked at this in context."
The problem was not the proposed images for the quarter. The city offered various suggestions, including the three stars and two bars of the District flag and portraits of either jazz legend Duke Ellington or Colonial-era abolitionist Benjamin Banneker.
At issue is the inscription the city wanted with the image: "Taxation Without Representation" or "No Taxation Without Representation," referring to the District's decades-long quest for full voting rights in Congress. The Mint said the proposed slogans would violate the coin program's rules against controversial messages.
Last year, Congress authorized commemorative quarters for the District, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands. Mint spokesman Greg Hernandez said the process is moving quickly because those coins must be produced by next year.
"Changing how the District of Columbia . . . is represented in Congress is a contemporary political issue on which there presently is no national consensus and over which reasonable minds differ," the Mint said in a statement.
"Although the United States Mint expresses no position on the merits of this issue, we have determined that the proposed inscription is clearly controversial."
D.C. officials had anticipated the rejection. Still, Stephanie D. Scott, the secretary of the District, who submitted the proposals, called the decision "disappointing." Wide circulation of a commemorative D.C. quarter bearing the taxation message would have been "a great educational opportunity" for the nation, Scott said.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) agreed. "We were asked to submit ideas that were 'emblematic of the District of Columbia,' " he said in a statement. "I can think of nothing more unique and characteristic" than the District's situation in Congress.
As a substitute inscription, Scott said, the city probably will suggest the D.C. motto, "Justitia omnibus," meaning "justice for all."
She said the District will withdraw the proposed image of the flag "because it doesn't mean as much without the taxation inscription." So the approximately 500 million D.C. quarters that eventually will be minted are likely to feature either Banneker, who helped survey the city in the 18th century, or Ellington, a D.C. native.
The District was left out of the 1998 law that authorized commemorative quarters for the 50 states. Coins have been issued for 46 states, with quarters for New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii due out this year.