Eric Wemple on the D.C. Vote

By Erik Wemple
Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eleanor Holmes Norton has been the District's delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives for 18 years. And in all that time, she has worked long and hard to change that.

In congressional politics, "delegate" is a diminutive term -- Norton may call herself a congresswoman, but she can't vote on federal legislation. She spends most of her days buttonholing powerful people and begging them to end the District's status as a colonial outpost of Congress. Now the Senate has passed legislation giving the city its own full-fledged representative. And even though the bill has stalled in the House, there's a sense that all the lobbying may be closer than ever before to paying off.

What a liberating experience full voting rights could be. Freed from the burden of a 208-year-old fight, the city's new rep could finally focus on all those pressing local issues that can only be addressed from the heights of Capitol Hill. You know, all those things that have always bothered you, deep down, about life in Washington. Here are my top candidates for a must-do, attention-getting first-term legislative agenda:

The Unified D.C. Police Department Act.

It seems that every block in the District has a different uniform walking the beat. In Dupont Circle, it's the Park Police. On the Hill, the Capitol Police. At the White House, the Secret Service. Everywhere else in between, the D.C. police. Who can keep track of which cop is where? Not to mention that the Balkanization does a disservice to folks on both sides of the criminal justice divide: Neighborhood do-gooders have to invite multiple police forces to their monthly meetings, while criminals never know whether they'll be caught on the job by an undertrained, overcaffeinated schlub or an overtrained, jack-booted patrol.

Seriously: A Washington Post investigation last summer revealed that jurisdictional lines might have thwarted a breakthrough in the 2001 Chandra Levy case. It's time to negotiate an armistice and issue a handsome composite badge.

The Fecal Odor Reduction Act.

In the District, you can catch a whiff of bodily waste whichever way the wind's blowing. On the western edge of town is the Potomac Interceptor, a channel draining sewage from various local jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the pipe is equipped with venting to allow sewer gases to escape. The windows and screen doors of Palisades and other well-heeled riverside neighborhoods are no match for this mechanism, and residents have long raised a stink about the stench.

Farther east is the city's "combined sewer overflow" (CSO), a system that handles both storm-water runoff and sanitary waste. Occasional heavy rainfalls push the network beyond its capacity, and the excess flows into Rock Creek, the Anacostia River and the Potomac.

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority has a plan for curbing the gases from the Potomac Interceptor and a "Long-Term Control Program" to deal with the CSO. But alas, the former won't be fully implemented until late 2011, and the latter, well, let's call it a case of truth in advertising: The overflows are to be reduced 96 percent by . . . 2025. We need a hurry-up offense, D.C. rep!

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