After the lunch

Thursday, December 2, 2010

THERE WERE high hopes when Barack Obama, then president-elect, had lunch with D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty at Ben's Chili Bowl before taking office. Surely, the thinking went, it was a sign of new, good relations with the White House that would result in the District getting long-sought voting rights. Of course, that never happened - and to some degree, it was due to the president sitting on the sidelines when the city most needed him.

We revisit that Saturday in January 2009 as a reminder not to get one's hopes up too much over the much-ballyhooed lunch Wednesday between Mr. Obama and D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D). This time the setting was a private dining room at the White House, and instead of chili and half smokes, the food was gumbo. Mr. Gray told reporters it was "a really great meeting, better than I could have hoped for." A variety of topics were discussed: education, the move of the Department of Homeland Security to St. Elizabeths and, yes, voting rights.

Mr. Gray said the president expressed his "unequivocal" support for voting rights. If that's the case, Mr. Obama needs to do more than host a lunch. Prospects for the city getting full congressional representation with Republicans gaining control of the House and getting stronger in the Senate are slight, but that means the District more than ever needs the president's backing. There are likely to be assaults on D.C. home rule, and Mr. Obama needs to make it clear that he won't hesitate to use his veto power to protect the District's interests in such important areas as gun control or same-sex marriage.

Mr. Gray said there would be staff follow-ups to come up with tangible ways for the White House to work with city officials on such issues as joblessness. That's encouraging news, and we hope it reflects recognition by Mr. Obama of the stake he has in what - for at least the next two years - is his home.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company