The Local Delegation: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
Friday, May 30, 2008; 2:00 PM
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Delegate to Congress for the District of Columbia, was online Friday, May 30 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions about her work and goals in Congress this year.
The transcript follows.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has been the District's representative to Congress since 1990. Prior to her election she was the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and she continues to be a tenured law professor at Georgetown University. She leads the fight in Congress to get full voting rights for District of Columbia residents.
washingtonpost.com: Del. Norton will be delayed by 15 minutes.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I'm pleased to be here, particularly since I was held up on a television broadcast, but there are so many issues out there -- getting ready for a vote on D.C. voting rights. Congress has been out of session for a week now for Memorial day, but there are a lot of important issues coming up. We just got finished with the supplemental but haven't gotten through all the budget items, and there's some concern about how Congress will mesh with the next president -- such as health care, which I don't think can be addressed as long as huge amounts of our economy are being fed into the Iraq war. Also, global warming promises to have some effect on our standard of living, at least until technology does what we know it can do -- transition us to alternative fuels and get us beyond burning up the very planet on which we live.
Capitol Heights, D.C.: Hello Del. Norton, I just wanted to say hello, and that I admire your courage, strength and dedication in the District. I'm a PTSA secretary (new) and was wondering, what are the duties of a delegate? Thank you.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I'm glad that you asked, because I think what's expected of us is understated. There are very few ways in which a delegate is different from a representative elected from a state. The most important one is that a delegate doesn't have a final vote on the house floor. But we do have votes in committees and subcommittees, and I chair an important subcommittee. We also get to vote in the "committee of the whole." The reason we were given those votes were because both the committees and the committee of the whole were created by statutes created by Congress -- which delegates already can vote on. The committee of the whole handles things like votes on amendments, before the final vote on legislation occurs. I believe, however, that when you are the one delegate whose constituents pay federal income taxes and have fought and died in every war since the so-called war against taxation without representation, the very least you're entitled to is what's spelled out in the D.C. voting rights bill. Not the same rights as state citizens, but a vote in the House of the people. The House has passed the bill and it has 57 percent support in the Senate -- but the Senate is the only legislative body in the world where 51 percent is not a majority. It takes 60 votes.
Fair Oaks, Va.: Even though I am not a District resident, I truly appreciate all your hard work and dedication to making our nation's capital the beautiful and majestic city that it is.
washingtonpost.com: Makeover Of Mall Urged at Hearing (Post, May 21)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Indeed. My work on the mall is work I do first and foremost for the city and the region, and also for the citizens of the United States. The mall has been degraded by lack of care. Fortunately there is a new trust that will help us bring the mall back up to first-class standards, and I have a bill that in the short term can make the mall people-friendly, and more than a mowed lawn. My bill would have the Secretary of the Interior submit a plan for basics on the mall -- among them some attractive but temporary restrooms. If you're on the mall you better hope that museums are open (only during working hours, usually) because the most basic of amenities is unavailable on the mall. Low-cost, attractive restrooms or toilets that can be used, low-cost benches and tables so that workers and residents can enjoy a day like today during lunchtime and find a reasonable place to sit besides the benches that line the walkway, and above all some free entertainment, for example during lunch hour -- all are in my bill. I introduced my bill by going to the mall with a jazz quartet, which played for free. What I have in mind are string quartets or poetry readings or jazz ensembles to play during lunchtime or perhaps for an hour in the evening, and all for free. I don't think we have to wait for hundreds of millions of dollars to really upgrade the mall. My hat is off to Akridge, a local developer that is the chair of the New Mall Trust, but it doesn't have any money yet, and my bill says we don't have to wait for Mr. Akridge to do what I'm sure he will to have a mall that is fit and inviting for Americans and visitors to come to an enjoy.
Soccer Fan in Virginia: Thanks for taking my question. Has all the relevant information been made available to the public regarding the upcoming proposal to build a soccer stadium at Poplar Point? It seems to me that there are varying "facts" floating around that might either help or mislead the public. What is your stance on the issue? Thanks.
washingtonpost.com: D.C. United Wants $225 Million From District for Stadium (Post, May 29)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I certainly don't think we know much about this stadium yet -- we don't even know if a soccer stadium is going to be built. We heard this week that there was a plan to perhaps allot $150 million for a soccer stadium. Beyond that we don't know much. I think a lot of folks desire a stadium for our world-class team, and because it would be located in Ward 8, where many residents have pressed for it, but I want to be clear that the land in question is from a bill Tom Davis and I co-sponsored. It took some time to get it through the House because it had to get through three committees and we had to trade land with the district to get this land. What I insisted in the bill was that once the District had and owned the land, only the mayor, city council and residents could make a decision about what goes on it. They have not made that decision, but I think they have decided there would be some kind of mixed-use development on the Poplar Point site.
Northwest Washington: I indirectly have watched the D.C. congressional subcommittee for a few years now. Is the District losing a rare rational friend in Rep. Tom Davis? I know he is a Republican and probably served the party line well, but on occasion he seemed rational and not mean-spirited towards Washington, like some others -- namely Sen. Warner.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Well we certainly are losing not only a rational friend but a real friend. When we had disagreements, we always could find a compromise we both could accept. I'm shocked that Sen. Warner, who also often has been a friend of the district, has voted against the voting rights bill. I hope Virginians will let him know that his "no" vote, especially when eight Republicans have seen fit to support the bill, is not befitting of the far more bipartisan way in which he has served in the Senate. I hope they will press Sen. Warner, a good friend to the Senate, not to abandon us when we are so close to something we have deserved for decades, as American citizens.
Washington: Are you concerned about the National Park Service's full attention to Dupont Circle park and other parks in the District for which they have responsibility? We need their full attention to the park's care. Residents and visitors don't always get the best impression of Washington from their experience in Dupont and other NPS parks in our city. Thanks.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: This is an excellent question. While I'm working on the mall, far more often I'm working on individual parks in the district, because most are owned by the National Park Service. Three of these parks are close to my own home on Capitol Hill -- generally kept fairly well, but I invite you to call my office at 225-8050 and ask to speak with Aaron, and we will go out and look at the park you're talking about and call the Park Service in.
New York: How did you prepare for your interview with Stephen Colbert? Did you plan in advance to challenge him as you did, or was that spontaneous?
washingtonpost.com: Better Know a District (The Colbert Report)
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I think if I've had any success with Colbert it's precisely because it's impossible to prepare for him, as he forces you to be yourself, even laugh at yourself, and hopefully laugh at him, unless you're foolish enough to try to prepare for the unpredictable Colbert -- who I warn you will fool you every time. I've been on the show four or five times, and when he invites me on, I know the point is to make as much fun of me as he can, and also of the District, but the reason I go on is I give him the credit he's due. Stephen Colbert has done more than all of our many efforts to get the word out that D.C. does not have voting rights. Sometimes having fun, and even being the butt of somebody else's jokes is the best way to get a point across. Let me say it again, thank you Colbert.
Brentwood, D.C.: I recently bought my first home, here in Washington, in January. I didn't realize at the time that the federal tax credit had expired! Are you working to get this important credit reauthorized? Will it be retroactive to the beginning of the year? I know a lot of us are counting on it and the relief it provides.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Thank you for that question, because it gives me the chance to say my tax credit bill -- both the $5,000 homeowner credit and the business credit -- have passed the House. I expect them to pass this year and to be retroactive. In the past they always have been. I don't know when your house was purchased; from what you have written I believe you're okay. Call our office (225-8050) and we will let you know. I think you're fine -- thank you for purchasing in Brentwood. One of the reasons I'm able to get this renewed is that the results have been fantastic. The credit is available throughout Washington, and its income limit is substantially into the middle class (as there already are credits for poorer people). What was needed in D.C. was not only help for low-income residents -- who credit for this credit as well -- but encouraging taxpayers on whom the District most depends to remain here. Results have shown this credit -- available only in D.C. -- essentially has stopped the wholesale bleeding out of taxpaying residents that helped bring on the virtual collapse of the district by the 1990s.
Washington: Hi congresswoman! I'm a big fan, particularly of your fight to bring voting rights to the residents of the nation's capital. Quick question: I'll be on the Mall on June 7 with my family and friends, participating in one of my favorite annual events -- the Susan G. Komen National Race for the Cure. Will I see you out there as well?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Sure will. I think some members of my staff and I are doing a race walk as a part of the Race for the Cure.
Fairfax County, Va.: Del. Norton, my congressman, Tom Davis, has been a great friend of DC but he is retiring. As you know, we have an upcoming primary on the Democratic side to choose a nominee to replace him. Of the candidates, who would you like to see get the nod? Anyone you would particularly like to work with? Thanks.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I try my best to stay out of Democratic primaries. What we're looking for is a Democrat -- particularly from that seat, where we believe we have a very good chance of a Democratic win, particularly considering that the District turned purple if not blue very recently. It should turn over this time -- just give me a Democrat!
Anonymous: Do you feel that the residents of the District have a special responsibility to speak truth to power? Do you ever lament the fact that blacks in Washington don't march onto the National Mall more often -- in protest against wars of choice, for instance?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I will assure you that African Americans are among those who do march against wars of choice, or at least the one we know best, the Iraq War. I can't imagine why African Americans would be singled out as not participating when polling shows African Americans -- along with my white constituents here -- oppose the war. And if I can say this, the District of Columbia is about 35 percent white.
New York: What can Congress do to make the administration more accountable for its spending on the war in Iraq and the loss of funds to misdirected spending in Iraq?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I hate to sound political, but I think after eight years, you have to understand that this administration never would change its views on Iraq, and indeed Sen. McCain has indicated he has no intention to pull troops out until, I believe, 2012, by which time he thinks, maybe, we could begin to bring troops home. Maybe.
Washington: If the District got statehood. (fingers crossed), who would get to become our congressperson, you our our shadow congressman? Also, could we decided it like every important decision in Washington, via drinking contest?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Washington is not so big on drinking contests, but when the voting rights bill is passed, there will have to be a new election -- and neither the shadow delegation, who act as lobbyist, or me would get to automatically get to be a Congressperson. The new status would require a new election altogether. I certainly do think I would run for the position. I've been trying to get voting rights for the District. It would be silly to do so and leave -- I'd like to enjoy it for a while by actually voting!
Washington: Thank for taking my question/comment. As a five-year Washington resident who recently moved to Arlington, Va., I want to tell you how much it pained me to move ... but I just couldn't take it any more. A police force that is almost as bad as the criminals, public transportation that makes you a prisoner every-30-minutes buses and every-15-minutes trains on the weekend and a local government that feels it is their job to tax and steal, not build societies. Plus, I was having children, and sending kids to D.C. public schools should be considered child abuse. We spend the most per student, but have the worst in the country. Why do I bring this up? Don't you think the District has more important things to work on than statehood/getting a vote in Congress? Last time you had this chat, you blamed the GOP, but let's remember that Clinton, Carter, etc. did nothing for us.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I hope you don't think I've spent my time working only on voting rights. I am very pleased that I've got a signature issues with which I'm closely identified. I would be the first to say the District has come a long way and like any big city has higher taxes and tougher schools and all that comes with big-city life. Perhaps if you had been inclined to stay in the district, you might be more inclined to see the issues I've worked on, like the previously mentioned $5,000 home credit, which is not available anywhere else in the U.S. Perhaps if you had remained, you might have chosen to use another wonderful benefit I got passed in the Congress, the so-called college access bill that gives $10,000 to any student, regardless of income, who goes to a state university anywhere in the U.S. or $2,500 to any student who lives in the district of Columbia -- graduating from public or private high schools -- who go to a private university. I spend most of my time working on a subcommittee that getting 47 acres of mixed-use -- mostly middle-income housing and parks -- for the district, near the waterfront, and similar benefits in the so-called Noma neighborhood close to Capitol Hill. That's a subcommittee that encourages development in the District. I can understand the frustration of people leaving the district, especially those with small children, but I would caution anyone who would think I or any other member of Congress known for an issue of overriding importance, like voting rights, only works on that issue. Not only is it a small part of my agenda, although of outsized importance if you are an American, it is not fair to judge me or any other member of Congress by the issue that inevitably attracts the most coverage because it is so unusual. I invite you to go to my Web site, http:/
Capitol Heights : Hello again Ms. Norton. Do you have internships?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: I have internships -- all nine paying or paid for by outside groups like the Barbara Jordan internship -- and they're all filled, and of course they all go to District residents, which is typical of members of Congress.
Capitol Heights: Do you have a job fair coming up, and is it for D.C. residents only?
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: There is an upcoming job fair, in July, and it's in my newsletter -- I don't have it with me. Look for my newsletter that's coming next week. Yes, you must be a District resident, and you must show proof of that. It's at the convention center. It will have workshops in the morning -- doors for those open at 9:30 a.m. -- on interview techniques, temporary jobs, etc. Doors open for the job fair at 11 a.m. and it goes until 4 p.m. It's only for residents; otherwise we would be overwhelmed by the huge number of residents from the region. As it is, 80 to 90 percent of the jobs in D.C. go to regional residents -- not because they're more qualified but because there are millions of them compared to us. Look for the details in my newsletter or call my office. The job fair this year is well-timed, although we frankly would wish for better weather, because there will be many people looking for jobs in an economic downturn that so far has refused to turn up significantly. The advantage of our job fair is that not only do we ask participating employers to have good jobs, but it also provides D.C. residents a one-stop job fair shopping opportunity.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton: Really terrific questions today. Thanks for participating. Each and every question was excellent and enabled me to explain further some issues and matters, particularly about the District, that are pretty obscure sometimes, unless like some of us you've lived here a long time, or like me -- forgive the chauvinism -- is proud as pink to be a third-generation Washingtonian.
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