and so gloomy. The clerk had read the roll, the gavel had banged and the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment had been defeated by an agonizing two votes in the Delaware House of Representatives.
Vincent Meconi, the 32-year-old Democrat from New Castle County who had spearheaded the fight for DCVRA in the Delaware House, had said his farewells to Norma Melendez, the chairman of the D.C. citizens' coalition that had journeyed to Dover several times in recent weeks to fight for the bill.
"Norma, Norma, I'm so sorry," Meconi had said, as he and Melendez embraced in the House parking lot. " . . . We'll keep at it. It's not dead yet."
Little did Meconi know.
In the space of 24 hours, the DCVRA went from dead and buried to alive and kicking, thanks to a legislator who had been absent and another who simply changed his mind.
George Bunting, a Democrat, had missed Wednesday's vote on DCVRA, the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant city residents voting representation in the U.S. Senate and House. Yesterday afternoon, he asked to vote yes.
In order to do so, under House rules, the entire roll of all 41 members had to be read again. And when it was, a Republican named Phillip J. Corrozi changed his vote from a Wednesday no to a Thursday yes.
That meant that 21 of 41 Delaware House members were recorded as voting yes -- a bare majority. With a gasp and a whimper, DCVRA was alive, if only barely and/or temporarily, in the First State.
The measure now goes to the Delaware Senate, where prospects are gloomy. The last time noses were counted, only five members favored the bill. Eleven are needed.
However, Meconi had been equally gloomy about prospects in the House only two weeks ago.
"People don't want to vote for more government," he had said, during our several discussions as I visited Dover to trace the progress of DCVRA through Delaware's legislature this spring. "And a lot of people just don't want to see two more probably black, probably Democratic members of the Senate."
Much the same lack of enthusiasm is abroad in the rest of the land. In the five years since Congress approved DCVRA and sent it to the states, only 13 legislatures have ratified the measure. Another 25 must do so by 1985, or the bill dies automatically.
Win or lose, Delaware provided a textbook example this week of the skepticism with which the rest of the nation views the capital and its claims of disenfranchisement.
Melendez and other DCVRA proponents had considered Delaware particularly promising. Most of the state is within 100 miles of Washington ("Close enough for an evening at the Kennedy Center and you're home by midnight," said one representative). Washingtonians pump millions into the state's beachfront economy each summer. And a small state like Delaware, jealous of its rights, seemed especially likely to be sympathetic to the cries of political ouch from three-quarters of a million people.
But three points greatly bothered Delaware's representatives during two days of debate on the floor this week. They were:
Statehood: Opponents rose one after the other Wednesday to ask if DCVRA was actually statehood in disguise. Even though Meconi explained that it wasn't, and added that he opposes statehood, he failed to lay suspicions to rest. Besides Corrozi, only one Republican voted for the bill, and he was a cosponsor.
Parochial fear: If Washington had voting representatives, blustered Rep. B. Bradford Barnes on the floor, they would be "taking food out of the mouths of Delawareans and giving it to Washingtonians."
Racial mistrust: As Rep. G. Robert Quillen told Melendez and other lobbyists during a session in his office Tuesday, "I just don't want to see two more black senators over there. . . . I'm sorry, but that's just the way I feel."
For now, however, the citizens of the nation's capital are on track for a 14th ratification, even if their bill had to climb out of a freshly dug grave.