Del. Walter Fauntroy (D-D.C.), dogged in his pursuit of District statehood, has enlisted the aid of D.C. Council members to raise more than $33,000 for a whistle-stop publicity tour from Washington to Philadelphia -- and some council members aren't too happy about it.
The July 11 venture will rely on council members to sell 504 seats to their constituents at $44 each. The Liberty Bell Train, as it has been dubbed, will stop in Baltimore and Wilmington for minirallies before reaching Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Station.
The trip is designed to piggyback on the bicentennial celebrations of the U.S. Constitution. Train riders will rally in Independence Square with participants assembled there by Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.).
But the idea, billed by Fauntroy as a dramatic way to "raise the consciousness of the body politic" about the District's statehood bid, has caused some grumbling at the District Building among politicians who feel that the price tag for Fauntroy's effort is excessive.
"It's against the law not to be enthusiastic about it, but I'm not," said council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2). "It doesn't seem like a rational expenditure to me."
Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) agreed. "It's pretty expensive, and frankly, it's putting a lot of pressure on council members when a lot of other things are going on," he said.
The individual $44 round-trip ticket is a bargain. Amtrak sells weekend round-trip excursion fares to Philadelphia for $47.50. But for council members, the statehood train means peddling 42 of those tickets, with each council member assigned the responsibility for helping to fill a train car.
All of the council members, except statehood opponent Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), have agreed -- with varying degrees of fervor -- to participate in the train ride, which has been in the planning stages since February.
Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8) said yesterday that she already has sold 50 tickets over the telephone. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) has mailed letters to advisory neighborhood commissioners and other community activists to encourage them to buy tickets.
Fauntroy, meanwhile, said he has heard not a grumbling word against the plan, for which he has enlisted the aid of three congressional colleagues, Reps. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Pennsylvania's Gray.
"I think people understood that you simply can't get Amtrak to take you to Philadelphia for free," Fauntroy said. Relying on the council members' ward organizations, Fauntroy said, is the best way to make sure that the entire city is represented in the publicity blitz.
The whistle-stop speeches and rallies, Fauntroy said, are designed to "prick the conscience" of people in other states and alert them to the District's concern.
But some council members, faced with selling dozens of tickets in a few weeks just as the council enters its annual prerecess legislative crunch, are embracing the plan a little more cautiously.
"It's fine as a symbolic thing," said council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large). "But I want to see the emphasis placed on Congress and lobbying the members of Congress."