Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) said yesterday that the House of Representatives won't be asked to vote this year on statehood for the District, the latest setback for what some supporters fear is a faltering plan to get the issue before Congress.
Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.), a leading opponent of Fauntroy's plan, said through a spokesman that he believes the statehood issue now "is dead."
Although Fauntroy, in an official statement, said that the delay was the result of a crowded House calendar, other statehood supporters said the decision to postpone was also politically motivated.
Local officials, already nervous about the District's image while federal investigations into possible government corruption are continuing, were alarmed three weeks ago when the House narrowly defeated, 210 to 200, a move by Parris to overturn the city's controversial prisoner early release act. The House has voted only twice in 12 years to overturn District legislation.
"It was the prison vote," one District official said when asked what precipitated the change in strategy.
The setback for statehood comes after nearly a year of high-profile public relations efforts by Fauntroy and others to promote the District as the 51st state. Although the efforts included many successful demonstrations, such as a "Liberty Bell" train to Philadelphia to dramatize the rights inherent in statehood, others said needed follow-up staff work and planning were spotty at best.
Although Fauntroy initially said a vote would be held as early as June 30 in the House, the so-called fast-track timetable set up by statehood supporters never materialized.
The drive itself spurred controversy in the District when leaders of the D.C. Council, including Chairman David A. Clarke and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), proposed legislation that superceded a blueprint approved in a referendum by voters in 1982.
Kane introduced legislation to postpone the election of two full-time statehood lobbyists and Clarke led the effort to rewrite the voter-approved statehood constitution -- in effect substituting the voters' document with a trimmed-down constitution that closely followed the home rule charter for the District approved by Congress.
Fauntroy said in his news release, "I look forward to the floor debate and vote on D.C. Statehood with growing optimism." Supporters now say they hope for a vote as early as January or February.
However, statehood supporters failed to meet any of the timetables set during the past year.
"Mr. Fauntroy's effort may not be dead . . . but it certainly appears comatose," said Mark Strand, press secretary to Parris.
The suburban Virginia congressman concurred that the vote on the prison legislation signaled trouble for the statehood measure. Parris' statement said he hoped that the District would focus instead on "improvements vital to District services -- ambulance services, the just incarceration of convicts, corruption and other glaring problems affecting residents of the District, commuters and visitors."