The annual debate in Congress over how the D.C. government should spend its money is never merely a matter of budget balancing. This year was no exception.
Members of the House used the budget's arrival on the floor last week as a chance to offer their take on the ever-hot topic of the relationship between Congress and its federal city.
Rep. David Joseph Weldon (R-Fla.), for example, shared his views during the debate over whether the city should be allowed to spend its own money on a needle-exchange program. City officials say the program would help prevent the spread of HIV, which causes AIDS.
Weldon, who backed a ban on city spending on the needle exchange, explained why he believes Congress needs to involve itself in the nitty-gritty of D.C. affairs.
"The District of Columbia is not some hamlet in Maryland," he said. "I consider this town to be as much a possession of every person in the United States as the people who live here year-around, and I believe it is very, very appropriate for us to set some standards."
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) took the middle ground. First, he voted to support the ban on needle-exchange spending, a measure decried by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) as a violation of the city's home rule. Then Davis lectured fellow House members on D.C. history, trying to explain why the city should be given more respect by Congress.
"It goes back to the late 1700s, when we wanted to have a federal enclave that would not be at the mercy of any state government," Davis said. "Some militia who had been unpaid from the Revolutionary War fell upon the Pennsylvania militia . . . . and let them chase the Continental Congress across the river from Philadelphia [where it was then based] to New Jersey."
Now, more than 200 years later, there is no threat that the president and Congress are about to be run out of town. But the city's 520,000 residents remain without basic rights found in every other community in the nation, he said.
"A lot has changed in 200 years. [But] the city still does not have a vote on this floor, although their residents pay taxes. They can be drafted. They have served in the military. They do the things everybody in all of our states do," Davis said.
For that reason, Davis said, the city should be allowed to spend money on a lawsuit that seeks to gain a vote in Congress for the District's representatives.
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) was even more blunt on the point.
"We all represent at least half a million Americans, and for any member of this place to have the unmitigated gall to come in here and say that . . . . the Americans who live in the District of Columbia cannot use their own dollars to pursue the ability to be represented is an outrage," Obey said. "This House does not stand for public representation, it does not stand for democracy, it stands for taxation without representation--which we fought a revolution to overturn--if it does not support this amendment."
Ultimately, an amendment by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to allow the city to spend its money on the voting-rights case failed on a 214 to 214 vote. Davis and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (Va.) and Constance A. Morella (Md.) were among the 15 Republicans who voted in favor of Norton's amendment.
The measure, of course, would have passed if its sponsor--Norton--were allowed a vote in the House.
Chamber Snares Monteilh
Richard Monteilh, who recently resigned as head of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, has landed a new gig as the executive director of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
After Mayor Anthony A. Williams decided that Monteilh wouldn't play a leading role in his administration, business leaders of the chamber started eyeing the man credited with engineering the city's first comprehensive development plan for their top spot.
He succeeds Kwasi Holman, who led the chamber for six years before resigning several weeks ago.
Marie Johns, president of the chamber, said Monteilh's background in D.C. government should help ease the group's transition to a new administrator.
"We feel fortunate to have someone with his experience and knowledge of the city to come into this role at chamber at this time," she said. "We're really looking forward to working with the administration given the mayor's vision for economic development. We can create that synergy between the [Williams] administration and a committed private sector."
While at the housing department, Monteilh worked to award millions of dollars in federal grants that hadn't been spent under his predecessor. He asked for the resignations of 70 of his staff members, then rehired just half of them. He criticized the inner workings of D.C. government and never gained the new mayor's allegiance.
One member of the chamber said that Monteilh's aggressive leadership will be a good match for an organization that is "headed in a new direction." The board was so pleased to have Monteilh that two other candidates for the job were not granted interviews.
Richard Bradley, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, praised the chamber's decision to hire Monteilh.
"We look forward to working with Richard," Bradley said. "He brings a proven track record of experience in dealing with economic development. I think it's particularly important since he led the effort to craft an economic development strategy for the city last fall. You have someone with a clear understanding of the economic development needs of the city."
Community activist Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said the chamber has selected someone "who can hit the ground running."
"He's very much his own person," Lynch said. "Clearly, the chamber wanted someone who is strong, independent and can provide leadership, not just a 'yes' person to the mayor.
"The mayor's been slow to respond to the business community, and particularly the minority business community, as the chamber may have wanted. The chamber needs someone who can step in right away. Monteilh knows the people and has cut his teeth on this."
Is No Place Safe?
It's hard to imagine a more secure spot in the District than Judiciary Square.
At one corner is the city's police headquarters. Across the way is One Judiciary Square, home to the mayor's office, the D.C. Council and hundreds of other city employees. And then, of course, there are the city and federal courthouses spread across the square.
So what happened late last month to a car assigned to the city administrator's office while parked at Judiciary Square?
"Unknown person(s) broke the passenger vent window and stole the listed property from inside the vehicle," reads the police report. The property stolen: a cell phone.