When Rep. Stewart B. McKinney's car was booted a few years ago, he saw it not only with the same overwhelming frustration the rest of us do but as a symbol of how far home rule had come in the District.
"In the old days, you didn't give a congressman a parking ticket," said McKinney (R-Conn.), now ranking Republican on the House District Committee.
That was in the days when Congress controlled the city and a crusty old Democrat from South Carolina, John McMillan, had control of the House District Committee for a quarter-century. "Johnny Mac" was undisputed boss.
"John McMillan ran the city," McKinney said, recalling when he first arrived in Congress in 1971, at the beginning of what would prove to be McMillan's last term. "You didn't deal with him. Rep. Gil Gude R-Md. and I sat there and twiddled our thumbs."
D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, who also went to Congress in 1971 as the city's first representative there in modern times, remembers McMillan from the unique vantage point of a new member in a new position and a black dealing with a conservative white southern chairman.
"He never called me 'boy,' but I got the feeling that he and Rep. Joel Broyhill R-Va. and Rep. Thomas G. Abernethy D-Miss. had a lot of fun saying 'We'll teach him,' " Fauntroy said.
The delegate already had known the frustrations of Hill control from having been part of an impotent local government. One thing he found was that city workers were training friends and family of congressmen to become their bosses, or "up and over the shoulder," Fauntroy said, illustrating by making a stirrup with his hands.
"When I became vice chair of the City Council, I thought I was going to be in charge of something. But after about a year, I realized . . . . When somebody's son couldn't make it there in a congressman's home district , they'd say 'Come on to Washington, we'll give you a job.' "
The attitude of District business people, who knew how to play the political game, didn't help give the local government any credence, Fauntroy recalled.
"The Board of Trade would just sort of ignore the appointed government and come up here and lobby for what they wanted. They had good friends," Fauntroy said. They helped their friends with significant campaign contributions, as well.
"They members of Congress loved the fire department, they loved the police department," said Walter E. Washington, who was appointed mayor in 1967 and became the first elected mayor in 1975. "They didn't care much about anything else, because those were security areas for the business community."
"Unions had a hard time" in pre-home rule days, said Joslyn N. Williams, head of the local AFL-CIO. The southern and conservative congressmen who controlled the District Committee wanted to put their own people in city jobs and were hostile to unions, he said, so organizing and union representation in the public sector only developed after home rule.
With the 1972 defeats of McMillan and other congressmen who opposed home rule, the self-government act passed in 1973, but it was not all smooth sailing. Racial overtones were part of the debate.
"Most of us know that if we had home rule, with the makeup of this city, we wouldn't really be able to operate the federal government like we should . . . . This community, with the makeup of its population, I don't know who these people would elect. Jane Fonda? Or what's his name, Stokely Carmichael, for governor?" -- Rep. Earl Landgrebe (R-Ind.), April 1973.
Rep. Ancher Nelson of Minnesota, the ranking Republican on the District Committee, also had fears about who might be elected, Dick Clark remembers. Nelson, an avid whittler, would sit in front of his many carved birds, whittling while Clark, the head of the Coalition for Self-Determination, tried to lobby him for home rule.
"If you got home rule," Nelson grumped to Clark one of these times, "you'd probably elect somebody like that Marion Barry."
Clark says he quickly assured Nelson that the people of the District of Columbia would be unlikely to choose the flamboyant school board member as their mayor but that if they did, well, that was democracy for you.
He also set up a meeting between Barry and Nelson and said this reassured the congressman about one of the city's only elected officials.
Barry, for one, was lukewarm to the final compromise law in 1973, saying it did not go far enough, and he toyed with the idea of recommending that voters not ratify the home rule charter.
The voters, however, overwhelmingly ratified it in May 1974, and it went into effect Jan. 2, 1975.
Not everyone today is convinced that home rule was a good idea.
Former congressman Joel Broyhill (R-Va.) was a major opponent of the home rule bill, and says today he would still go back to the old system of running the District if he had his druthers. Some compromise might be in order, but not total home rule, he says.
"Somewhere we should have drawn a line between simply turning it over to the people of the District of Columbia," because it is the nation's capital, belonging to everyone, Broyhill said in a recent interview. City officials "have done all right," he said, "but that's beside the point."
"If Benjamin Franklin had been born in Washington D.C., we might all be languishing in darkness today." -- Rep. Frank Thompson Jr. (D-N.J.), July 18, 1963, on the House floor.
The kite-flying debate became infamous, a symbol of the ridiculousness of Congress having to approve all local laws. Thompson had introduced the bill to allow kite flying, balloons and parachutes -- all prohibited under an 1892 law -- "to throw off the yoke of tyranny," he said in his tongue-in-cheek introductory speech.
But it wasn't until 1970, after a lengthy debate on the House floor, that Congress finally resolved this burning issue and allowed kite flying in the city.
In those days, the appointed mayor was largely a lobbyist for city interests at the White House and on Capitol Hill. The appointed City Council was largely public bluster and private booster whose authority was in part a matter of perception rather than reality.
Gilbert Hahn, chairman of the appointed council from 1969 to 1972, describes how on his first day in office the corporation counsel asked him to issue a ruling that the council had no authority over freeways, one of the hottest issues of the time.
"That would be some way to break into this position," Hahn recalls thinking. Instead he did claim power over freeways and whether or not that was the case, it enabled him to have an impact, he said.
"It was a frame of mind," Hahn said. "If I had said we don't have the power, we could have gone to sleep for three years."
His attempt was to get people to consider the council a factor, and he says the White House sometimes would "throw a problem to us because it was too difficult or too silly."
Walter Washington became "mayor-commissioner" of the District in September 1967, appointed by President Johnson. For almost a century before that, the city had been run by three presidentially appointed commissioners, approved by Congress. While the change was a step toward more local authority, it was a small one.
"I had to explain why we had to have a second nail on the second floor" of some housing project, Washington said recently about going to the Hill before home rule, where his budget got as much scrutiny as the Defense Department's. "I had some hard days."
But LBJ taught him about lobbying on the Hill, and he would go up informally on Saturdays to catch McMillan in his sports jacket, Washington said.
"Well, I would go there on Saturday morning and I'd take five items that I needed help on, for instance. And I'd say, 'Mr. Chairman, this is what I need.' McMillan would say 'Oh, I can't get all that done. No way to get all that. But I'll give you . . . one, two, three,' " Washington recalled.
Congressmen today still bring up local laws that require cumbersome gas pumps and inhibit self-service by members' wives, deal with potholes in the streets and offer names for D.C. streets and bridges. But the tone is far different now, those who have seen both say.
When Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) asked that one of the 14th Street bridges be renamed for Arland D. Williams Jr., a hero of the Air Florida plane crash in 1982 and a fellow graduate of The Citadel, the senator "came in effect hat in hand to the mayor and the City Council," one city official said. "There were no threats. He was extremely respectful."
Now the House District Committee, which retains oversight of locally passed laws, has adopted a policy of intervening only under three circumstances: when the City Council has exceeded its authority, violated a clear federal interest or passed something unconstitutional.
The committee's main goal now, McKinney says, should be to disappear. Once it approves a few more authorities for the city -- budget control and the court system primarily -- it can go out of business and become a subcommittee of some other House panel.
Today, less than a third of the congressmen who were here during the home rule debate are still in the House. Some say this is bad for the city, because the Hill now doesn't know the history of some of the District's problems; others say it helps, because most of the members are gone who had expected to get whatever they wanted from the city automatically.
Barry says he still has to teach new members of Congress about the city and that the turnover is a downside. But he says his congressional relations are good.
"I've been level-headed and sensible and sane as opposed to what some people on the Hill thought I might have been doing," Barry says today. He doesn't like having to go to the Hill for budget reviews, but he says he doesn't resent it.
"I don't like it, but I do it well," he said.
The District still has a way to go before it has total self-government. City officials want the mayor, rather than the president, to appoint local judges, Congress to give up its authority to amend the city's budget, adoption of an automatic federal payment under a formula rather than negotiating one each year, and authority to impose a commuter tax.
Ultimately it wants statehood, and Fauntroy says it "would be a natural" for him to become a senator. But if that happens, he says, "it will be a miracle."
That's the same word many use to describe the transition to home rule a decade ago.