Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) said yesterday that if elected president, he would not sign legislation to give the District a vote in the House of Representatives as proposed by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).
Kerry's declaration, made after he spoke with top city Democrats including Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, marked a rare break between the national Democratic Party's standard-bearer and District aspirations for congressional voting rights.
Twelve of 13 elected D.C. Council members this month embraced a bid by Davis, chairman of a House panel that oversees city affairs, to temporarily expand the House by two seats to add a voting representative for the District and another seat for Utah, which was next in line to gain another member after the 2000 U.S. Census.
Davis has said the change could help break the decades-old partisan logjam over enfranchising 560,000 D.C. residents with a vote in Congress. Because the District is overwhelmingly Democratic and Utah is overwhelmingly Republican, he has said, neither side would gain an edge in the House, which the GOP controls by a 12-vote margin.
But Kerry said yesterday that the plan would serve as a stalking horse for Republicans to extend their control of Congress. He cited GOP efforts to redraw congressional districts in states such as Texas to oust established Democratic House incumbents.
"I would not sign the congressman's bill into law because I think that bill would create all kinds of side issues about reapportionment across the country," Kerry said. "Given the current games that have been played with that, I think that would be very dangerous."
Kerry otherwise reaffirmed his support for District voting rights.
"I believe that people deserve representation," Kerry said. "I intend to fight to see that representation occurs somehow, and I can't tell you what possibly will pass, but I know what I believe." A vote in the House and two votes in the U.S. Senate for the District have been a part of the national Democratic Party platform.
Kerry met for 30 minutes yesterday with Norton and D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden to discuss city affairs at a Capitol Hill hotel where the candidate's national finance committee had gathered. Williams participated by telephone from Georgia, where he addressed a National League of Cities meeting before departing for a trip to Italy.
Afterward, Norton announced her endorsement of Kerry. She and Bolden said Kerry promised to hold a campaign event in the city.
Kerry, speaking to reporters, vowed that his administration would find a way to offset what he called an $800 million-a-year revenue gap in the District, the difference between the city's tax revenue, which Congress limits, and required expenditures.
"It's going to be very difficult in the long run for the city to do what it needs to do unless it gets more help from the federal government in a structural way," Kerry said. "We have to find a way to adjust the relationship between the federal government and our nation's capital."
Kerry won the District's Democratic nominating caucuses in February with 47 percent of the vote. Local Democrats had called Kerry's campaign a disappointment because he did not campaign publicly in the city and dropped out of the District's nonbinding first-in-the-nation advisory primary in January. The primary was intended to spotlight the voting rights issue.