If no voting representation in Congress and skeptical airport security who don’t recognize “the District of Columbia” isn’t bad enough, add getting drunk at football games in New Jersey to the list of rights stripped from District residents.
District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is urging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to make sure league vendors recognize and accept D.C. driver’s licenses after concession staff at Metlife Stadium hassled at least two residents of the nation’s capital trying to get beers.
D.C. couple Aninda and Tanvi Maitra headed up to New Jersey in September for the Redskins-Giants game, an annual tradition for the New York native husband and his Washington-raised wife. At the second quarter, Aninda stopped by a concession and ordered two beers.
He handed over his District of Columbia driver’s license, and the food stand worker stared intently. “The lady says ‘I’m sorry, we cant accept this, we need to see your passport,” recalled Maitra, a 36-year-old tech worker. “At that point, I say ‘Why not? I’m from the nation’s capital.’”
She didn’t budge.
“Out of frustration, I was like ‘uhhh, but I’m an American!’ because at that point, I was thinking they were seeing Columbia, and they were asking for my passport because I thought they were thinking the country of Colombia,” said Maitra.
A few months earlier, Richard Mann had similar woes in Metlife Stadium trying to get his Miller Lite at a bachelor party watching the Copa América Centenario final between Chile and Argentina. A vendor told him they couldn’t accept foreign licenses.
“I explained to the lady that the nation’s capital is in fact part of the U.S., but she did not believe me,” said Mann, a 29-year-old Fort Totten resident. “She said, “that makes no sense, D.C. is part of Maryland.”
Both men eventually got their beers.
But Maitra, remembering the news coverage of District residents stranded at airports because TSA agents rejected their licenses (and in at least one case, apparently thought it was out-of-country).
He shot off e-mails to the Giants complaint line and the District delegate. A representative of the concessions contractor suggested the servers may have been overzealous because New Jersey law technically only permits them to accept issued issued by state or the federal government, and D.C., Puerto Rico and other territories are not.
“That would be crazy,” sighed a New Jersey government spokeswoman who is double-checking this assertion. In 2014, New Hampshire liquor regulators had to clarify that Washington D.C. licenses are acceptable after a store denied District shoppers trying to buy booze.
Maitra’s story incensed Norton, a longtime advocate for D.C. statehood, who previously met with the TSA over the license flap. Her office suspects there’s been greater confusion over the licenses since they were changed to say District of Columbia instead of Washington, D.C.
“This is unacceptable, as you can imagine, and embarrassing. I request that the NFL take action to ensure that all alcohol vendors can recognize D.C. licenses,” Norton wrote in a letter to Goodell. “I ask that the NFL take action that will ensure my constituents are welcome at NFL games like other Americans.”
Maitra, who works in technology for an investment bank and never reached out to a government official before, is a bit bemused that his beer mishap is now a Congressional matter.
“Obviously getting a beer is a first class problem, so it’s not the end of the world,” said Maitra. “It’s a greater problem that D.C. residents are not recognized as first class citizens.”
Mann, who tweeted at the delegate after she announced her letter to Goodell, is used to the little indignities of living in the nation’s capital.
“I always take my passport on flights, even domestic ones, to make sure this does not happen,” said Mann. “I guess I will need to take it to NY/NJ sporting events as well going forward.”
He probably wouldn’t have to if D.C. becomes a state, and a statehood referendum on Tuesday’s ballot is part of the latest uphill push to become the 51st state. Mann plans to vote yes, and Maitra already has.