On the eve of Barack Obama’s second inauguration, people have suggested to me that it’s time to give the president a break on the District. He’ll be liberated in his second term, the thinking goes, and he’ll finally starting paying attention to the needs of his home town.
So I won’t chronicle — again — the four years’ worth of slights and insults this president has visited upon the District, whose three electoral votes he has twice won with more than 90 percent of the vote. Suffice it to say, however, that on the issues that matter most to D.C., his record has been indifference, disinterest and neglect.
But I’ve never understood why. Is it personal for Obama? Or has no one close to him taken enough of an interest in D.C. affairs to advocate for the city?
I decided it would be interesting to look at the voting histories of some of Obama’s closest aides. I selected eight individuals who have registered to vote in the District, which I consider an affirmation that they take D.C. residency seriously. These eight have important roles at the White House, but I also picked them because, with one exception, their offices are near the Oval Office and, more crucially, because their jobs afford them personal contact with the president.
How engaged, really, are they in the political life of the District? As D.C. voters, they are in a position to fully appreciate the sting of taxation without representation, especially on Election Day. One can imagine any one of them stealing an opportunity to push for action on the District’s colonial status with the boss. That is, if they cared enough about what’s happening in the city.
Let’s take a look at the record, as provided to me by the D.C. Board of Elections and the White House:
●Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Her relationship with the president goes back decades, and she is widely considered his most trusted adviser. She registered to vote in the District in 2009, and she did vote in the 2012 presidential election, when Obama was on the ballot. But that’s it. She did not take part in four other local elections for which she was eligible: The April 3, 2012, presidential and council primary; the April 26, 2011, special election; the Nov. 2, 2010, general election; and, most revealingly, in the hotly contested Sept. 14, 2010, Democratic primary for mayor. Participation rate: 20 percent.
●Peter Rouse, counselor to the president. The president’s chief political adviser inside the White House, Rouse has extensive contacts on the Hill. One can imagine the president turning to Rouse for advice on legislation concerning D.C. home rule, enhanced representation or statehood. Or Rouse might choose to advocate on his own — except his voting record suggests he’s not that interested.
Rouse registered to vote in the District in 2009. He voted in November and in the 2010 general election. He missed the 2012 primary, the 2011 special election and the 2010 mayoral primary. Participation rate: 40 percent.
●U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. A native Washingtonian, Rice has been registered to vote in the District since 1992. Like Rouse, she voted in November and in the 2010 general election, and she voted — early — in the 2010 mayoral primary. She missed the 2012 primary and the 2011 special election. Participation rate: 60 percent.
●Press secretary Jay Carney. The face of the Obama administration, Carney registered to vote here in 1996, and he took part in the 2012 presidential election. But the only other ballot he cast was in the 2010 mayoral primary. Participation rate: 40 percent.
●Chief speechwriter Jonathan Favreau. I know speechwriters don’t get to choose what the president speaks about, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make suggestions. When drafting addresses with themes of democracy (the upcoming inaugural comes to mind), does Favreau consider mentioning the disenfranchisement of the District? How much does he cherish his own right to vote?
Favreau registered to vote in the District in 2005. He voted in the 2012 presidential election and the 2010 mayoral primary but missed the other three. Participation rate: 40 percent.
●National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon. Donilon is a longtime D.C. resident, and he registered to vote in the city in 1989. He voted in the Nov. 6 presidential election — and that's it. Participation rate: 20 percent.
●White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew. The low-profile Agnew is the point person in the administration for matters concerning the District. Surely he could be an advocate for the District within the White House if he chose to be. That a person with no D.C. roots was selected for this position speaks volumes in itself.
Agnew registered in the District on Nov. 2, 2010, so he wasn’t eligible to take part in that year’s mayoral primary. He voted in the 2012 general election and primary, missed the 2011 special election and took part in the 2010 general election. Agnew did the best of the eight, with a participation rate of 75 percent.
●Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco. Mastromonaco is responsible for scheduling and personnel at the White House. She registered to vote in 2003 and has voted in the District only twice since — in November and in the 2010 mayoral primary. Participation rate (counting only the five most recent elections): 40 percent.
It must be noted that two prominent Obama administration officials — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget — have exemplary voting records. Holder voted in both the D.C mayoral primary and the general election in 2010; Zients voted in both local elections as well.
But it’s a disappointing record overall. It’s not surprising that, in the White House, “D.C.” seems to stand for “doesn’t count.” What would happen if the powerful advisers I list here began to take their D.C. residency more seriously? Hard to say, but I have to believe it would help the rest of us attain more democracy.
D.C. residents might even become first-class Americans, though at least one more person would have to get on board: Ultimately, it’s up to President Obama to wake up and decide to do something about this injustice.
The writer is the political analyst for WTTG-TV (Fox 5 News).