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Commentary
Mayor a no-show for D.C. lobbying
(Published July 25, 2005)

By BILL MOSLEY

If, as Woody Allen said, "80 percent of success is showing up," then Mayor Anthony Williams missed a giant opportunity earlier this month to lend his office to the cause of full democratic rights for the District. Instead of reaching for success, he didn't show up.

As those following the local news know, on July 5 the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting here at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, endorsed equal voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia. This action followed four days of lobbying and rallies organized by local activists to impress upon the parliamentarians more than 250 delegates representing 55 nations across Europe, North America and Central Asia that D.C. residents were serious about fighting for their rights and wanted supporters of democracy around the world to fight with us. Highlights of the campaign were a July 1 rally drawing about 200 residents to Freedom Plaza across from the hotel, and a July 2 flotilla with activist crews and boats draped with banners reading "Equal Voting Rights in D.C." in several languages that provided a friendly and informative escort for the parliamentarians as they cruised the Potomac to Mount Vernon.

The overwhelming support of the OSCE assembly for the voting rights resolution only three delegates opposed it, one of them being U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, an Ohio Republican provided, in the words of Tim Cooper, executive director of the human rights organization Worldrights and a principal organizer of the lobbying effort, "a quantum leap forward in the cause of D.C. equality" that will "increase international pressure on the U.S. to do the right thing and grant D.C. residents equal voting rights."

Through all this, Mayor Williams the elected leader of the District, whose presence during the assembly would have impressed the delegates with the gravity of the issue was nowhere to be seen. Organizers of the lobby campaign offered to arrange a reception during which he could press flesh with the delegates. However, Williams preferred to spend the long weekend attending the swearing-in of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, reportedly followed by a few days of R&R at the Nantucket vacation home of his political confidant Max Berry. He couldn't bring himself to remain in D.C. long enough for even a few minutes of face time with the delegates. While Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton ably and enthusiastically represented the District at the OSCE, adoption of the resolution was no means a certainty, and the District went into the battle without its biggest gun.

Of course, this continues a pattern by Williams, who sometimes talks the democracy talk but usually fails to walk the walk. He dutifully trotted to Capitol Hill last month to complain about legislation to repeal the District's gun laws. But when the opportunity comes to help take a meaningful step toward overturning the colonial structure that makes interference in our laws possible, he takes a pass.

It should be abundantly clear by now that Williams is at best a half-hearted advocate of democratic rights for his own jurisdiction, and at worst a collaborator in our disenfranchisement. Williams, after all, owes his rise to power as the staff- and budget-slashing chief financial officer to the congressionally imposed control board during the late 1990s, when he was nicknamed "Tony the Tiger" for his willingness to run roughshod over local officials and institutions. Since becoming mayor, Williams has not hesitated to undermine home rule when it suited his interests, such as inviting the control board to close D.C. General Hospital over the D.C. City Council's objections, and supporting congressional imposition of a school voucher program on the District even though neither the council nor the Board of Education asked for it.

When Williams became mayor, he insisted that fiscal probity and good behavior on the part of the District would win us our rights. Now, following seven consecutive balanced D.C. budgets accompanied by non-confrontational leadership from the mayor's office, we still lack voting representation in Congress or control over our own budgets, laws and criminal justice system. The citizen-activists who lobbied the OSCE may have done more to advance D.C. rights in four days than Mayor Williams, with the resources of the D.C. government at his disposal, has accomplished in two terms in office.

Perhaps whoever takes office as mayor in 2007 will take a cue from the OSCE success. Agitation, lobbying, and hard work beat doing nothing. But first of all, you have to show up.

***

Mosley is a member of the Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C. Coalition. Contact him at billmosley@comcast.net.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator