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Public Spat Won’t Stop D.C.’s Advocates

Despite a public squabble last week between Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and voting-rights advocates, supporters insisted Monday they are united and efforts remain on track to obtain a full House vote for the District of Columbia in the 110th Congress.

Norton appeared alongside Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) and other city officials and advocates at a press conference on Friday to present a slew of initiatives in support of the DC Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act, which would grant the District a full vote in the chamber.

Fenty used the event to announce that supporters would lobby Congress on Feb. 15 and then hold a march on April 16, Emancipation Day, in support of the bill. But Norton urged activists to take earlier demonstrative action, arguing public activism is needed sooner rather than later.

After the event, some criticized Norton’s actions, with one person involved in the legislative effort saying her behavior “hurt the cause significantly.”

But things seemed to have calmed down on Monday, with voting-rights supporters insisting the incident would not hinder their overall goal of getting a full House vote for D.C. residents.

Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said there is no tension between Norton and the mayor and that Norton reacted so visibly simply because she was surprised by the late date of the march.

“She didn’t necessary do it in the most appropriate manner, but it was a one-time thing,” Hobson said. “Other than that, everything in terms of their working relationship is fine, and both are eager to get the bill passed.”

Norton said on Monday that her relationship with Fenty is good, pointing to conference calls she held with his office earlier in the day about voting rights efforts.

The press conference, she said, really wasn’t a big deal.

“That’s a small matter, because the rally is going to occur on Feb. 15,” Norton said. “And it will be led by the mayor. We’re all on the same page.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of voting rights group DC Vote, said the basic game plan will remain the same, but that new ideas are bound to pop up along the way.

“We’re working to enact this bill, and we want to enact it sooner rather than later,” Zherka said. “We would very much like to see movement in February or March, but we’re committed to try and get this bill enacted by the spring.”

One player who remained out of the fracas on Friday was Davis, who spoke briefly to insist that Republican support for the bill remains strong.

Davis spokesman Brian McNicoll said Monday the Congressman maintains a positive relationship with Norton and the press conference shouldn’t affect the effort.

“I think it’s so many people trying to do the right thing, and it is possible that in that one case, people didn’t take the time to stop and coordinate,” McNicoll said.

As for the bill, “we’re still pushing it as hard as we ever have,” he added.

Voting rights supporters got some good news on Monday, as DC Vote officially announced it had received a $250,000 grant from the Public Welfare Foundation for voting rights efforts.

But at the same time, there was concern about efforts to grant the five Delegates a vote in the Committee of the Whole vote, which will be heard in the Rules Committee today and voted on by the full House on Wednesday.

If the measure passes, Norton, Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R-P.R.) and Dels. Eni Faleomavaega (D-A.S.), Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Donna Christian-Christensen (D-V.I.) would be allowed to vote on amendments to measures but not on final passage. Plus, if the Delegate vote affects the outcome, the result would be thrown out and the House would revote without the Delegates.

The procedure existed in the House in the early 1990s, but was thrown out in 1995 after the Republican takeover of Congress. Some Republicans have called the latest move to restore it a power grab, arguing Democrats are seeking to misleadingly up their majority.

“What a wonderful breakthrough it was then,” Norton said. “But you know, after having the vote taken, and now with Democrats back [in power], a lot of water has washed over the bridge.”

Norton said she also is concerned that the process of enacting the committee of the whole vote will polarize the overall effort.

“It’s not going to be pretty, and I regret that,” she said.

She later added: “I’ve got to focus on the only vote the District wants. … When you almost get a full House vote through a Republican Congress, people expect to get it soon.”