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Fighting for D.C.’s Identity

Norton Makes Headway in Effort to Reclaim District's Postmark

Considering that she is not a full-voting Member of Congress, it’s easy to understand why Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is a bit sensitive when she feels the District has been overlooked. So when Norton learned earlier this month that the city’s postmark was getting lost in the mail-processing shuffle, she picked up the phone and demanded answers from the Postal Service.

And on Tuesday, Norton proudly announced that her inquiry had been effective. By Christmas, most mail originating from the District will once again bear the city’s postmark.

With the city getting closer to having a vote in Congress, “This is a time for the District to gain greater respect and authority, not to lose any part of our unique identity as a world capital and hometown to 600,000 residents,” Norton said during a press conference at the National Capitol Station Post Office near Union Station.

“We are pleased to reclaim that postmark today for residents, for those who use our mail, and for the many tourists who visit and send mail home with the Washington, D.C., postmark as a souvenir of their visit to our city.”

It’s not that the postmark actually disappeared. But because of recent changes in Postal Service personnel, most mail from D.C. had started inadvertently receiving a “Suburban MD” postmark.

Norton learned of what she called the “vanishing postmark” from a Dec. 5 article in The Washington Post. The newspaper had mailed 235 envelopes from D.C. in an experiment. Only 10 percent of those envelopes arrived at their destinations with a D.C. postmark.

The Post even found that two letters mailed from the same location at the same time wound up with different postmarks.

Most D.C. mail has been sorted and postmarked from a facility in Gaithersburg, Md., since the 2001 anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill and the death of two employees at a facility in the District’s Brentwood neighborhood.

Although separate machines in Gaithersburg had been designated for D.C. postmarks, new employees were not marking all mail properly, postal officials discovered.

Norton, a member of the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Postal Service, said she does not believe there was an intentional effort to discard the postmark.

After the Post article and Norton’s inquiry, D.C. Postmaster Yverne Moore tackled the problem.

“Although the District of Columbia postmark never went away, we are pleased to work with Congresswoman Norton to take steps to ensure that nearly all District mail receives the postmark,” Moore said at the press conference.

Moore said the post office hopes to reach the 90 percent mark shortly.

But she cautioned that at least for now, it won’t be possible to get the postmark on every piece of mail sent from the District. Late-arriving items go to a postal facility in Capitol Heights, Md., where they receive a “Southern MD” postmark. That mail will continue to get the non-D.C. mark, though Moore said she is exploring potential remedies.

The post office would rather get that mail out sooner with the Southern Maryland mark than later with a D.C. mark, Moore said.

While Norton said she will push to achieve 100 percent success, she added, “We wanted to make sure that residents learned of the good news that the great majority of our mail will carry the D.C. postmark in time for the holidays.”

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