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Norton, Gray Blast Proposal to Nationalize D.C.’s World War I Memorial

Updated: 5:33 p.m.

In their latest effort to combat what they call “Congressional bullying,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Mayor Vincent Gray are fighting legislation to nationalize the D.C. World War I Memorial.

In a news conference this afternoon in the Rayburn House Office Building, Norton and Gray were joined by DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka; D.C. Office of Veterans Affairs Director Matthew Cary; and Kerwin Miller, chairman of Norton’s Service Academy Nominations Board.

“We will fight Congressional bullying whenever it rears its ugly head,” Norton said.

In 1931, a small monument was erected on the National Mall in honor of the 26,000 D.C. residents who served in World War I. At that time, the District did not yet have a mayor or D.C. Council, so President Herbert Hoover officiated over the dedication.

The memorial was formally rededicated last November, and 499 names are engraved on it to honor those who died in the Great War.

But a bill sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) would, in addition to creating a commission to plan celebrations for World War I’s centennial, turn the D.C. memorial into a national monument for all who served, from D.C. and elsewhere. A House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the measure is scheduled for Tuesday.

The measure would rededicate the memorial as “the District of Columbia and National World War I Memorial.”

“We have memorials for Vietnam, World War II and Korea on the mall, but we don’t have a memorial for all of those who served in World War I,” Poe said in introducing the bill on the House floor last March.

Norton and her allies say that converting the existing memorial would be an insult to the District.

“This is another example of how we have to stand up for ourselves,” Gray said today.

Previous versions of Poe’s legislation have garnered some bipartisan support, including Norton in one case.

She was a co-sponsor of Poe’s bill in the previous Congress. And Gray, then the D.C. Council chairman, voted in favor of a local resolution expressing support for nationalizing the D.C. World War I Memorial.

Norton and Gray explained their change of heart today.

“I heard from constituents and I did my homework,” Norton said. “I didn’t know the memorial had been paid for by D.C. residents.”

She added that she had initially thought Poe’s legislation would be a way of freeing more money to refurbish the memorial.

“I educated myself that it was more than simply getting the memorial fixed. We had to get the memorial fixed in the way it was meant to be presented to the public,” she said.

Gray said he dropped his support for Poe’s bill after “recognizing the nuances and implications of what this means.”

Norton has introduced a resolution expressing support for a World War I memorial in the nation’s capital, just not the one already dedicated to D.C.’s veterans.

Poe told Roll Call that he came up with the idea of expanding the memorial while jogging on the Mall.

“I saw it in the weeds,” he said. “It’s not even on the tourists’ maps of Washington.”

He maintained that his bill would expand the scope of the memorial, not rededicate it so as to remove D.C. veterans from the equation. Poe added that a memorial on the National Mall, paid for by taxpayer money, should honor taxpayers in all jurisdictions, not just the District of Columbia.

“It just seems like the logical place to put a memorial up,” he said.

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