New Head of D.C. Activist Group Wants to Expand Fight Beyond the Beltway

Posted March 17, 2013 at 6:30pm

Longtime District of Columbia activists can attest that the battle for expanded rights for the federal city can be a heartbreaking one, ticking off the times when prospects for victories evaporated just as they appeared within reach.

But Kimberly Perry, the incoming executive director of the prominent advocacy organization DC Vote, thinks the time is finally right for a win.

“Somebody said to me, ‘This issue hasn’t been solved in 227 years. What makes you think it will happen now?’” Perry recalled. “But I think it will. I think the momentum is strong. I think DC Vote and advocates across the city have done a really good job elevating the issue.

“Statehood and voting rights are in our near future,” she said, without equivocation.

Perry, set to take the organization’s reins on April 10, is a veteran fundraiser, campaign organizer and lobbyist, focusing much of her past advocacy efforts on the health and well-being of children.

She is the founder of D.C. Hunger Solutions, where she worked with District officials to help ensure that needy children were fed healthful meals at city schools. Most recently, she oversaw a domestic children’s health initiative at the William J. Clinton Foundation.

The DC Vote statement announcing her appointment noted her recognition on local, national and international platforms, and it said she’d bring her track record of success in harnessing the energy of individuals from diverse communities toward accomplishing a common goal to the cause of D.C. autonomy.

In a recent interview with CQ Roll Call, Perry agreed that her background has prepared her for her new role.

“I’ve spent my career mobilizing regular people — moms and dads and people who work with kids, whether they’re teachers or camp counselors, to find their voice,” she said.

She also said her history with the D.C. voting rights movement — as a longtime District resident and frequent DC Vote volunteer — makes the job a good fit as well.

And while she’s a Los Angeles native, she calls Washington her home.

“The substance is here. I feel like the excitement is here. I like the energy of the city. The culture, the language, the diversity and the issues. It is the center of idealism at its best and worst. And so that’s exciting, and it keeps the energy high,” Perry said. “I feel constantly intellectually challenged about what’s happening in our country and our world. I feel like a global citizen here. I don’t always feel that in other places.”

Perry is assuming the organization’s helm at a time when the winds seem to be blowing in a positive direction for the city she loves.

In January, President Barack Obama outfitted his fleet of vehicles with “Taxation Without Representation” license plates, and the administration has since that time issued a pair of statements reiterating the White House’s support for District voting rights and statehood.

The chairmen of D.C.’s oversight committees on Capitol Hill continue to be strong advocates for the city. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to make “New Columbia” the 51st state. While a long shot, it represents an important gesture of solidarity.

In the House, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has opted to move the entire D.C. portfolio to the full committee level rather than relegate it to a subcommittee and has a close working relationship with Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the District’s mayor, Vincent C. Gray.

And on April 23, D.C. residents will have a chance to vote on whether to amend their charter to give the city control of its own money by unlinking the local budget from the congressional appropriations process. If it succeeds, the grass-roots approach to achieving budget autonomy after a year and a half of stops and starts in Congress would be a watershed moment for D.C. independence from congressional control.

Budget autonomy by referendum, however, is not a done deal. Congress has the authority to overturn the decision if it chooses, through a resolution of disapproval or perhaps via a rider in some must-pass piece of legislation. It could also be challenged in court by those who feel the charter amendment illegally attempts to circumvent Congress’ inherent control over the D.C. budget and violates the law that forbids D.C. from spending funds before they are appropriated, in this case by Congress.

Not yet a full-time member of the DC Vote team, Perry said she would hold off on discussing how she intends to channel gains and confront potential obstacles, and in general she has refrained from talking vision and strategy.

She did suggest she intends to help raise the profile of the District’s struggle for self-determination outside the city and give it new resonance on Capitol Hill.

She’s specifically looking forward to “taking this campaign out of D.C., putting more pressure on Congress and providing an opportunity for even more voices to be heard on a regular basis,” she said.

As for everything else, “I’d love to save that for after April 10.”