Norton Challenger Thinks a Transformed District Deserves a New Delegate
While Washington’s streetscape, city government and demographics have changed dramatically over the past quarter-century, its representation in Congress has stayed constant over roughly the same period of time.
District voters first elected Eleanor Holmes Norton to be their non-voting delegate to the House in 1990, as a crack epidemic and related surge of violence made the city notorious as the nation’s “murder capital.”
During the mid-1990s, she helped the city navigate a series of managerial crises that led Congress to take control of D.C.’s finances and fought against further erosion of home rule. She routinely won re-election with more than 90 percent of the vote throughout the 2000s, as she worked to soften some Capitol Hill attitudes toward the revived and growing city. This April, she began cruising toward a 13th term with 97 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
Local tour guide and historian Tim Krepp looks at all the changes the city has undergone during Norton’s 24 years in Congress — from budget deficits to surpluses, from an exodus to the suburbs to some of the nation’s fastest urban population growth — and says it’s time for voters to re-evaluate whom they want advocating for their interests on Capitol Hill. While Norton boasts a solid working relationship with influential Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and has support from the president and her Senate colleagues on budget autonomy for the District , Krepp is campaigning against her on the basis that self-governance isn’t coming fast enough.
“I see an emerging confidence in D.C. that we can stand alone as a state,” Krepp said in an interview on Capitol Hill. The 39-year-old Hill East resident recently announced his plan to challenge Norton as an Independent.
“Oh, we can’t do this or the feds are going to smack us down,” is the attitude Krepp suggests holds the District back from its longtime goal of becoming the 51st state. “Some of it is the legacy of the Control Board in the mid-90s, when in fact we did mismanage the city — badly.”
Now D.C. has a strong fiscal track record, with 17 balanced budgets and 16 years of clean audits.
“We’re standing on our own two feet, and we’re increasingly doing so and I want to push us to do more on that regard. … We need to start looking at the delegate position as a Congress position,” Krepp said. “We haven’t challenged our incumbent to do that.”
Norton, who declined to comment for this article, frequently puts the cause of democracy for D.C. front and center. In 2007 and 2009, she almost secured voting representation in the House, but those efforts collapsed over Democrat-opposed amendments to nullify the city’s gun control laws. During Emancipation Week in April, she schooled the House chamber with a stack of floor charts depicting why D.C. deserves statehood.
While D.C. doesn’t get full voting rights in Congress, the elected delegate can introduce bills (Norton is among the most productive in Congress in this aspect) and may vote on committee and draft legislation. Norton is a member of the Oversight and Government Reform and Transportation and Infrastructure committees, with a plum spot as ranking member on the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.
Infrastructure is a primary focus for Krepp, especially bikes, buses and streetcars. A contributor to the regional transit and smart growth blog Greater, Greater Washington , Krepp promises that, if elected, he would challenge the architect of the Capitol to work in concert with the District on transit issues related to tourist traffic.
Krepp is also concerned about funding cuts to the National Park Service and jokes that he could “make a whole platform” on D.C.’s relationship to the NPS. He wants D.C.’s delegate to be more engaged with what’s happening on federal real estate.
“I can’t imagine Yosemite would be happy if you brought in tons of tour buses and let them idle and produce pollution and things like that,” Krepp says of the caravans of tour buses that park on city streets while he and other licensed guides lead them around landmarks such as the Capitol. “You’re dumping the problem on the residents of Washington, D.C., to deal with.”
Much of Krepp’s focus seems to be on the local political scene. He has interviewed candidates on the local ballot, including Norton , for his blog and written voter guides in advance of the primary and general elections. Krepp, a married father of two who has lived in the District for 10 years, said things such as public schools and streetcars are “critical local issues” that D.C.’s member of Congress might play a bigger role in coordinating with the D.C. Council.
Norton tends to play a more hands-off role, deferring to the mayor and the council on city affairs, but intervening as she sees fit. In September, when the Washington Post exposed a scandal over the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue’s program of auctioning tax liens of delinquent homeowners, she said Congress “better not interfere” with the issue. In February, she tried unsuccessfully to put the brakes on a new scholarship proposal as it was working its way though the D.C. Council, which she feared would threaten the federal D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program.
Krepp envisions the delegate, the mayor and the council working “as a team with local control. … I represent them, I don’t boss them around,” he said, critiquing Norton’s approach.
In early June, he picked up paperwork from the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, filed with the Federal Election Commission and is currently working to collect signatures. He knows he will need to appeal to many of the newer residents who have transformed the District over the past 25 years.
“A lot of folks come here for national reasons. They’re living here and not so familiar with the local issues, which I find problematic,” he said. In Krepp’s opinion, the biggest challenge to cracking into modern D.C. politics might be “apathy.”