Ballot With Bullethole Wings: What Now for DC Voting Rights?

A preview of my introduction to tonight’s “Rapid Responsa: What Now for DC Voting Rights?”

Creating public programs at the J is more art than science. I had been talking with Jacob Feinspan of Jews United for Justice about working together on a public affairs event and we decided to make our first collaboration focus on the dilemma facing DC leaders back in May. There was finally legislation before Congress that would grant the District a vote in the House, but an amendment backed by pro-gun Democrats got attached to the bill which would have annulled all of DC’s gun control laws. The question as we phrased it at the time was, “Should We Take the Deal?” and we scheduled the program for tonight, Tuesday, June 16 at 7:30 pm.

Then last week the deal blew up.

Or did it?

The message coming from Congressional leaders is that there’s now no way to bring the DC Voting Rights bill to the House floor without the “Gun Rights” measures attached. The implication being that the deal ain’t changing so take it or leave it. For the moment no one has endorsed taking the deal in its present form, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll end up leaving it either.

So what now? Is there a better deal to be had? At what point does ceding the right to allow local legislators determine traditionally local issues become unpalatable as an instrument to gain one vote out of 437? Should we be outraged? Or is this all part of a larger political game of which we must be calculating players — prepared to concede that which is not essential to gain the best possible (if not ideal) outcome.

First we’ll ask our panel and then we’ll ask you.

Our panel includes:

Michael A. Brown, a third generation Washingtonian and strong advocate for youth and seniors of the District of Columbia, was recently elected as an At-Large member of the Council of the District of Columbia. He chairs the D.C. Council’s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, which has the primary task of developing an effective and comprehensive strategy to achieve Statehood by working with key Congressional leaders and community stakeholders. Raised in the Ward 4 community, Michael Brown graduated from Shepherd Elementary School and Mackin Catholic High School (now a part of Archbishop Carroll High School).  He received his undergraduate degree from Clark University in Massachusetts and his law degree from Widener University School of Law in Delaware.

Elissa Froman is a legislative associate at the National Council of Jewish Women’s Washington office where she works to realize NCJW’s commitment to civil rights and liberties. Previously, Elissa worked as a legislative assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. She currently serves on Jews United for Justice’s board of directors. She received a BA in Judaic studies and women’s studies, from the George Washington University.

Kesh Ladduwahetty is Chair of DC for Democracy (DF4D), the largest unaligned group of more than 400 progressive activists in the District of Columbia, and the DC affiliate of Democracy for America (DFA).  She has lived in the District for 20 years, and became addicted to grassroots politics in Howard Dean’s presidential campaign.  She has volunteered with DC4D on a number of fronts since 2003, including DC voting rights, the DC living wage, and numerous political campaigns, including Barack Obama’s campaigns.  She was proud to serve as an elected alternate for Obama at the Democratic National Convention.  She intends to see the District achieve full citizenship rights in her lifetime.

Phil Mendelson was first elected to the City Council as an at-large Democrat in November 1998. He is the Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and is a member of four additional committees: Housing & Workforce Development, Human Services, Public Works & Transportation, and Libraries, Parks, and Recreation. Along with representing the Council at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, he’s also President of the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO).

Joe Sternlieb is a co-founder and former president and board chair of DC Vote. Mr. Sternlieb is Vice President for Acquisitions at EastBanc, a developer of high quality mixed use projects in the District of Columbia.  His focus at EastBanc is the acquisition of transit- and service-friendly urban properties.  Prior to joining EastBanc he served for 10 years as the deputy director of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District where he oversaw economic development, transportation, physical improvements and homeless programs, and led initiatives such as the DC Circulator, DC Wayfinding Sign System, and Downtown Homeless Services Center.

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