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Memorial War

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, one-time mayor of Kansas City, Mo., is trying to obtain national monument status for his hometown’s World War I memorial.

He stands with Norton, he said, against efforts to rededicate the District’s monument as the “D.C. and National World War I Memorial.”

“Kansas City never asked for D.C. to be in the legislation,” Cleaver told Roll Call. “And now Kansas City is being punished because some guy — not someone from Kansas City, not someone from D.C. — went out and got people all confused.”

“Some guy” is Edwin Fountain, a Virginia resident who practices law in D.C. and serves as one of the directors of the World War I Memorial Foundation, which is leading the fight to nationalize the D.C. memorial.

Fountain, whose group teamed up with Poe on his legislation, disputes Cleaver’s version of events that describes him as a spoiler who used the late Frank Buckles, then 109 years old and the last living American World War I veteran, as leverage for his movement.

“This is not a political thing for me. I’m the grandson of two World War I veterans, and I feel there should be a national World War I memorial in Washington, D.C.,” Fountain said. “When we were doing our bill, I had no clue about Kansas City. I had never anticipated that objection.”

Poe, whose bill is named in Buckles’ memory, at least in part because the veteran supported the nationalization of the D.C. memorial, also waves away criticisms that the bill is an affront to the people of D.C.

“It’s not being taken away from anybody, it’s just being expanded,” Poe said. “The D.C. memorial is on the National Mall, so we should expand it to include everyone in the nation, not just D.C. veterans.”

Fountain and Poe also said the D.C. memorial is being targeted not out of disrespect for D.C. residents, but because National Mall space is scarce and expensive, making expansion of a pre-existing structure the best option.

Motivations aside, the bottom line is that Norton, Gray, local officials and D.C. activists are prepared to raise hell against Democrats who support Poe’s bill in the House — and not even Cleaver would be off the hook.

For DC Vote, the leading organization in the area fighting for D.C. autonomy, there’s no room for compromise.

“You can’t do both of those things,” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka said of the dozens of House Democrats and CBC members who are co-sponsors of Cleaver’s bill. “You can’t help [Cleaver] and stick it to the District.”

Norton, who said she’s sympathetic to Cleaver, also suggested that his continued co-sponsorship of the bill would be unacceptable.

“Emanuel Cleaver is the last person who would ever have intended to take away from the District of Columbia the memorial to its war heroes,” Norton said, “[but] we’ve made it clear that under no circumstances will we allow anyone to have a taking of the District of Columbia.”

At the end of the day, Cleaver said, he’ll probably have to drop his support of the legislation.

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