The District’s six Democratic mayoral candidates pitched some outside-the-box ideas on Wednesday night for achieving statehood — from using local tax dollars to pay the city’s shadow delegation to Congress to flying the D.C. flag upside down until it becomes the 51st state.
Flipping the three-star banner on its head was the glib suggestion of Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal when asked during the first debate of the 2014 mayoral race for a “novel” idea to help the city gain more autonomy.
“I think the reason why we can’t seem to get much traction with statehood is because we’ve sort of just dismissed the public as if they’re not necessary,” Shallal told CQ Roll Call in an interview after the event. “We have to give them a reason to come out to the polls, . . . a reason to really be engaged.”
Vincent Orange, an at-large member of the D.C. Council and recent addition to the mayoral race, has already proposed a bill to fund the Capitol Hill lobbying activity of the District’s three shadow lawmakers — one representative and two senators who are not formally recognized by Congress.
Orange offered the concept as part of his answer, as did candidate Muriel Bowser, a Democrat who represents Ward 4 on the council. Orange said it was “funny” that he couldn’t find support from his fellow council colleagues, three of whom are also campaigning for mayor, to pass the bill.
Bowser suggested investing in “a huge lobbying presence” on the Hill, “not just for our statehood activities, but all of our federal initiatives.”
Tommy Wells, a council Democrat who represents Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill, drew some laughs with his answer.
“My novel idea will be to bring integrity back to our elected government so that when a congressperson goes home and says, ‘I voted for statehood for D.C.,’ that the residents don’t laugh,” Wells said.
His answer was one of many punches candidates threw at the ethics of incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, who remains coy on whether he will seek re-election. Gray’s 2010 campaign is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation.
When Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans had his turn, he didn’t have an outside-the-box approach.
“I wish there were a novel idea,” he said, before vowing to reach out to all 535 lawmakers in Congress.
“As your next mayor, what I intend to do is to contact all of the United States senators and all of the representatives in the House personally, to talk to them about District of Columbia and statehood,” Evans said.
Former State Department official Reta Joe Lewis, like Shallal, pitched herself as an outsider and candidate of the people.
“At the end of the day, we don’t have a serious campaign that really says to the voters . . . that D.C. actually does not have the same rights that everybody else does,” she said.
“At the end of the day we have got to be about the business of the relationships that we need to create,” Lewis said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.