As allies of the District of Columbia continue to fight for expanded autonomy from Congress, the head of the influential group that represents them is stepping down.
DC Vote announced Friday that Ilir Zherka, the organization's executive director for the past decade, will resign in late October to assume the same position with the National Conference on Citizenship.
In a press release, DC Vote Board Chairman Jon Bouker praised Zherka's tenure, which he said transformed the group that was then only 4 years old into a powerful force in the community and on Capitol Hill.
"Ilir has done an outstanding job of building DC Vote into the strong advocacy organization it is today," Bouker said. "He has helped lead the fight to defend DC from federal attacks and to bring an end to taxation without representation in DC."
The press release also included a statement from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has worked closely with Zherka to advance their shared agenda in Congress.
"During Ilir's 10 years of leadership, DC Vote has become a strong partner that I can count on in the fight for voting rights," Norton said, describing him as "one of our most skilled advocates for DC democracy."
Zherka has led the organization through some of its most promising battles and most painful disappointments.
In 2007 it appeared that Congress was closing in on a deal to pass a D.C. voting rights bill. The House advanced the measure, but only after pulling it from the floor calendar briefly because of concerns that Republicans would demand - and win - insertion of language rolling back the District's gun laws. The bill died in the Senate.
A voting rights bill resurfaced in 2009, but the Democratic-controlled House ultimately opted not to bring it up for a floor vote, again anticipating Republican insistence on gun riders that would likely gain enough Democratic support to be included.
In recent years, Zherka has also been a public presence, leading protests against Congressional oversight of D.C. affairs.
He was among the 41 activists arrested last year for protesting restrictions on D.C. abortion funding that was used as a bargaining chip to pass a hotly contested spending bill.
During the past several months, he has worked with a bipartisan host of Congressional advocates working to pass legislation to give the District more control over its budget.
DC Vote Communications Director James Jones said there was no timeline in place for hiring a new executive director but that an interim director is likely to be installed next month. That temporary director, Jones said, would not also be vying for the full-time job. A nationwide search will be conducted to find Zherka's successor
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