Shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-Fleming believes he is ready to make the leap to the D.C. Council. He faces a crowded Democratic primary in the April 1 election for the at-large seat.
For most politicians, stepping from Congress to a city council would be considered a backward move in a career trajectory.
Why leave behind the prestige, prominence, $174,000 base salary, franking privileges, allowance for travel, staff and office space, plus Capitol Hill real estate to legislate on municipal issues?
In the case of D.C. shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-Fleming, a Democrat currently campaigning for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council, those are not his perks to lose.
The shadow representative, elected through the D.C. Board of Elections, gets the “Rep.” before his name but is denied access to the House floor. He has no vote. He receives no salary and no access to members-only parking spaces, elevators, dining rooms or the gym. His office can’t be found in the congressional directory. He sets up shop in the basement of the John A. Wilson Building in a shared office suite designated for the District’s shadow delegation, a cohort more than 200 years old.
Since taking office in 2013, the 29-year-old Anacostia native has served as “essentially an elected lobbyist” to Congress, staffed by fellows from local colleges and universities, to advocate for his top priority: D.C. statehood.
In that time, Bennett-Fleming says he’s taken an estimated 120 meetings on Capitol Hill and proudly notes that the New Columbia statehood bill introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., at the beginning of his term now has 64 co-sponsors.
That success, achieved with “limited authority and limited resources,” he says, is what encourages him to seek “higher office” on the city council.
But Bennett-Fleming can’t (and won’t) take all the credit for the statehood movement’s growing support on Capitol Hill. His understanding of the issue was shaped in his teens while working under Norton, the 12-term dean of the District’s congressional delegation. She remains Congress’ chief advocate on the issue. Her office declined to comment on Bennett-Fleming’s record or city council candidacy.
Working for Norton at age 16, Bennett-Fleming staffed the congresswoman’s DC Freedom Summer campaign and tried to raise awareness about the District’s lack of voting rights. He pressed petitions on National Mall tourists in an attempt to rally support for the No Taxation Without Representation Act.
He aspired to earn a law degree and pursue a career in public service, “but I thought, by the time I’m ready to do this, it will have already been done.”
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.