Shutdown Dominates Party for Backers of DC Statehood

With the District's budget locked out because of a federal spending fight, there was only one topic of conversation at an event for statehood backers.

By: Benjamin Freed

A party last night thrown by DC Vote to honor some of the strongest backers of District statehood and budget autonomy was immediately hijacked, like seemingly everything else in DC these days, by talk of the shutdown.

Mayor Vince Gray’s crash appearance yesterday at a Senate press conference gave DC’s shutdown situation the biggest spotlight it’s had yet, and at last night’s fĂȘte at the Mayflower Hotel, District officials continued to grumble about the fact that in a little over a week, the city will have drained the reserve fund it has been forced to use to operate since the shutdown choked off its ability to spend its own local revenue

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson was lukewarm on Gray’s stunt. “There’s a line between getting in people’s faces and pissing them off,” he told Washingtonian. After Gray sidled up to Senate Democrats yesterday, Majority Leader Harry Reid turned to the mayor and said “I’m on your side, don’t screw it up.”

But Mendelson was plenty rambunctious himself when he addressed the DC Vote party. “DC’s elected officials have said ‘Goddamn it, we’re going to keep the [city] government open regardless,’” Mendelson said to cheers.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton showed up later to present an award to Representative JosĂ© Serrano, a New York Democrat, for his legislative support of giving DC increased autonomy from federal oversight. Hours earlier, she had been at a White House meeting with other House Democrats where she reportedly berated President Obama over the administration’s opposition to a House-passed bill that would allow the District to use its regular funds to keep operating through the shutdown. Senate Democrats and Obama have opposed so-called “piecemeal” bills that fund individual parts of government instead of a wholesale spending plan.

Although Norton’s confrontation with Obama was described by others who attended the meeting as “self-absorbed” and “parochial,” she said it was more fruitful. “I said to this president, ‘Mr. President, the city is running out of money,’” Norton said. “And he stopped and said ‘we’re not there yet.’”

Norton said Obama’s response merited a longer discussion, not for her “to be seated like a nice little delegate from the District of Columbia.” She said she and the President spoke later on “peer to peer” terms.

“She is a classic noodge,” Serrano said of Norton, using a Yiddish term for a person who won’t stop pestering others about an issue. Just a week earlier, Norton and Serrano fumed at each other on the House floor when Norton spoke up in favor of the Republican bill to let the District tap its regular budget. Serrano called that bill and other single-issue appropriations a “sham.” He slipped out of the party before anyone could get a chance to ask him if, with one of DC Vote’s “Champions of Democracy” awards in hand, he still felt that way.