Sections of this interview are crossposted on The Hill is Home
All too often my visitors will note bare spots on the Mall, or busted lights, or surly security at the Capitol; accusingly turn towards me; and ask "why doesn't somebody fix this?" As if I was the one standing in the way of progress. My standard response: "write your Congressman".
I had the opportunity to do just that, sit down with my Congresswoman this weekend, and ask her about several items that might effect your visit to Washington next time you come. While annoyingly, our feudal status means that my Congresswoman is technically a delegate and lacks many of the procedural tools of "real" Congresscritters, Eleanor Holmes Norton has made up for this in her ten years on the Hill with persistence and savvy. So, besides our perennial struggle for some sort of voting rights, what else did we talk about?
In her prepared remarks, Congresswoman Norton announced that the Federal government had taken responsibility for the flood plan of the National Mall and that stimulus funds had been allocated to build the 17th St levee near the World War II Memorial. For those unfamiliar with this issue, much of the National Mall is in a flood plain, and the previous response plan, which involved sandbags and a whole lot of hope, had been revised following Katerina. Constructing a new levee to protect the National Mall and downtown DC had been the subject of debate as to who's responsibility this was: the Federal Government's or DC's. According to the Congresswoman, this has been resolved, and the levee will be constructed by September of next year.
I also asked the Congresswoman about the recent issues with the Capitol Visitor's Center. Recently, the head of the Capitol Visitor’s Center was fired after numerous complaints of working conditions by Capitol Guides, as well as some potential security issues. When asked what she was looking for in a replacement, she said a sophisticated person who can get people in and out and knows how to treat their workers. Tying the issue of security in with our quality of life, Congresswoman Norton recalled that she “spent the two years after 9/11 trying to prevent DC from shutting down”, and didn’t want a repeat of that. Expect hearings on the issue soon.
I also asked the Congresswoman about the recent letter Senator Webb (D-VA) sent to the Mayor and head of the National Park Service about congestion on the National Mall caused in no small part by tour buses. Acknowledging the issue, she referred back to Mayor Williams plan to utilize RFK as parking for tour buses while their groups are on the Mall (presumably this one). Personally, I think the chance of this happening is a bit of a long shot (bus drivers aren’t going to shell out $30 when they can just drive around downtown for awhile), but there was no support for the status quo either.
Elsewhere on the Mall, Congresswoman Norton has been very aggressive in combating the slow degradation of the National Mall. Following a question from Aaron Morrissey of DCist, Norton shared her views from a recent walk around the Mall. She noted few lights burned out, no dirty bulbs, consistent security patrols and much improvement. She feels that the are can "re-claim crime free status”, which, as she put it, if they could do it in the early '90s, “in the midst of that holocaust”, they should be able to do it now.
And finally, and perhaps even more importantly, I asked if she had future plans to appear on the Stephan Colbert Show. Although none are in the works yet, she certainly didn’t shy away from the idea of another meeting with “my friend Steve”, who has “done more for DC voting rights than anything we have done”. Perhaps the Congresswoman can be enlisted to help Restore Truthiness to the Capital?