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CHAPTER 16 Congress and the City of Washington I knew that serving on the District of Columbia Committee would not help me politically in Maryland, but I felt it my responsibility because the committee had great power over the interests of the many Marylanders who worked in DC. “The people who live in the District of Columbia are entitled to have a voice in their own affairs,” I said in a speech in fall 1965. “They have a right to say who shall make their laws, how their taxes shall be spent, what steps they will take to deal with the problems in their midst.”1 In the days before home rule, serious crime was a problem in Washington , much of it related to drug abuse. City courts were a mess. No transit existed except for a disjointed bus system. There were plans to ram an interstate highway right through the middle of the city, possibly under the National Mall. There were public health problems, soot and grimy air pollution from the always burning Kenilworth dump, and unscrupulous lenders who preyed on the most destitute residents of the city. Complicating these problems was our system of local governance. Washingtonianshadnosayinwhorantheircity,noabilitytovoteleaders into—or out of—office, and no representation in Congress, the body that under article I, section 8, of the Constitution was granted full authority over the capital. When I arrived in the Senate, the city was run by three commissioners appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.2 As a can1 . Senator Joseph D. Tydings, speech in support of home rule for the District of Columbia , delivered at the annual conference of the Greater Washington chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, Washington, DC, September 18, 1965, in the Joseph D. Tydings Collection, Hornbake Library, University of Maryland, College Park. 2. One of the commissioners had to be chosen from the US Army Corps of Engineers. 248 CHAPTER 16 didate in 1964, I had called for home rule for DC, but it was not until 1967 that President Johnson was able to convince Congress to approve even a limited form of home rule.3 His legislation replaced the three commissioners with a nine-member city council and a mayor-commissioner, Walter E. Washington. Even then, the council members and the mayor were all appointed by the president, and, as before, their decisions on budgets, taxes, legislation, or virtually any other matter were subject to approval and second-guessing by the Congress.4 Over the years, this congressional oversight has too often proved to be partisan and unduly influenced by campaign contributions to committee members.5 I was put on the DC Committee almost as soon as I was elected. It was customary for senators and representatives from neighboring Maryland and Virginia to be tapped for the Senate and House DC Committees because we had a parochial interest in what happened in Washington and because members of Congress from elsewhere usually did not. Robert Kennedy was the rare exception—a senator who volunteered to serve on the DC Committee. Bobby put his heart into the work. He saw it as an opportunity to really learn about the root causes of urban problems . The committee chair was Alan Bible, a conservative Democrat from Nevada.6 He and I worked well together, and he often empowered me to 3. The idea of granting home rule to the District of Columbia was stalemated for years by the House DC Committee, which was chaired for twenty-four years by Representative John L. McMillan of South Carolina. His committee always seemed more interested in helping local businesses than the black residential majority, which often accused McMillan of racism. McMillan, the longest serving congressional representative in South Carolina history, was defeated in 1972 and died in 1979. 4. On Christmas Eve 1973, Congress approved a home rule charter for the District of Columbia that provided for the direct election of a mayor and city council, although Congress retained both authority to review all legislation before it could become law as well as final budget authority. The president was empowered to appoint judges for DC, which still lacked voting rights in Congress. The charter also contained a number of specific restrictions, including a prohibition on the imposition of a commuter tax for those who work in DC but live elsewhere. 5. When Republicans took over both houses of Congress and the White House in 2017, Republican members of Congress with right-wing agendas immediately began to...


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