Greater Greater Washington

Letter: DC already adequately represented on NCPC

Lisa MacSpadden, Director of Public Affairs for NCPC, sent along this response to a recent article:

In your December 2 post, "How Can Obama Do More for DC?" you mentioned that the President, directly or indirectly, controls half of the 12 seats on the National Capital Planning Commission. You recommended that President Obama appoint a District resident to the Commission to ensure representation by someone who lives in Washington and therefore truly cares about the city.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

You are correct that three of the seats are occupied by the heads of the largest federal landholding agencies, and that one is appointed from Virginia and one from Maryland as required by law. The law also requires that the third appointee serve at-large. This helps to ensure that those outside the National Capital Region are provided the opportunity to have a say in what transpires in a capital city that belongs to all Americans.

Your post did not mention that four of the Commission's seats are held by District officials (the remaining two seats are held by representatives from the House and Senate). The mayor of the District of Columbia holds a seat, as does the chair of the Council of the District of Columbia. In addition, the mayor appoints two District residents to sit on the Commission. I think it would be fair to say the District is well represented given this equates to one-third of the federal Commission's membership.

The District's four representatives are steadfast supporters of District issues. Their participation, and that of the federal and congressional representatives, ensures a balance of local, federal, and national interests. Were the President to appoint a District resident, then the nation at large would lose its voice in planning for America's capital. That would be unfortunate and at odds with the mission of NCPC.

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What complete junk.

How exactly is someone supposed to be the voice of a nation? That is sentimental bunk used to cover the reality which is that whoever gets selected will simply express whatever views he or she has. How someone who doesn't actually live here is able to have an informed view AND one that somehow reflects the "national interests" is beyond reason.

And frankly the implication that a District resident is less capable than Non-residents to represent this mythical "national interest" is down right offensive.

So illogical and offensive! Not a great thing for a public affairs director to be.

by Reid on Dec 15, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

Reid,

I am not sure what you expect. 33% of the positions are filled by the District. Considering the NCPC charter and the proximity of VA and MD who get fewer seats, what are you expecting?

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

To echo Reid's comments' this is really pretty weak coming from a public affairs director. To say that we should be happy with 1/3 representation on a board that deals nearly exclusively with District related issues is, at best, patronizing. If it was an off the cuff remark by a board member I'd probably dismiss it. As an official communique from the organization it illustrates quite nicely how out of touch the NCPC really is. Not exactly what I'd want my Director of Public Affairs to be saying...

by TimK on Dec 15, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

yes, this is bs Were the President to appoint a District resident, then the nation at large would lose its voice in planning for America's capital. That would be unfortunate and at odds with the mission of NCPC. The implication is that DC residents don't represent the U.S. Furthermore, it begs the question - who knows more about what would benefit visitors to the capital than someone who's in it everyday? Doesn't Ms. Macspadden know that DC residents are the most ardent visitors of the national sites in our own town? Cripes. If she'd left that last sentence off it would have been a neutral letter.

by Tina on Dec 15, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

I agree w/ TimK that it's patronizing to tell DC residents 1/3 rep is adequate for a commission that deals almost exclusively with DC issues and planning.

by Tina on Dec 15, 2010 2:36 pm • linkreport

Tina, Tim...I admire the fervor but you guys have it all wrong.

The NCPC deals almost exclusivly with FEDERAL issues and planning. There is a small amount of ancillary carry over, which is why we get the seats we do, and why MD and VA get seats.

As a long time District resident I wish DC wasn't a Federal City and I wish I had some voting rights, but I don't and I moved here acknowledging that and continue to live here with that knowledge.

All of the "national sites" you refer to...don't belong to DC or its residents. They belong in one fashion or another to the Federal Government. Simply living in proximity to something you don't own, doesn't mean you get more of an influence.

My uncle lives in Mammoth Springs Wyoming, inside Yellowstone Natl Park. Does he get additional influence (or any in this case) on how the NPS or Yellowstone is run? Of course not. DC is the same.

Frankly, I've always been a little shocked that the District got a full 3rd of the seats.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 2:51 pm • linkreport

Yes, but your uncle gets to elect his Senators and Representatives, who get to exercise some oversight on NPS. So, in the face of no voting rights for us, it's even more critical that our needs get taken into account by the Federal government.

by TimK on Dec 15, 2010 2:58 pm • linkreport

@freely

There's no such thing as an exclusively federal issue in DC. Every federal issue has a substantial impact on the residents and employees who live and work here on a daily basis.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 2:59 pm • linkreport

TimK,

Again, DC is a federal city. Residents get zero votes. You knew that before you moved here. If it bothers you so much you can rectify it by moving a maximum of 6 miles in any direction.

AlexB,

Careful what you say "re" employees. The District population increases by 50% 5 days a week with residents of VA and MD, yet I doubt you would prefer they get as much say in District issues as a resident, correct?

And no, every Federal issue doesn't substantially impact the residents. Did the NCPC's approval of the Hirshorns "bubble" substanially change every District residents lives? Did the approval of the Newseum? No. Considering the number of District residents I know that have no idea what the Newseum even is, the "substantial" discriptor is over reaching.

Lastly, the overwhelming bulk of NCPC's work in DC is of a federal nature and again, the District resident gets no more say in those matters than does a MD or VA resident does in District matters.

And as I said above, there is some ancillary carry over which is why we get 33% of the voting seats, more than MD or VA.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

@freely:

My uncle lives in Mammoth Springs Wyoming, inside Yellowstone Natl Park. Does he get additional influence (or any in this case) on how the NPS or Yellowstone is run? Of course not. DC is the same.

That's an interesting point, given that Wyoming, and other western states have lobbied for (and often gotten) increased control over federal lands for decades now. If we had two senators, a congressperson, and the sense of entitlement of your average Wyoming voter, the Lincoln Memorial would be a public racquetball court for DC residents by now:

http://law.jrank.org/pages/8058/Land-Use-Control-WEST-WRESTLES-WITH-WASHINGTON.html

by oboe on Dec 15, 2010 3:20 pm • linkreport

As L.A. and N.Y.C. are important cultural and financial capitals for the U.S., I think we as a nation should have oversight of their zoning decisions too.

by Joshua Davis on Dec 15, 2010 3:22 pm • linkreport

@Oboe,

But thats specifically the point. We DON'T have two senators or any congressional representation (that can actually vote).

We just went through a period where DC was closer to getting representaion than at any other point during my decades here, when a President in the White House and a Democratic Supermajority in Congress wanted it to happen, and it still failed.

DC doesn't get representation. Period. I am not saying people should stop trying to get it, but until that happens residents, new and old alike have to admit that District residents get zero say in federal matters, and the fact that we get 33% of the votes in an organization set up expressly for the purpose of overseeing federal interests should be regarded as a gift.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

@freely: "Residents get zero votes. You knew that before you moved here. If it bothers you so much you can rectify it by moving a maximum of 6 miles in any direction."

Do you consider disenfranchisement unjust for residents who were born in the District? Or is there a different argument justifying disenfranchisement for that cohort? I presume the latter.

by Mark Jordan on Dec 15, 2010 3:29 pm • linkreport

@Mark Johnson,

I consider the disenfranchisement unjust as much for residents who were born here 60 years ago as I do for people who just moved to the District yesterday. I think it si a sad state of affairs that our nation can spend a trillion dollars giving Iraqis "democracy" and yet continue to ignore the 600K residents in its capitol city.

But,

That doesn't change the fact that District residents don't get a vote. Period. I knew that when I moved here and registered to "vote" here, you, Tina and Tim all knew and acknowledged it when you moved here, so I wonder why you are all suprised that "gasp" you don't get a say in Federal matters?

Like I said, a quick and painless way for all of us to rectify it is a 6 mile max move in any cardinal direction. Otherwise, accept it and move on.

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 3:46 pm • linkreport

@freely,

There are no local considerations for the Newseum? Well, except for the people who live in the Newseum Residences - but what would they care?

The fundamental flaw in your assumption is that issues of a federal nature are somehow mutually exclusive with those of a local nature. This is simply not true.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

@freely

"I consider the disenfranchisement unjust as much for residents who were born here 60 years ago as I do for people who just moved to the District yesterday. I think it si a sad state of affairs that our nation can spend a trillion dollars giving Iraqis "democracy" and yet continue to ignore the 600K residents in its capitol city."

The funny thing is that as a U.S. citizen, you can move to Iraq permanently and still maintain your right to vote for a member of Congress and two senators in your home state. That is, of course, unless your last home address was in D.C.

by Adam L on Dec 15, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

@freely: "Surprise" is not what I'm expressing. I'm not surprised by many of the injustices and undemocratic actions District residents are subject to. What I'm expressing is disapproval of them and a desire that they change. Did I understand they happen when I moved here? Yes. Am I required to resign myself to them and "get over them"? I am not. Should the status quo prevent me from voicing my opposition to the state of affairs and try to change them? Certainly not.

I guess I just find the logic perplexing that b/c we have what even you seem to acknowledge to be an unfair state of affairs, we should accept it, and even support additional institutionalization of them.

by Mark Jordan on Dec 15, 2010 4:16 pm • linkreport

@freely,

No I understand that. I was just speaking to your contrast between uppity DC residents who unjustly demand an outsized local voice in Federal issues, and the noble Wyoming voters who understand that Federal land and property is for all Americans, not just the local few.

While it may be pleasant to think so, it doesn't really gibe with reality.

by oboe on Dec 15, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

As far as the "move six miles"--does anyone else remember the OUTRAGE expressed by the Second Amendment maximalists around the country that DC citizens couldn't purchase and bear arms in the District. This gross abridgment of District residents' precious liberties MUST NOT STAND!!!

Of course, when it comes to the vote and Congressional representation...wellll...you *could* just move six miles in any direction.

As always, it's about who's ox is being gored.

by oboe on Dec 15, 2010 4:29 pm • linkreport

freely,

By any form of logical extension, the "you knew it when you moved here" argument precludes any attempt to build a "greater greater Washington".

Things are wrong. So just accept them.

I reject that because I am shamefully, and for blatantly political reasons, denied the basic representation in Congress that I should similarly be shafted in areas of more direct local control.

by TimK on Dec 15, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

Were the President to appoint a District resident, then the nation at large would lose its voice in planning for America's capital.

Ms. MacSpadden, I am a District resident, and I resent your implication that I am not an American.

by tom veil on Dec 15, 2010 5:08 pm • linkreport

TimK,

Speaking of blatantly political reasons, has anyone tried to advocate open primaries as a way to advocate for statehood? I was registered Republican last election and thus had no say in the choice of our Mayor (aside from a write-in vote). I am certainly going to be registered Democrat for the next election. How many other people are registered Democrat merely because they have to be?

Perhaps if we had open primaries the District would not be nearly as skewed and we would have better odds of getting representation?

by anon on Dec 15, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

We're a national capital and as a such carry responsibilities greater than those just to ourselves. As freely aptly explains, even if we had full voting rights, we'd still be subject to the needs and desires of the American public at large whose national capital this is. Frankly, I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing because it also comes with our getting most of the national museums, most of the national political stage, most of the national monuments, most of everything ... including a funding mechanism for items where we are priviledged over the states (e.g., the feds share for our highway work is something lik 95% ... where in other 'states' it's something like 50% ... and where most of our arterials get counted as 'highways' ...). And no, I don't think the right to vote needs to be connected to the 'special relationship' we have with the feds. That can be a distinct request, nah 'demand', if we acknowledge inherent to being a national capital means that other Americans will always have a 'federal interest', but that having a federal interest present in our midsts doesn't mean we can't get the right to vote along with the states in Congress.

I think the reason we don't have a vote yet in Congress is that we in our own minds haven't learned to separate the two yet. Yes, I know the Constitution says only states can get representation in Congress, but the Constitution has been changed before, and can be changed again.

by Lance on Dec 15, 2010 5:19 pm • linkreport

Anon,

Yup, the Democrats only primary is crap in a city with no real viable opposition party. Personally, I'd like to see all of the races become nonpartisan, but an open primary would be a way to go.

But I doubt it would have much impression on the Republicans (and conservative Democrats) that consistently block our voting rights. While distorted locally, we'd still almost certainly vote in a Democratic slate.

Of course, thanks to the NRA, many conservative Democrats found an excuse to block voting rights as well..

by TimK on Dec 15, 2010 5:58 pm • linkreport

And the American colonists were under the thumb of the King of England. They should have just left or dealt with it...

by DCRob on Dec 15, 2010 6:08 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth, the Newseum is private property subject to the usual District approval process. My recollection is that the only role that NCPC had in it was to approve some modifications to design guidelines that were created when Pennsylvania Avenue was redeveloped in the '70s.

by Ktriarch on Dec 15, 2010 7:39 pm • linkreport

@DCRob And the American colonists were under the thumb of the King of England. They should have just left or dealt with it...

Except your analogy doesn't work since in this case we are the English, and not the colonists. Don't believe me? Ask yourself then why everyone in the country is anxious to get elected so that they can change how things get done in Washington. Each of the freshmen Congressmen may come here thinking they'll be changing Washington to better suit their constituents back home, but invariable it's Washington that changes them, and indirectly through them, the folks back home. Washington rules ... literally and figuratively.

by Lance on Dec 15, 2010 11:53 pm • linkreport

...in this case we are the English, and not the colonists. Don't believe me? Ask yourself then why everyone in the country is anxious to get elected so that they can change how things get done in Washington.

One for the scrapbook!

by oboe on Dec 16, 2010 9:23 am • linkreport

Sorry, guys, but the District of Columbia is a Federal Enclave, as defined in the Constitution of the United States. You're lucky you have home rule, and since you seem to screw it up so much, there's a lot of pressure to take it away from you.

If you want full representations, you're going to have to get all 50 of the STATES to change the constitution.

by DefEar on Dec 16, 2010 5:38 pm • linkreport

Def Ear, are you sure 50 states are necessary to amend the constitution?

But more to the point, why shouldn't people who live in DC get representation?

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 16, 2010 6:18 pm • linkreport

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