Barack Obama has not been the perfect guest in the nation's capital city. He can do better in his second term.
He's settled into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, one of our best addresses. He's eaten at some of our best restaurants, prayed at a few local churches, sent his two daughters to one of our most elite private schools.
And what, exactly, have we gotten in return?
Hopes ran high when the first African-American president took office four years ago. Certainly, he would become our advocate atop the executive branch, which, along with Congress, controls our governmental destiny -- not to mention our tax dollars. Would Obama take a cue from Lyndon Baines Johnson and make the District's independence part of his Civil Rights crusade? Would he embrace D.C., as did Richard Nixon, and champion Home Rule? Might he follow Bill Clinton's lead and realign finances between D.C. and the federal government?
So far -- no, no and no.
I get the political optics. It would not have looked great if the first black president immediately invested his political capital into the majority black city where he would be residing. So we bit our tongues and bided our time for the first four years. In his second term, with the freedom to brush aside race as a motivating or diverting factor, it's time for President Obama to muscle through some changes to D.C.'s relationship with the federal government.
- Let's start with pure symbolism: Put our "Taxation Without Representation" license plates on your presidential limousine. If Bill Clinton had the good sense and the stones to ride around our city with our plates, why not you?
- Free Eleanor Holmes Norton. Our delegate to Congress has been your friend and supporter for more than a decade, long before your eyes first glittered with the chance of becoming president. She adopted you when you were a pup first-term senator from Illinois. Return the favor. Elevate her. Give her a seat at high-level White House talks. More importantly, throw your full weight behind legislation to give the District's delegate a vote on the House floor. Absent that vote, our 600,000 residents are disenfranchised.
- I pay local property taxes on my D.C. home. The city collects them, the city council decides how to spend them -- but Congress has ultimate control over the expenditures. Some first-term Republican from Ohio has a say in how my property taxes are spent. That's unjust, undemocratic and just plain nutty. It's time for you to champion budget autonomy. You can find common ground with the GOP majority leader, Virginia's Eric Cantor!
The District is surviving quite well on the private-sector side. The nation's capital is thriving, building out neighborhoods, adding residents. It's time for our presidential resident to return our hospitality and bring us closer to full independence.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.