In a democracy, voters alone decide who can best speak to their needs and produce results for them, said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
And although she came to Congress as a civil rights leader and her fight for D.C. statehood is legendary, Norton will have to overcome perhaps the biggest challenge to her seat.
She’ll face off in the June 19 primary against Kim R. Ford, who served in the Obama’s administration and helped lead the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — a vehicle that distributed more than $350 billion in recovery funds to jump-start the economy.
“D.C voters have always demanded evidence based on a candidate’s record. Our voters have seen me achieve unique milestones without a vote,” said Norton, who is now in her 14th term and is the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The Democrat also serves on the committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Norton noted some examples of her bills, including the development of the Southeast Waterfront, the Southwest Waterfront, the old Walter Reed Hospital campus, NOMA and the Department of Homeland Security, bringing federal agencies for the first time to Ward 8 on the St. Elizabeths campus.
Ford also has deep ties to the city, having led the neighborhood revitalization work for the Department of Homeland Security’s headquarters at St. Elizabeths.
“I decided to run for Congress because I believe we can re-envision the delegate’s office and bring more outcomes to the residents of the District of Columbia,” said Ford, who currently serves as director of college readiness and outreach for the Community College of the District of Columbia.
Ford earned a master’s degree in public administration in 2008.
“I think people have given up on this office, and I think that’s a shame,” she said. “We are nearly 700,000 Americans who have had no voice in our government and when people don’t believe they have a voice, they don’t speak up for their rights. We need to make progress on the road to statehood and that happens at the federal level.”
Statehood has been Norton’s focus for years.
“I work on D.C. statehood every day as if I could achieve it tomorrow, even though anti-D.C. statehood Republicans are in charge of all government branches,” Norton said. “I have set and met my goal of increasing co-sponsors each session of Congress, and we’ve already more than met this goal for this Congress. Events break unpredictability in Congress, and we must be ready to move with events. We are well beyond a super majority of House Democratic co-sponsors, and I believe we can get virtually every Democrat to sign on.”
Both candidates agree that this year’s election is critical for Democrats and the country as a whole. It should be noted that there are no Republican challengers for the seat.
“I still see opportunity and possibility, and I think the next Congress will be full of new faces who are motivated to bring real change, not just to America, but to Congress itself,” Ford said. “We’re seeing a whole new breed of candidate this year, whether they were motivated by their disgust of President Donald Trump or by the ‘Me Too’ movement or by this optimistic belief that we can be better.
“I want to be a part of that,” she said. “I see the possibilities. I see the opportunity to try new approaches and build new relationships that will get new results for the District of Columbia. I see an opportunity to introduce Congress to the real DC: its people, its business, its neighborhoods and its history.”
The election is more important to D.C. residents than any since 2006, the last time Democrats took control of the House, Norton said.
“Democrats could achieve control of the House and even the Senate in 2018,” Norton said. “Change in either House, combined with my seniority and the many allies I have worked with in both chambers, would escalate my influence, and the District’s. With Trump in the White House, D.C needs a steady and respected hand in Congress who can keep this erratic and unpredictable president out of D.C’s way.
“I know Trump and worked him and especially his daughter, Ivanka Trump, after the Trump family won the GSA competition to build the Trump Hotel during the Obama administration, well before there was any indication that Trump would run for president,” she said. “So far, Trump hasn’t hurt D.C any more than the harm he has done to the rest of the country, except for recent cuts which have already been nullified by the McConnell-Schumer bipartisan budget deal.”
Both Norton and Ford offered passionate pleas as to whom voters should choose.
“As a native Washingtonian and longtime public servant at both the federal and local levels, I am uniquely positioned to effectively govern in this position,” Ford said. “We have to dispel the myth that the delegate’s role is largely ceremonial, stop talking in terms of restrictions and limitations, and start talking about opportunities and possibilities.
“I don’t see the position for what it can’t do, I see what it could be — a position that gives voice to our nearly 700,000 residents, that opens pathways for residents and businesses in public service, that reverses federal control of our judicial matters, that solves regional issues and that does so all while being incredibly visible in the community,” she said.
Norton said she’s grateful to the many residents she sees in the streets who thank her for her work in Congress, commendation that’s often followed by a statement that she should keep it up and stay in office.
“I wonder what D.C residents who would say if for no good reason, I quit at the height of my seniority and success in the House, when I am in line to become a committee chair, when I am gifted with tremendously good health, and when I continue to bring home benefits, even with Republicans in control as they have been for the lion’s share of my service,” Norton said. “In only one year of an all-Republican government, the country has seen so many scandals and so much turmoil that I believe most Americans will want to get off the Trump roller coaster, which has had the GOP Congress riding along.
“While taking back both Houses is in sight, achieving Democratic control of either house would be a major step forward in changing the present course,” she said. “Democratic control would stop the Republican Congress from taking down even more Obama reform regulations and laws and would save me from fighting in both houses at once to preserve D.C legislation from being overturned.”