D.C. Scores Own Quarter

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Lawmakers last week authorized the U.S. mint to turn out District of Columbia quarters. The House passed the proposal five times before the Senate agreed to it. D.C.'s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says that a vote on statehood can't be far behind.


Here's a footnote to the congressional session that ended this week: The District of Columbia scored a victory in its long battle for equal rights. No, lawmakers didn't grant residents of the nation's capital voting representation in Congress, but they did yield to their pleas for two bits of respect. Lawmakers authorized the U.S. Mint to turn in quarters showcasing the District of Columbia just as the 50 states have coins with images of mountains and birds and race cars, and so on.

The woman who fought this battle for equal pay is Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate who represents D.C. in Congress. She joins me now.

Thank you for coming in.

Representative ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (Democrat, Delegate to Congress, Washington, D.C.): Oh, thank you, Andrea. I'm pleased to get here to make this earth-shattering announcement with you that after 10 years of struggle we now have the same coin that everybody else had - and, by the way, the territories also get their coin and we were left off inadvertently.

SEABROOK: Well, that's what is so interesting about this. When Congress set up the state quarter program - this was in 1998 - everyone got a quarter but Washington.

Rep. NORTON: I'm (unintelligible) and the chairman of the committee then, and I was in the minority, said, oh my goodness. And he said, Eleanor, I will put through another bill. He did, and to their credit, the Republicans each and every session. I think this is 10 years now. So that would - a session is two years.


Rep. NORTON: Five times, the House has passed the thing. When we got to the Senate, the Senate said, oh, you're going to have - you're going to need two-thirds of the Senate because we've changed the rules. This was the silliness that we had to go through. And I don't want - you know, you to think I'm out here working only on coins. You see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. NORTON: In D.C., we say first the coin and then the vote because we're…


Rep. NORTON: …just three votes short in the Senate no less. The House has already passed the D.C. voting rights bill. But three votes short of getting the vote, which we expect to get next year, all things considered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. NORTON: And all things…

SEABROOK: So to speak.

Rep. NORTON: Yes, so to speak. But the coin you would have thought will come easier, Andrea.

SEABROOK: So, Eleanor Holmes Norton, what do you put on the D.C. quarter? Because the iconic images of Washington, D.C., are already all over the U.S. currency, aren't they? Or those are all federal buildings, I guess.

Rep. NORTON: There you've got it, and that's what we mustn't have. By the way, I had to face this when we were left off the 50 stamp. I have to call in the Post Office. We - and we got our stamp. We've just gotten our postmark back because ever since the anthrax attack, the outgoing mail goes to Brentwood, Maryland. They were putting that postmark. Just had a press conference with the postmaster to say Washington, D.C.'s postmark is back.

Now, well, certainly we want to be known by these wonderful monuments. But how do you say there's a hometown here? And so what we do in the stamp is have the monuments - some of the monuments, and in the background, are some brownstones that are characteristic of the Shaw historic neighborhood. So there's got to be somewhere on that coin to say this is not another capital of the United States coin.


Rep. NORTON: This is the coin for the District of Columbia and that took a lot of thought. It took a lot of artwork. And the district is going to have to think hard about how to do that. But I'm not sure what the symbol of hometown Washington, D.C., home of 600,000 residents is. And here, you're talking to a third-generation Washingtonian who can't tell you what it is that most epitomizes our hometown. But guess what? We're going to find it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rep. NORTON: And it's going to be on that quarter coin. And it's a circulating coin so it will be all over the world and, of course, all over the United States.

SEABROOK: So let me ask you here. First, the stamp, then the postmark, then the coin, what comes next?

Rep. NORTON: The vote, Andrea. It can't be far behind.

SEABROOK: Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton, representative of the District of Columbia. Thank you very much for joining us.

Rep. NORTON: Oh, such a pleasure, Andrea.

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