Voting Rights Key to D.C. Primary Voters in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia head to the polls Tuesday for the Potomac Primary. NPR's Liane Hansen talks to D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty about the candidates and the issues that are important to D.C. residents.
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Voting Rights Key to D.C. Primary

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Voting Rights Key to D.C. Primary

Voting Rights Key to D.C. Primary

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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are campaigning in our neck of the woods this weekend in preparation for Tuesday's Potomac primary. Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia are very much in play a week after Super Tuesday. In this part of the program we'll examine some of the issues important to voters in this region, including education and the environment.

We begin in Washington, D.C., where voters aren't accustomed to having much influence over presidential politics. But with Clinton and Obama engaged in a protracted battle for the Democratic nomination every delegate counts and D.C.'s are no exception.

Mr. ADRIAN FENTY (Mayor, District of Columbia): The District of Columbia is in play, which is something that in federal elections is rarity.

HANSEN: That's D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. He agreed to join us on a park bench outside NPR's Washington headquarters this past week, to talk about the upcoming primary and his city. He cuts a debonair figure in his black trench coat and trademark hat, a black felt fedora. Many people recognize the mayor and he greets them enthusiastically.

Mr. FENTY: Hello, everyone. Hi, how are you? Good to see you.

(Soundbite of horn honking)

HANSEN: Fenty was elected in 2006. He's a 37-year-old African-American, quick with a smile and passionate about the city. As a Washington native and former city council member, Fenty knows how far the city has come since the 1980s when D.C. was best known for its high crime rate and dysfunctional government.

Mr. FENTY: People know that there's that history in the city. I think they want to make sure that the current government, run by me and my team, understands that history - and we do. And to be candid with you, one of the great reasons I ran for office in the first place because as someone who grew up in this city, I was more frustrated and, to be really candid, more angry at how this government was run and the perception and reputation we got than anybody.

And I really kind of just made it my life's work to change that.

HANSEN: And Fenty says whoever is elected president of the United States can help or hurt the nation's capital.

So, Mayor Fenty, who's getting your vote in the primary?

Mr. FENTY: Senator Barack Obama is getting my vote. I think he, far and away, is the choice for this country in the year 2008 for many reasons.

HANSEN: Why would he be the choice for this city?

Mr. FENTY: Well, for Washington, D.C., our beginning issue and our end issue is voting rights. Everyone knows our plight but it deserves repeating. Washington, D.C., the only nation's capital of any democracy in the whole world, in the history of the world, that doesn't have voting rights in the national legislature. And the fact that it's in the United States, the champion and symbol of democracy, is probably one of the greatest hypocrisies in world history.

Nonetheless, we're very optimistic going forward. And Senator Obama, like some others, has pledged his full support for full voting rights. But I really do believe that the fact that he comes essentially as an outsider, that he's not beholden to anybody, will allow him to champion the issue and make tough decisions that just haven't happened in the past.

HANSEN: How would you get along if Senator McCain became president?

Mr. FENTY: Like most Americans, we certainly appreciate his service to the country. I mean, he is, by anybody's definition, a real hero. And I think he actually does have a very good reputation working across party lines, which is good. But I think on our singular issue, voting rights, I was disappointed with Senator McCain's… He did not vote in favor of the Voting Rights Bill when it was on the floor of the Senate.

HANSEN: You mention the voting rights issue.

Mr. FENTY: Yeah.

HANSEN: And I know that is an issue that's unique to the District.

Mr. FENTY: Yes.

HANSEN: Are there other issues that are unique to the District?

Mr. FENTY: Well, yes. I mean, we're the only place in this country that's a city-state. So there are some very negative things about being a city-state but some very positive things. The negative thing is, again, we haven't resolved this voting rights issue, and it has to be resolved. And there's all kind of quirks that come with that. We don't tax income at its source. And then, of course, your people grow up not being able to vote for senators and members of the House.

Which, I mean, if you come from anywhere else in the country, that's just unfathomable. But there are some great things about being a city-state. I mean, we, I'm the only mayor in the presidential primary we have delegates. I mean, we've got delegates that are important and will count. We usually have a late primary, and even if our primary is normally around this time, it's pretty much decided by this time.

So, as you've seen over the past couple of months, all the candidates are working very hard to get those delegates.

HANSEN: Mayor of the District of Columbia, Adrian Fenty, thank you so much.

Mr. FENTY: No, thank you very much.

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