D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes has generally had no problem getting re-elected to the U.S. Congress since 1990 but she faces a spirited challenge this year from a political newcomer.
Kim Ford, who worked as an assistant secretary of education in the Obama administration and as a dean at the University of the District of Columbia, is competing against Norton in the June 19 Democratic Party primary. Ford said it is time for the District of Columbia to have a new voice on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t think that people should have a job for life,” Ford told the AFRO. “There are a lot of changes going on in the city and we need to keep moving forward. I know I can do that as D.C.’s delegate to Congress.”
The District’s delegate doesn’t have a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives but serves on committees and can accrue seniority in their party and in the House. There is no representation of the District in the U.S. Senate.
Even though District residents pay federal taxes and have the other obligations of citizenship such as being able to be drafted in case of war, they cannot have a vote in the Congress because only states have that right according to the U.S. Constitution.
The first District delegate was Norton P. Chipman, a Reconstruction Republican, who served from 1871-1875. After, Congress decided to eliminate the position because it was considered useless at that time.
The House decided to re-authorize the position in 1970 and in March 1971, Walter Fauntroy, a Democrat and an African American, became the first resident to represent the District on Capitol Hill since Reconstruction. Fauntroy served until 1991 and Norton stepped in then, becoming the first woman to hold the position.
Before becoming a member of Congress, Norton was a well-known civil, feminist, and human rights activist with stints as New York City’s chair of the Human Rights Commission from 1970-1977 and as Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1977-1981 under President Jimmy Carter.
Norton served as a professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center and on a few Fortune 500 corporate boards before deciding to run for and win the District delegate race in 1990. Presently, Norton is 27th in seniority in the House-as well as the second longest serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus-and is poised to be the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee if the Democrats win the House in the Nov. 6 general election.
Despite Norton’s past, Ford said it is time to look to the future.
“Eleanor Holmes Norton has a strong legacy in civil rights and I think she is due every honorary degree and other types of honors that she can get,” she said. “I also recognize that Del. Norton has seniority but I’m not worried about that. With the number of retirements and members not running for re-election in the House, there is going to be a Democratic wave in the general election that will see the House and the Senate change parties regarding governance.
“I will be part of that wave and there will be a whole bunch of new faces on Capitol Hill.”
Ford is a progressive and her platform includes getting statehood for the District, increasing workforce and educational opportunities, helping small businesses grow in the city, advocating for student loan forgiveness for residents, increasing affordable housing stock in the District, ensuring a fair criminal justice system in the city and facilitating an “efficient regional transportation system.”
Ford said as the delegate, she will build new relationships for the District on Capitol Hill and will serve the people out of obligation and not as a long-standing gig.
“I am committed to public service,” she said. “I am not going to be in Congress for decades. I will get the job done and then get out.”
Ford is a District native and the daughter of famed small and disadvantaged business advocate, the late, Dietra L. Ford. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international business from Vanderbilt University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Highlights of her professional career include serving as the acting assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary in the Obama administration’s U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. Also for Obama, Ford worked in the Recovery Implementation Office, which was responsible for seeing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, known as the stimulus package, put into effect.
Ford has worked as the dean of Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning at University of the District Columbia’s Community College, providing leadership and guidance to all programs related to workforce development, career and technical education and continuing education and secured federal, local and private funding for her division.
Noting her work history on the federal level, she said that the best position for her is to be the District’s delegate, not anything else.
“I have often been asked why I am running for the Congress and not for mayor or the city council,” Ford said. “The reason is I know I can get things done for the city at the federal level. That is where my strength and background is.”
Kim Perry is the former executive director of DC Vote, an organization whose mission is to secure full voting and citizenship rights for residents of the District and that includes statehood. Perry respects Norton but is enthusiastically supporting Ford.
“I agree with anyone that Eleanor Holmes Norton has been an effective leader and I appreciate the legacy of Eleanor but we need leadership and a new chart forward,” she said.
Perry echoes Ford in reference to Norton’s seniority.
“There will be a lot of new faces on Capitol Hill and Kim won’t be alone in terms of being a new lawmaker,” she said. “Kim will continue the momentum on statehood and will continue to bring resources to the District.”
However, defeating Norton won’t be easy, according to Doug Sloan, a District Democratic political analyst. Sloan challenged Norton in the September 14, 2010 Democratic primary and was crushed, 90.18 percent to 9.20 percent.
“I wished she had talked to me before she picked up her petitions,” Sloan told the AFRO. “I don’t know anything about her. To the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t served as an advisory neighborhood commissioner or on the city council.
“I think she should have some experience in elected office before running for delegate.”
Sloan was an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 4B09 when he ran against Norton.
Sloan also said that in the campaign Ford should never mention Norton’s age, 80, in the race because it would make her “look bad against a civil rights legend and warrior.”