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Eleanor Holmes Norton: Anonymous Senator Is Holding Up D.C. From Filling Council Vacancy

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Eleanor Holmes Norton
Eleanor Holmes Norton

WASHINGTON -- The District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), slammed the anonymous senator who placed a hold on legislation that would allow the nation's capital to fill vacancies on the D.C. Council more quickly.

The need for the legislation became more clear this week after Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D) resigned in advance of pleading guilty on Friday to two federal felonies related to charges that he stole more than $350,000 from city coffers and filed false tax returns.

Under current D.C. law, Thomas' seat will remain vacant until a special election can be held no sooner than 114 days after the vacancy is official. Norton's legislation would decrease that window to 70 days, which in the case of the Ward 5 vacancy, would allow the special election to coincide with the already scheduled April 3 primary election.

As DCist recently noted, a special election would cost the city somewhere between $250,000 and $750,000.

According to Norton's statement:

"This bill was so inconsequential to the House that we got it through committee and the full House by voice vote," Norton said. "Now Ward 5 is left without representation for almost four months because of a secret Senate hold on a non-controversial local bill. Senators often use holds as part of a bargaining process unrelated to the underlying bill. No reason would be sufficient for holding up this bill, but we particularly resent being a pawn in a Senate game that pointedly excludes us."

Norton said it may be easier to get the special election change accomplished through a voter referendum, which if approved by D.C. voters and D.C. councilmembers, would take effect after the 35-day congressional review period for D.C. legislation.

A year ago, the Senate approved new rules meant to eliminate secret holds on legislation. But as Think Progress pointed out in May, "anonymous obstruction dies hard in the Senate" after secret holds were placed on an Obama administration nominee and legislation meant to protect government whistleblowers. At the time, those holds were attributed to Republicans.

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