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Votes

Council Notebook

<b>The Spirit of ’46</b>

Ever since <b>Pierre Charles L’Enfant</b> first laid out the District of Columbia in 1791, its residents have had an unusual problem: They have no representation in Congress. For hundreds of years, its citizens have been disenfranchised because of their unique status as voters without a state. That’s why Councilman <b>Ludwig Gaines</b> presented a resolution to City Council members voicing support for House Rule 1905, also known as the D.C. Voting Rights Act.

"The right to vote is central to our democracy," said Gaines during last week’s City Council meeting. "Regrettably our neighbors on the other side of the Potomac have not had voting representation in the House of Representatives."

Gaines’ resolution would have received strong support in an earlier generation, when Alexandria leaders spent a decade trying to extract itself from the District of Columbia. From 1800 to 1846, the city was known as Alexandria, D.C. But federal projects were few and far between, and city voters were disappointed that they had no representation in Congress. So on Sept. 1, 1846, Alexandria held a vote on whether or not to be "retroceded" to Virginia — with Mayor <b>William Veitch</b> casting the first vote in favor of returning Alexandria to the commonwealth.

"Every dictate of sound policy and every hope of success unite to render our retrocession to Virginia every way proper and necessary," wrote Alexandria Gazette editor <b>Edgar Snowden</b>. "We cannot but express our pride and gratification at the prospect of soon being free citizens of a free and sovereign state."

The measure passed with 633 votes in favor of retrocession and 197 votes against, with Snowden later winning an election to be Alexandria’s first representative in the House of Delegates since the 1790s. Last week’s City Council vote on the resolution showed a sort of continuity, with six of the seven members casting a vote in favor of voting rights for the District of Columbia. One member, however, abstained from voting on the resolution and dismissed the concerns of 1846.

"That was a long time ago," said Councilman <b>Paul Smedberg</b>, explaining the reason for his abstention. "I personally don’t think this is relevant to the work this body does."

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<b>Perception Isn’t Reality</b>

In the wake of a double murder last month, Police Chief <b>David Baker</b> appeared before City Council last week assure the city’s elected leaders that serious crime decreased more than 7 percent in 2006 and is at its lowest point in more than 40 years. The chief said that in many neighborhoods, crime is not so much a problem as "quality-of-life issues," which he defined this way: "people hanging on the corner, people drinking in public, the perception — real or not — of drugs, speeding cars."

"Even though crime is low — very, very low — you sometimes have spikes in these quality-of-life issues, and it creates the perception of disorder," said Baker. "And the perception of disorder equals, for some people, crime."

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<b>Turn Off Your Television</b>

In honor of TV Turnoff Week last month, Mayor <b>Bill Euille</b> took part in a special event at Cora Kelly Elementary School and presented a proclamation encouraging students to spend some less time watching "American Idol" and more time on the basketball court.

"When people watch too much TV or play on the computers for any great period of time, they have a tendency to snack — drink soda pop, eat pretzels and all the wrong things," said Euille. "So the message was that people need to get out and exercise instead of sitting in front of the boob tube all the time."

According to Center for Screen Time Awareness, which organized TV Turnoff Week since 1994, the average American household has 2.55 people and 2.73 televisions. The Washington-based nonprofit organization said that more than 19,000 organizers planned TV-Turnoff Week events last year, with an estimated 7.6 million people spending a week without "Dancing with the Stars."

"I don’t know how they figure these things," said Councilwoman <b>Del Pepper</b>. "But supposedly kids are watching television 1,250 hours a year, and they’re only in school some 900 hours."

"But don’t turn off City Council meetings," interjected Councilman <b>Rob Krupicka</b>, referring to the Comcast broadcasts live from City Hall.