THE 3-MINUTE INTERVIEW: Ilir Zherka
||Washington Examiner (DC)
||Sunday, December 26, 2010
Since 2002, Zherka has been executive director of D.C. Vote, a group that lobbies for the District's 600,000 residents to have a vote in Congress. On the offensive the past two years with a Democrat in the White House and the party leading Congress, Zherka and D.C. Vote are now preparing to play defense against an incoming Republican House.
Are you originally from D.C.?
No, my family came here from Albania in 1968 when I was 2 1/2 years old. I then grew up in New York City -- the Bronx. I think my upbringing and perspective as a political refugee informs my passion about getting D.C. voting rights. America is a great country, it's a great democracy, except here in our nation's capital where the residents who pay federal taxes aren't given a voice.
What brought you to the District?
When I was in college, I interned for [ Sen. Daniel] Pat Moynihan [D-N.Y.]. That was the first time I was exposed to the District and when I first learned about D.C.'s status. I was appalled that I had never learned about the District's second-class status.
Did D.C. miss a chance to win voting rights when the Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress?
Absolutely. It was a golden opportunity to enhance D.C. democracy. ... We had focused our efforts on trying to get basic changes to the home rule charter that would have allowed the city to handle its budget and make laws without congressional approval, but we couldn't get it passed.
What do you do going forward with Republicans controlling the House?
We need a lot more intensity in the District, not just from the government, but from the local population. ... We'll be on defense a lot and spend more time defending D.C. laws like medical marijuana, needle exchange and marriage equality.