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"Earlier today, I had a conversation with one of his people, who was like, 'You don't care about national health care?' I explained that I only get this vote because I'm a shadow senator, and I'm only shadow senator so I can advance statehood. I've got a lot of respect for Bradley, but he'd left the Senate by the time I was elected. I feel I owe it to him to hear what he has to say about D.C. statehood before I make my decision," he says, gearing up for a rant.
"Look, every day, New York City welcomes people from New Jersey," he starts. "New York gets some of its money up front at tollbooths; D.C. has been banned by Congress from enacting tolls or implementing a commuter tax. We don't even have an elected federal representative who can help guide federal spending to stimulate our economy, while members from other states raid jobs by relocating federal jobs outside the district. Our citizens elected the president, but their representatives weren't allowed to participate in his impeachment process. It's ridiculous and it has to end."
A fervent believer in the potential of electoral politics as a mechanism for proactive change, Strauss began his political career at nine, licking envelopes and posting flyers for Mario Biaggi ("The big kids were beating up on me, and I was attracted to his anti-crime positions," he says, "though, ironically, Biaggi ended up not stopping crime but taking the Fifth and going to jail for a crime"). He did scut work for Hugh Carey and Jimmy Carter, and by 17 was interning for Ed Koch. "I even had my own desk and phone at the Tweed Courthouse," he fondly recalls. Coming to Washington to attend American University in 1982, Strauss's start in local politics was hardly for the noblest of reasons: there was talk of raising the drinking age to 21. "We registered thousands of Washington college kids and kept it at 18, even when Congress voted to tie a mandatory 21 drinking age to highway funds. But when we thought we'd won, Congress stepped in and basically said, 'So what, we're changing it for you.' "
Since then, Strauss has been a statehood advocate. It's a point of pride with him that his numbers in Ward 8, the city's predominantly black precinct, are almost the same as in his own predominantly white Ward 3. If only, he sighs, he got as frequently warm a reception from his brethren on Capitol Hill as he does the residents of Southeast D.C. "Congress actually more or less let us alone for a while, but it got worse in the '80s, and hit bottom when Gingrich and his people came in in 1994D.C. was like an opportunity for them to do whatever they couldn't do to the rest of the country, or in their own districts," he says. "When they tried to repeal our gun-control laws, this Duncan Hunter guy from California told me, 'Well, the Second Amendment gives all Americans everywhere the right to carry guns.' When I asked him about giving D.C. residents the rights of every other American to elect voting representatives, he said, 'Well, that's another political issue.' "
After the 1998 elections, Strauss says he was more hopeful for the future. But then last year, "Tom Daschle trampled over D.C.'s rights by putting a rider on a bill saying notwithstanding any environmental concerns, Bell Atlantic could put cell phone towers in Rock Creek Park," he says. "And that's my own minority leader."