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The District of Columbia recently celebrated a milestone in its long march toward full political participation in American politics and government.

Past District elected leaders joined present day politicians and 50 guests at a ceremony highlighting the 40th anniversary of the city gaining the right to limited self-governance or Home Rule from the U.S. Congress on Oct. 28. The event took place on the ground floor of the John A. Wilson Building and while the mood was somewhat upbeat, there was a sense of melancholy.

“I wish it was not limited home rule but it is what it is,” D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) said.

District residents have been advocating for the right to be represented in the U.S. Congress and for the ability to manage its own affairs without congressional oversight since the early 19th century. The move toward self-governance advanced in 1961 when District residents gained the right to vote in presidential elections, starting in 1964.

President Lyndon Johnson spearheaded a process with the District getting a presidentially-appointed mayor and commissioners in 1967 and that was followed by an elected school board in 1968, a non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970 and Home Rule in 1973, where an elected D.C. Council and mayor ran the city with the approval of Congress.

Walter Washington was Johnson’s appointed District mayor and the first elected mayor of the city in 1974.

Kimberly Perry, the executive director of DC Vote, an organization that advocates for voting rights in Congress and full political rights for District residents, said that the enactment of Home Rule should be exalted.

“In 1973, the granting of Home Rule was monumental,” Perry said. “Nothing like that had ever taken place. It meant that D.C. was moving toward more autonomy.”

The first D.C. Council Chairman, Sterling Tucker, spoke at the event that was attended by such past political figures such as former Mayor Sharon Pratt, former D.C. Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and former council members Sandy Allen, William Spaulding, Sharon Ambrose and Carol Schwartz. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) was at the celebration along with D.C. Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Kenyan McDuffie (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David Grosso (I-At Large) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4). McDuffie was not born when Home Rule was granted, but said he understood the importance of the event.

“The next step for the residents of the city is to make our plight known,” he said. “We pay more federal taxes than some states and have more people than the population of two states and we are denied our rights as citizens.”

Gray said the next step is for the District to become a state.

“We can look forward to the day when the District of Columbia becomes the State of New Columbia,” the mayor said.