The United States Congress has ultimate authority over the District.
Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress "exclusive jurisdiction" over the city. The District did not have an elected local government until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act. The Act devolved certain Congressional powers to an elected mayor, currently Muriel Bowser, and the thirteen-member Council of the District of Columbia. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the council and intervene in local affairs.
Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and residents elect four at-large members to represent the District as a whole. The council chair is also elected at-large. There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs can issue recommendations on all issues that affect residents; government agencies take their advice under careful consideration. The Attorney General of the District of Columbia, currently Karl Racine, is elected to a four-year term.
Washington, D.C., observes all federal holidays and also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the end of slavery in the District. The flag of Washington, D.C., was adopted in 1938 and is a variation on George Washington's family coat of arms.
The mayor and council set local taxes and a budget, which must be approved by the Congress. The Government Accountability Office and other analysts have estimated that the city's high percentage of tax-exempt property and the Congressional prohibition of commuter taxes create a structural deficit in the District's local budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year. Congress typically provides additional grants for federal programs such as Medicaid and the operation of the local justice system; however, analysts claim that the payments do not fully resolve the imbalance.
The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America." In 1995, at the start of Barry's fourth term, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending. Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998 and oversaw a period of urban renewal and budget surpluses. The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.
Voting rights debate
The United States Congress has ultimate authority over the District. The District is not a U.S. state and therefore has no voting representation in the Congress. D.C. residents elect a non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. The District has no official representation in the United States Senate. Neither chamber seats the District's elected "shadow" representative or senators. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, D.C. residents are subject to all U.S. federal taxes.
In the financial year 2012, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.7 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.
A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states. Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations and featuring the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates.
There is evidence of nationwide approval for D.C. voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress. Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.
Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.
Washington, D.C., has fourteen official sister city agreements. Listed in the order each agreement was first established, they are: Bangkok, Thailand (1962, renewed 2002); Dakar, Senegal (1980, renewed 2006); Beijing, China (1984, renewed 2004); Brussels, Belgium (1985, renewed 2002); Athens, Greece (2000); Paris, France (2000, renewed 2005); Pretoria, South Africa (2002, renewed 2008); Seoul, South Korea (2006); Accra, Ghana (2006); Sunderland, United Kingdom (2006); Rome, Italy (2011); Ankara, Turkey (2011); Brasília, Brazil (2013); and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (2013).[ Each of the listed cities is a national capital except for Sunderland, which includes the town of Washington, the ancestral home of George Washington's family. Paris and Rome are each formally recognized as a "partner city" due to their special one sister city policy.