The Federal City Makes A (Last) Stand

Tax day is not being delayed by three days this year because of a sudden surge in federal generosity. Trust me, they need the money.

Your due date was instead delayed from the April 15 to April 18 because of Emancipation Day, a government holiday in the District of Columbia that commemorates the 1862 freeing of the slaves in the District by President Abraham Lincoln.

D.C.’s slaves were freed nine months earlier than those in other Union-controlled territories who were liberated by the Emancipation Proclamation. To commemorate this head start, District workers and federal workers in the District have had the day off since 2005.

The official date is the 16th, but what’s the use of having a government holiday on a Saturday? So, that means that the procrastinators among the nation’s 140.5 million tax filers have until Monday to dawdle before making their panicked dash to the Post Office.

Giving the fiscally frazzled two more days to sweep up coffee-stained receipts and buy stamps has been one of the few bits of happy news to come from the District of late.

Getting arrested is not typically considered a savvy political move for big city mayors, but Washington is hardly the typical American city.

Mayor Vincent Gray, under fire for cronyism and mismanagement after just four months on the job, was hauled away from the U.S. Capitol in handcuffs this week after leading a sit-in to protest a bipartisan spending plan. Gray’s problem with the deal is that it forbids subsidized abortions in the District and reopens a school voucher program unpopular with Gray and his supporters in the teachers’ unions.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s non-voting delegate to the House, compared the legislation to “bombing innocent civilians" and told the local FOX affiliate that "it's time that the District of Columbia told the Congress to go straight to hell."

A councilman likened the treatment of the District to that of slaves on a plantation.

For most of the folks who work in the District, these kinds of outbursts seem strange. The city they get lengthy views of while sitting in traffic or backed up trains is a growing, modernizing place, not a home for that kind of militant talk and action.

The new residents of Washington might believe they should have voting rights in Congress, but they’re not usually the kind to get taken away in cuffs.

The gang wars of the 1980s and early 1990s are long gone. Once the nation’s murder capital as well as its actual capital, Washington now ranks a pedestrian seventh on the list, barely beating out Buffalo in 2009. Marion Barry, once a terrifying incarnation of the city’s crack addiction, is now a 75-year-old city council member and something of a local curiosity.

The recession that followed the Panic of 2008 has been very good to Washington.

The feds were hiring when no one else was and continue to pay salaries and benefits that dwarf their counterparts in the private sector. President Obama brought a flurry of stimulus spending and a notion among many young Americans that government work could be a calling.

It shows in the trendy bars and restaurants that have popped up in D.C. neighborhoods that just five years ago were considered too dangerous to drive through, let alone for quaffing Belgian ale.

It also shows in jobs and housing reports. While home prices and employment rates are still trying to find solid ground in most American cities, Washington has been stepping along quite nicely for two years.

And until last year, the city had a mayor that seemed to be stepping along with it. Adrian Fenty was a modernizing kind of guy, who brought in school reform whiz Michelle Rhee to fix the city’s crumbling education system. Fenty had his own problems politically, but what allowed Gray to drive him from office was that same modernizing agenda.

Government workers believed Fenty was out to get them and black voters from the poorer sections of the city believed the bi-racial mayor was catering too much to yuppies gentrifying “transitional” neighborhoods and affluent whites in the upper crust sections in the city’s northwest.

Their backlash put Gray in office, and brought us the scene of the embattled mayor mugging for the cameras in protest of abortion curbs and school reforms being imposed on his city.

But the news from the near future of Washington won’t likely feature such scenes of discord and denouncements of the federal “plantation,” whether the District ever gets a vote in Congress or not. The fact is, Washington has benefitted so much from the one-city Obama boom that new residents will care more about school quality, street safety and services.

Poorer and older folks that appreciate Gray’s efforts to fight the power on Capitol Hill will continue to migrate out to cheaper digs in the roughshod suburbs of Prince George’s County, Md. The folks who replace him will be mostly Democrats and mostly liberal, but they will be mostly white and mostly well off. Farmers markets will supplant the politics of grievance on the municipal agenda.

Mark this week, because it may be one of the last gasps of old D.C. Except for the part about the holiday. You know they’re keeping that.

Chris Stirewalt is FOX News’ digital politics editor. His political note, Power Play, is available every weekday morning at FOXNEWS.COM.