The Washington Post

Yes, Norton opposes fences — but she didn’t release those zebras

Tongue-in-cheek statement about Md. farm escapees goes viral

- BY MEAGAN FLYNN meagan.flynn@washpost.com Dana Hedgpeth contribute­d to this report.

A bunch of zebras are on the lam in the Washington region. And Del. Eleanor Homes Norton wants you to know she had nothing to do with it.

On Friday, Norton (D), the District’s nonvoting delegate in the House, sent out a news release denying responsibi­lity for letting loose the zebras, which have remained elusive since escaping from a private farm in Prince George’s County more than a week ago.

Naturally, suspicion fell on Norton — at least according to Norton, who was described by her staff Friday as a supporter of freedom (specifical­ly D.C.’S freedom through statehood) and an

opponent of fences (specifical­ly around the U.S. Capitol). Norton said she had been “enjoying quiet time at home with family” when the zebras went on the loose sometime last weekend.

“My alibi is solid, but given my career of fighting for statehood for the District, which includes years of explaining the importance of having consent of the governed, and given my recent opposition to fences, I can understand why the charge was made,” the release said.

She added, “I hope the owners find the zebras and that all involved live long, full lives.”

At least two reporters from news outlets that do not regularly cover Norton asked Sharon Eliza Nichols, her communicat­ions director, whether Norton’s news release was tongue-in-cheek.

The other “99.8 percent” of people got the joke, Nichols said, and turned Norton into a Twitter star, creating a mini zebra escape news cycle.

“I thought we deserved a ‘zebras on the run’ news cycle after living through most of 2021,” Nichols tweeted as “zebras” started trending on Twitter.

That’s kind of what Nichols was going for.

Her inspiratio­n for the zebra escape news release actually was Newt Gingrich, she said in an interview.

Specifical­ly, Gingrich and the panda, for those who remember when Rusty, a red panda at the National Zoo, escaped his enclosure in 2013, going on a jaunt through D.C. for hours.

“Newt Gingrich Denies Responsibi­lity in Red Panda’s Disappeara­nce,” a Dcist headline read that June.

“In response to red panda charges, I have an alibi, Callista and I were feeding our pet elephants all evening,” Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House and noted fan of the National Zoo, tweeted at the time. He added, for those in the back: “( just a joke) help find panda.”

Ultimately, the panda was found safe in Adams Morgan. The zebras, not quite yet.

As The Washington Post reported, Prince George’s County animal services officials have gotten four or five calls from residents who said they saw the zebras, but no one, including the owner, has been able to catch them.

Rodney Taylor, chief of the Prince George’s animal services agency, said Friday marked the fifth day in a row that the zebras came to a feeding station that their caretakers set up in the area. The hope is to eventually lure them into a corral.

On Friday morning, as the drama continued, Nichols brought the idea for the press statement to Norton. Her boss was all for it, Nichols said.

“She thinks I’m mischievou­s,” Nichols said, laughing. “So I’ve gotten her to be onboard for this type of thing, and it’s worked. She has a history of enjoying funny bits, and recognizin­g how they can help her connect with constituen­ts and sort of accomplish her legislativ­e priorities.”

Particular­ly on raising awareness about D.C. statehood, which Norton has been doing with humor ever since appearing on Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” in 2006. The comedian jabbed Norton for never voting in Congress (she’s not allowed) and suggested that D.C. was not a part of the United States because it’s, well, not a state.

Norton went back on Colbert’s show as recently as this summer, eager to reach a national audience on statehood. And by midday Friday, Norton’s zebra alibi may have achieved the same end.

As her stunt went viral, at least some people tried to ask Gingrich what he thought about it.

He couldn’t immediatel­y be reached for comment Friday.

 ?? GABRIELLE CROCKETT/REUTERS ?? D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) joked that “given my recent opposition to fences, I can understand why the charge was made.”
GABRIELLE CROCKETT/REUTERS D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) joked that “given my recent opposition to fences, I can understand why the charge was made.”

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