WASHINGTON — Actress Hayden Panettiere was born and raised in upstate New York, lives in Los Angeles and has no roots in the nation's capital. But she's passionate about securing full representation in Congress for District of Columbia residents.
That's what led Panettiere to the John A. Wilson Building, the district's city hall, where Mayor Vincent Gray proclaimed Friday as "Hayden Panettiere Day."
"It doesn't get much cooler than that. It's a huge honor," Panettiere said. "We'll continue just chipping away at the problem and trying to fix it."
Panettiere, 22, who played a cheerleader with superpowers on the NBC drama "Heroes," has been speaking out since 2008 for D.C. statehood. Before then, she said she was unaware that the district had no voting representatives in Congress.
"It seems like such (an) unfathomable fact that, you know, it's taxation without representation in D.C., and that there's no democracy in our democracy, at the heart of it," said Panettiere, who looked the part of a lobbyist in a conservative black suit with her blond hair tied back.
After her private meeting with the mayor, Panettiere spoke in the cramped basement office of her friend Paul Strauss, one of the district's two shadow senators. Strauss' elected position comes with no salary and a responsibility to lobby for the district.
Panettiere, a spokeswoman for the conservation campaign Save the Whales Again!, met Strauss at a Barack Obama campaign appearance. She asked him to vote for the group's anti-whaling bill only to learn that he had no vote.
"At that point, a lot of folks who are advocating sort of stop and will move on to the next politician in the room," Strauss said. "She was different."
Panettiere, whose movie credits include "Remember the Titans" and "Scream 4," was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser later Friday to benefit the D.C. Statehood Fund.
The mayor was arrested in April along with other city leaders while protesting what they called unjust meddling by Congress in local affairs. Panettiere, who brushed with authorities while trying to stop a dolphin hunt in Japan, said Gray's willingness to go to jail shows the seriousness of the issue.
"I was very impressed," she said. "I tried my hardest to get arrested in Japan, to no avail."