A Look at Washington, D.C.

Posted September 15, 2003 at 6:38pm

Survey the District of Columbia’s Congressional election in 2004 and there’s a simple way to describe it: Humdrum.

“Congresswoman Norton always runs against Congresswoman Norton,” A. Scott Bolden, chairman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said of seven-term Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). [IMGCAP(1)]

That’s unlikely to change in the 2004 cycle, Bolden predicts, and not all that notable in a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-1 and where Norton routinely captures more than 90 percent of the vote.

But turn to the what-if category of elections — those races that would be created if the dreams of statehood and voting-rights activists actually came true — and the field of candidates looks more like a circus.

Under those fantasy scenarios, the possibilities for D.C. range from a single House seat — legislation that Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) is working on — to a full Congressional slate, in legislation sponsored by both Norton and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).

If approved by Congress, Davis’ bill, which the lawmaker plans to introduce sometime this fall, would create a full-fledged Representative for the District.

It is widely held that Norton would seek the post, but it’s likely she’d have a good deal of competition.

“Anyone with high name recognition is likely to run,” said Adam Eidinger, a Statehood- Green Party member.

One name left out of the possible lineup is that of D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray

Browne (D), who has said he would defer to a Norton candidacy.

“I would assume if a seat was created that Ms. Norton would be a candidate, and if she was a candidate, I would support her candidacy,” Browne said. “If she wasn’t a candidate, I would consider the whole picture at the point.”

The possibility, however distant, of the District having its own Senate seats creates an even bigger pool of potential candidates.

“If we were to have two Senators, there are a lot of bright and powerful people in Washington who would covet such a position,” noted one Democratic observer.

In addition to the city’s 13 council members and the mayor, local activists named a host of candidates who could face off for a chance to make history by becoming the District’s first Senators.

“If the Congresswoman’s bill were to pass, I would see that as a real opportunity for some significant community leaders, business leaders and pillars of the community, if you will, to hold those positions, as is the case in other jurisdictions,” Bolden said.

Among the possibilities for Senate are Norton; Carol Thompson Cole, who served as city administrator under former Mayor Marion Barry (D); Terry Golden, chairman of the Federal City Council; Eric Holder, former deputy attorney general and legislative counsel to the Sports and Entertainment Commission; the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the District’s first Shadow Senator; and, of course, there would be the possibility of a bid by Barry himself.

A Senate vacancy could also entice former Cabinet officials who now call the District home, like ex-Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.

And not to be left out, the District’s junior Shadow Senator has pledged to run in the would-be race.

“I would consider it running for re-election as a Senator,” said Paul Strauss (D), who was re-elected in 2002 to a six-year term.

Strauss is confident of his prospects should the race ever materialize, noting: “Of the 12 Shadow Senators in U.S. history, all but one became seated as a U.S. Senator.” (Alaska Shadow Sen. William Egan (D) did not run for a Senate seat, but became governor of Alaska.)

All three of the District’s Shadow Members, two Senators and one Representative, are locally elected and are provided office space by the city, but are not paid. The Members primarily focus on lobbying Congress to support statehood and voting rights.

In the meantime, the lists of candidates’ names being floated for 2004 races for existing offices — as well as for 2006, when Mayor Anthony Williams’ (D) second term expires — is shorter, and in the case of the Shadow posts, almost nonexistent.

Browne, at two terms the longest-serving Shadow Representative ever, admits he has not decided whether to seek a third-term.

“A lot will depend on where we are in the effort, it will bear a lot on how I will feel,” he said.

But Browne’s indecision likely won’t serve as a wake-up call to possible competitors — it’s not unusual for Shadow candidates to declare late in the election season.

“We’re very early,” noted Bolden, who added that there isn’t much pressure for candidates seeking the Shadow posts.

“Traditionally it does not cost a great deal of money to run for that position,” Bolden said. “It is a position that requires creativity and commitment.”

The Statehood-Green Party’s Eidinger, who received 14 percent in the 2002 race against Browne, said he will likely run for the Shadow Representative post, or for Shadow Senator.

Statehood-Green Party Spokesman Scott McLarty said the party has yet to sort out its candidates for the 2004 cycle, but said he expects someone to eventually step forward.

“It’s pretty popular in the party that somebody runs for those, because it’s so useful for the party’s goal of statehood,” he said.

Shadow Sen. Florence Pendleton (D), who took 89 percent of the vote in 2000 against Republican Janet Helms, serves in a largely ceremonial capacity.

Though some D.C. political observers suggest she may step down at the end of her term, Strauss said of his colleague: “She’s certainly been there a while, and she’s getting up there in years, but you could say that about a lot of Senators.”

The D.C. Republican Committee is relatively quiet about any of its prospects, and Executive Director Jamila Billue Atkinson declined to comment on specific races.

The GOP’s two elected city officials, Councilmembers Carol Schwartz (At-Large) and David Catania (At-Large), are mentioned in connection to a variety of posts.

Schwartz is a perennial candidate for mayor, having campaigned unsuccessfully for the job four times, and Catania is considered by some to be a contender in the 2004 Delegate race.

“He’s been positioning himself to move up and beyond the council,” said one D.C. voting rights lobbyist. “I can’t think of anyone else with the power to unseat [Norton].”

Catania could not be reached for comment.