D.C. Representation Gets Big Push at Convention

Posted July 26, 2004 at 5:23pm

While the question of Congressional representation for the District of Columbia has long been a plank in the Democratic platform, several city officials and voting rights advocates said Monday that the issue is receiving significantly more attention this week than at any time in recent memory.

That attention — which includes a coveted speaking role for D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton in the Fleet Center on Thursday — is primarily the result of a deal struck by District Democrats and national party officials shortly before the primary season began in January.

At the time, Democratic National Committee officials promised increased attention to the District’s Congressional status if local party officials agreed to downgrade their presidential primary to a nonbinding event, guaranteeing the first-in-the-nation status of New Hampshire and Iowa.

“This is probably the best visibility we could hope to get at the convention,” said Sean Tenner, political director of D.C. Democracy Fund, a federal political action committee that led the movement to establish the city’s January primary.

Tenner asserted a variety of actions — ranging from the primary itself to proposals to nominate Norton for the vice presidency — helped to focus attention on the city, whose entire Congressional delegation consists only of a nonvoting Delegate in the House.

“It’s all that pressure that led us to this moment,” Tenner said Monday while attending a “Boston Tea Party” protest staged on the Fort Point Channel. During the event, modeled after the 1773 Boston Tea Party, local officials and members of D.C.’s convention delegation dumped tea leaves into the harbor to protest the city’s status.

Tea party organizer John Capozzi, who served one term as the District’s Shadow Representative in the early 1990s, asserts that although statehood and Congressional voting rights for the District have long held a place on the Democratic platform, the issue was often overlooked when the party held majorities in Congress.

“It’s been in the platform, but usually it didn’t come up on the podium,” Capozzi said.

In an interview just before the tea party event, Norton said she sees the convention as a chance to educate the national public on the District’s Congressional status, rather than motivating existing voting rights advocates to action.

“You can’t get people to support your rights if they don’t know you don’t have rights,” Norton said.

In advance of Norton’s remarks, convention officials are scheduled to air a brief video produced by D.C. Vote titled “It’s Time.” A version of the video is scheduled to air on several cable news stations as a public service announcement throughout the week.

“It will be absolutely the largest audience we’ve had for our message ever,” said D.C. Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka.

D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden praised the combination of Norton’s speech and the video presentation, stating it was “beyond the commitment” promised by DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

During a brief appearance at Monday’s event, McAuliffe vowed to push for Congressional representation in the District in the next Congress. In remarks after leaving the stage, McAuliffe asserted he’s successfully highlighted the issue during the convention’s initial days: “I’ve kept my word,” he said.

In addition to organizing events, D.C. Shadow Sen. Paul Strauss (D) noted that the city’s delegation provided information packets, including T-shirts and other items, to every state delegation.