The Democratic Party of Virginia convention that descended into chaos, discord and finger-pointing has prompted a formal complaint against the state party that demands a new election for two of the state’s representatives to the Democratic National Committee and the ouster of three top party officials.
Gail Gordon Donegan, an 8th District delegate, accused the party last week of rules violations during what attendees described as a tumultuous, confusing election at the party’s convention June 2 in Fairfax County.
“What I saw was just appalling,” Ms. Gordon Donegan said. “It was the worst-run meeting/convention I’ve ever attended. Somebody had to do something — bottom line.”
She said the elections to the DNC of incumbent Frank Leone and Hampton City Vice Mayor George Wallace were not legitimate, and she accused George Burke, chairman of the 11th District Democratic Committee, of improperly credentialing delegates to vote in the 3rd District over the objections of district Chairwoman Linda Brooks. Ms. Brooks did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Gordon Donegan also charged that state party Chairman Brian J. Moran allowed a departure from the rules that led to a confusing vote resulting in the approval of Mr. Wallace over Ben Tribbett, a longtime party activist who writes the acerbic Not Larry Sabato blog.
Candidates for DNC representatives must receive a clear majority of votes to be elected. Mr. Leone, with 806 votes, was elected on the first ballot. Mr. Wallace, Mr. Tribbett and Delegate Lionell Spruill Sr., a Chesapeake incumbent, failed to crack the 50 percent barrier, triggering a would-be runoff.
The problem was that the party had reserved the facility that hosted the convention, George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, only until 2 p.m.
The results were tallied at approximately 12:45 p.m., according to attendees. But rather than break up the lengthy program of speakers, which included Sen. Mark R. Warner and Senate candidate Tim Kaine, Mr. Moran proposed at about 2 p.m. that the gathering switch venues to cast the second ballot. Even as he tried to end the convention, workers began tearing down the stage behind him and the crowd was booing in front of him.
“He’s confronted with a mutiny, basically, by the people who were there,” said one delegate, who spoke anonymously to avoid recriminations from the party.
Supporters of Mr. Spruill whom he had bused to Fairfax were scheduled to leave at 2 p.m., so he withdrew his candidacy. He did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Amid the disorder, someone from the crowd moved to suspend the rules and put the contest between Mr. Wallace and Mr. Tribbett to a voice vote. Before the vote could be taken, however, there was a motion to vote by “division” instead — meaning backers of each candidate would stand up to signify their support. Significant majorities stood up to support voting by division, and then electing Mr. Wallace. Seeing that, Mr. Tribbett moved to elect Mr. Wallace by acclamation, while reserving his right to appeal.
“There was tremendous confusion as to whether they were standing up to pick one of those candidates or whether they were standing up to support the change in rules,” said an attendee who spoke anonymously because the delegate did not want to start a public squabble with the party. “People were shouting and arguing about how fair it was to do any of this. It was just a chaotic scene.”
A senior party official, while acknowledging that the convention was a little messy because of the time constraints, said there was nothing untoward about the proceedings and that some newcomers were just taken aback by the speed with which it ended.
“Everything was operated under the rules as they were written and under Robert’s Rules [of Order],” said the official, who also asked to discuss the event anonymously to be able to speak freely with the complaint pending. “Overall, there are no big surprises out of this convention, and I would suggest that the person filing the complaint and her allies have a different agenda.”
Brian Coy, a party spokesman, noted that the convention was one of the largest in the party’s history and that, as always, organizers found things that worked and areas where they could improve.
“With any large meeting of Democrats, especially a convention, it can at times be a tense and hectic environment,” he said. “All in all, the convention was conducted in a way that allowed us to conduct our business that day, and obviously we’re continuing to have conversations with folks.”
Indeed, Ms. Gordon Donegan wants a new vote — though the logistics would be virtually impossible at this point. She also requested that Mr. Moran, Mr. Burke and Craig Fifer, the party’s vice chairman of technology, who was acting as parliamentarian, be removed from their offices with the state party — an arguably overzealous request for what the party official dismissed as spurious charges.
Mr. Tribbett said he was weighing his options for either a legal challenge or party appeal, but he wasn’t prepared to make a decision.
“There’s a whole host of issues that I have to look through with my legal team both for an appeal and for other potential actions,” he said.
Mr. Burke shrugged off the complaint.”The charges made by this woman are untrue,” he said. “It’s probably the first convention she’s attended.”
But Ms. Gordon Donegan defended herself.
“There were numerous witnesses,” she said. “The events of the day were captured on video and speak for themselves.”