- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

D.C. Council members yesterday said it “isn’t too early” to endorse Howard Dean as the preferred candidate for the next president of the United States.

Six of the eleven Democratic council members praised the former Vermont governor for his support of congressional voting rights for the District and his stance on homosexual civil unions. The endorsement gave Mr. Dean an opportunity to discredit recent news reports that he cannot appeal to minority voters, considering his constituency in Vermont is 98 percent white.

“This is one of the most diverse, representative cities in the nation. It is 60 percent black, 35 percent white, and 10 percent Latino and Asian,” Mr. Dean said.

“One of the big raps against us is our campaign doesn’t have enough support from ethnicities other than whites, 35 and older. Well, behind me is the District of Columbia, so I think we can put that notion to rest.”

Two of the council members endorsing the current Democratic front-runner in the presidential campaign — Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4, and Vincent B. Orange, Ward 5 — are black.

The other Democratic members of the council who endorsed Mr. Dean included Kathy Patterson, Ward 3; Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6; Jim Graham, Ward 1; and council Vice Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 2.

Council members also praised Mr. Dean for giving some validity to the District’s first-in-the-nation primary. Mr. Dean has been actively campaigning in the city, calling council members and the local black newspapers repeatedly for interviews.

The Washington Times has reported that the Jan. 13 “advisory” primary — preceding New Hampshire’s primary and the Iowa caucuses — is nonbinding with no delegates to be selected after a deal struck with Democratic National Committee.

D.C. Democrats will select the delegates at a separate caucus on Feb. 13.

Mr. Dean struck the strongest chord with council members when he said he would address the “injustice” of the District’s lack of voting rights in Congress during campaign speeches throughout the country.

“A lot of people have similar expressions of support for statehood and voting rights for D.C., but [Mr. Dean] has reached out to residents and has taken a more aggressive stance than any of the others,” Mr. Fenty said.

Mr. Fenty also praised Mr. Dean for his position in favor of same-sex “marriages.” But Mr. Dean was quick to correct Mr. Fenty, saying he supported “civil unions” among homosexuals “not same-sex marriages; they are different.”

Mr. Graham said he is supporting Mr. Dean because of his stance on civil unions.

“As the first and only openly gay Democrat on the council, I’m obviously impressed by the substance of his stance, … but more so for the courage it represents,” he said.

While a majority of the council’s Democrats backed Mr. Dean for president, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the five other Democratic council members are not rushing to endorse anyone.

Mr. Williams has remained silent on which Democrat he will back. His spokesman, Tony Bullock, said he doesn’t expect the mayor to take a position for another month or two.

Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat — who was expected to attend the endorsement — declined, saying it was too early.

“Mr. Brazil has not made a decision yet on who to endorse,” said his spokeswoman, Shana Heilbron.

Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat — who has been contacted by the campaigns of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Illinois Democrat — said he, too, is undecided.

“But he is open to meeting with Governor Dean and hearing his platform, as well as those of any other Democratic candidate,” said Mr. Chavous’ spokesman, Eric Rogers.

Local political analysts are concerned that the endorsement comes too early in the campaign.

“I don’t think the council should have moved to endorse anybody,” said Ron Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute and professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.

He said the council has missed the boat on creating a bargaining chip with Mr. Dean to ensure that the District will have a voice in his campaign and in his administration.

“The best way to get a presidential candidate on your side and work towards your issues is to hold out,” Mr. Walters said.

He pointed out that the endorsement of Mr. Dean should concern black presidential candidates, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Mrs. Moseley Braun.

“The danger for Sharpton and Braun is, unless they rev up their campaigns [urban-minority] issues are going to be taken away from them,” Mr. Walters said.

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