Tuesday, July 13, 2004

District Democrats have not given up their fight to hold the nation’s first binding presidential primary, and they want to use the upcoming Democratic National Convention to make it happen in the next election cycle.

D.C. Democratic State Committee Chairman A. Scott Bolden said the local party has already decided to begin its four-year push at a July 30 post-convention meeting.

“I’m tired of being tired of Democrats paying lip service to one of the most vital issues of democracy and self-determination in this country,” Mr. Bolden said.

City Democrats, after accepting this year’s primary schedule in 2001, reversed themselves in 2003 by moving their primary date before New Hampshire’s and before the Iowa caucuses to highlight the city’s status as the only tax-paying jurisdiction without voting representation in Congress.

“I think now is the time for the Democratic National Committee to move the issue of D.C. voting rights higher on its political agenda,” Mr. Bolden said.

In its platform, the party declares its support for voting representation in Congress. But unlike the 2000 platform, the 2004 document does not specifically refer to statehood, rather it calls for the District’s U.S. House delegate to have a vote. It does not mention Senate seats.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, currently has a bill pending in Congress that would make standard an annual $800 million payment to the city government from Congress, an amount about equal to 2 percent of the tax dollars paid by Maryland and Virginia residents.

But local Democrats said there was concern that Mrs. Norton’s bill would conflict with statehood legislation by perpetuating the District’s status as a ward of Congress. Norton spokeswoman Doxie McCoy dismissed such fears, saying her boss’s top priority remains statehood.

The 2004 effort to hold the first-in-the-nation primary to highlight the city’s lack of voting rights resulted in a mixed bag of successes and failures.

The nonbinding primary yielded a turnout of more than 16 percent of the electorate, doubling the District’s average for presidential primaries over the past 20 years.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean won with more than 42 percent of the vote, but a second binding caucus in March had fewer participants and Mr. Dean already had dropped out of the race by then. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts carried the District.

Despite the problems, Mr. Bolden said local party members are not deterred and they are not completely satisfied with promises from the DNC to make D.C. suffrage a priority issue at the convention.

“I sent a letter to [DNC] Chairman Terry McAuliffe today as a reminder of the party’s commitment to voting rights,” Mr. Bolden said.

He said that if the national party fails to deliver, the party members are prepared to secure enough signatures to nominate Mrs. Norton for vice president.

The D.C. Democratic State Committee voted on the Norton plan last week, Mr. Bolden said. The party would have to get 300 convention-delegation members to sign the resolution and not more than 50 from any one delegation.

“I think we can get them,” he said, adding, “I think Mrs. Norton would make an outstanding VP candidate — a legal scholar who headed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is well respected in Congress.”

The District delegation will hold a send-off for its trip to Boston — the Freedom Train — on July 24. An Amtrak Acela train will take the delegation by express to the Massachusetts capital.

Former Democratic presidential candidate the Rev. Al Sharpton is expected to speak at the event along with the city’s elected officials and party members.

On July 26, the state party will hold its second “Boston Tea Party” for D.C. voting rights — a re-enactment of the original 1773 event in which colonists protested taxation without representation by dumping 45 tons of British tea into the Boston Harbor. The tea party will be followed by a concert celebration.

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