Tuesday, July 27, 2004

BOSTON — D.C. Democratic State Committee members yesterday dumped tea into the Charles River to symbolize their fight for congressional representation, while D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton defended new party platform language that is silent on statehood.

“This year she wrote broader language (‘equal rights to democratic self-government’) because of wholesale confusion among non-D.C. residents, many of whom believe statehood is still pending in Congress and often write Members or speak out in support of a nonexistent bill,” Mrs. Norton’s re-election campaign said in a statement about the “tea party.”

“There has been no statehood bill for 10 years because the District temporarily gave up some of the state costs that statehood requires each state to carry.”

Mrs. Norton, who was a member of the Democratic Platform Committee this year, wrote the manifesto’s new language. The Democrats call for congressional voting rights for the District but drop the language calling for statehood that was used in the 2000 platform. The District is the only jurisdiction in the country that pays federal taxes without having a voting representative in Congress.

Some members of the D.C. delegation to the Democratic National Convention said they backed Mrs. Norton’s decision to alter the platform language from the 2000 convention “100 percent,” while others said they would have preferred that the platform specifically mention statehood.

“I would have written it differently and used statehood in the language,” said Paul Strauss, the District’s “shadow senator” and chief lobbyist for voting rights.

“But more important than the language is the message of statehood and voting rights getting out there. Delegate Norton will have a chance to speak to the whole country on Thursday, and I hope she will talk about statehood,” said Mr. Strauss, who was elected by D.C. residents but has no speaking or voting rights in the Senate.

Pat Elwood, vice chairman of the state committee, said she agreed with Mrs. Norton’s view that statehood “dilutes” the message of congressional voting representation: “But there are some people who believe that [statehood] should be in the platform.”

The District temporarily gave up its right to statehood when it relinquished some of its costs for courts and prisons and other minor provisions now funded by the federal government.

“The only people who can’t understand that are those who have some sort of vendetta,” said Mrs. Norton, the District’s nonvoting congressional representative.

However strongly members agreed or disagreed with the platform, it did not dampen the mood as delegates and guests danced during the tea party to tunes by popular D.C. go-go band Experience Unlimited and celebrated Mrs. Norton’s prime-time speech on Thursday night.

“When I became chairman of the party, I promised we would highlight D.C. voting rights, and I have kept my word,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who was host of the event with Mrs. Norton and D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden. It was held hours before the party’s nominating convention began here.

All three spoke about the importance of placing the national spotlight on the District’s lack of suffrage in Congress at the event on the boardwalk in front of the Boston Children’s Museum.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who missed the tea party to attend the funeral of a public works employee, said Sunday that he was “pleased the DNC and Mr. McAuliffe kept their promise to make D.C. voting rights a high priority at the convention.”

D.C. Vote, a group that lobbies Congress for voting rights, has bought $10,000 worth of two-minute ads that will run all week on CNN and MSNBC.

“This will be the largest audience, by far, we’ve ever had view our materials and hear the message of ‘no taxation without representation,’ ” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote.

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