In an effort to raise awareness of D.C.’s lack of representation in Congress, the city will hold a non-binding Democratic primary Tuesday.
The Democratic National Committee has frowned on the city’s decision to hold a primary before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, two events that traditionally mark the start of primary season.
Citing the DNC’s disapproval of the event, five candidates – including several front runners – removed their names from the ballot.
Nevertheless, voting rights activists said the primary will call attention to District residents’ lack of representation in Congress. In the Senate, D.C. has no representation, while in the House of Representatives a delegate can introduce and debate legislation but cannot vote on it.
Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, an organization campaigning for voting rights, said that hosting the first primary would be significant for D.C.
Zherka said the primary has received a large amount of coverage, especially in major newspapers.
“Each of these articles mentions the issue of D.C. representation, and there are over a hundred of them,” he said.
Even though several candidates have refused to run in the primary, the participation of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who is the favorite to win the nomination, has put D.C. in the spotlight, Zherka said. Among those running against Dean will be former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In a debate Friday at GW, Braun, Kucinich and Sharpton expressed their support for full statehood rights for D.C. Dean did not attend the debate, although a seat was reserved for him (SEE STORY, p. ?).
Some people are bitter about the DNC’s disapproval of the primary, which they said hampers the District’s efforts to secure congressional representation.
The DNC is specifically upset with the fact that the D.C. primary will be held before the traditional first primary in New Hampshire and that it will be unbinding.
“Rules approved by the DNC discourage candidates from participating in non-binding primaries,” said Faviola Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the DNC.
Rodriguez dismissed claims that the DNC is callous to the cause of D.C. representation.
“The Democrats have always been strong supporters of fighting for voting rights for D.C,” she said.
Rodriguez added that the DNC had a number of events planned in the upcoming year, including press conferences and an event at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, to raise awareness for the cause of D.C. voting.
But Tony Bullok, director of communications for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, said, “We’re not sure why (the primary) is being perceived as a threat.”
Adam Eidinger, a member of the steering committee of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, said he feels abandoned by the Democratic candidates who decided not to participate in the primary.
In November, former Gen. Wesley Clark, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) removed their names from the ballot.
“You have someone like Joe Lieberman, who made a big deal about D.C. representation but doesn’t participate now that it really matters,” Eidinger said.
He added that the Democratic candidates who took their names off the ballot are merely trying to win favor with DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. “These guys bow down to the frat boy, McAuliffe, and are dominated by the DNC,” he said. “These are guys who really don’t stand up for anything.”
In an interview last year at a DNC fundraiser, McAuliffe expressed his support for D.C. voting rights but said District officials have undermined the primary process.
“We have rules,” McAuliffe said. “The first primary is in New Hampshire.”
At Friday’s debate Sharpton said, “If Terry McAuliffe even dreamed of telling me what to do, he’d wake up and apologize.”
City officials said Tuesday’s primary should run smoothly. The primary will be non-binding, and District voters will be asked to go to the polls again on Feb. 14 in a binding contest that will feature the entire field of Democratic candidates.
While only 8.8 percent of registered District voters cast their ballots in the 2000 primary, the city’s polling stations are prepared to deal with a large turnout, said Bill O’Field, spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
“We always prepare for 100 percent turnout,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”
Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Stations located near campus include The International Monetary Fund Center at 720 19th St. and the West End Public Library on 24th and L streets. Only District residents who are registered with the Democratic and D.C. Statehood Green parties will be eligible to vote.
– Michael Barnett contributed to this report.