Three Democratic presidential candidates participating in the D.C. primary debated at GW Friday morning.
Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and the Rev. Al Sharpton attended the debate. Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is on the primary ballot but chose not to come.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton addressed the crowd of 200 in the Media and Public Affairs building’s Jack Morton Auditorium, saying Tuesday’s primary was important to bring attention to the lack of federal representation for D.C. residents. The primary is non-binding, and actual delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be chosen in February (See “D.C. to hold primary,” p. 1).
Currently, the city elects shadow representatives to the Senate and House of Representatives, but they do not have the same voting power as the state’s representatives.
All the candidates at Friday’s debate said they support full D.C. voting rights.
“How can we fight for the right to vote for people in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, when people in our capital can’t vote?” Sharpton said.
Braun argued that giving statehood rights to D.C. would be a part of a continuing historical progression.
“When the Constitution was written, women could not vote, blacks were counted as three-fifths of a person and poor people couldn’t vote,” she said. “The history of the U.S. has been an expanding of our democracy.”
The first question at the debate came from Newschannel 8 political reporter Bruce DePuyt, who rhetorically asked why Dean was not present.
Later in the debate, candidates could ask questions to one another. Sharpton turned to Dean’s chair and said, “I’d like to ask Governor Dean, ‘Why are you not here?'” He accused Dean of showing ingratitude to his supporters in the Washington area.
Before the debate, about 20 Kucinich supporters gathered outside the MPA building. When Kucinich arrived, they surrounded him and chanted, “We want Dennis!”
Deborah Vollmer, who is running in the Democratic primary for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District, said she came from Maryland to see Kucinich.
“He works for us instead of special interests,” she said.
Two members of the GW College Republicans also came to the debate, with signs expressing their support for President George W. Bush. Lee Roupas, chairman of the CRs, said almost every member of the organization had not yet returned to Washington. He said he went to Bush’s re-election headquarters in Alexandria, Va. and procured pro-Bush signs for the debate.
The Democratic candidates also touched on school vouchers, all agreeing that they would undermine public education in the country. School vouchers are tax refunds given to parents for the purpose of enrolling their children in private institutions. Kucinich argued that giving vouchers to parents takes money away from public schools.
“When we fully fund public schools, our children will have the education they deserve,” he said.
Midway through the debate, a young woman stood up in the crowd and yelled, “I’m a citizen of Washington, D.C., and I want to know why Lyndon LaRouche was not included in this debate.”
She continued to yell as two more LaRouche supporters stood up and began yelling, “LaRouche!” One threw a LaRouche sign onto the stage as the debate went on behind them.
LaRouche supporters have previously held marches at GW and frequently set up tables to hand out literature and engage passersby in conversation around campus.
The three LaRouche supporters were escorted from the auditorium by University Police officers.
“They were creating a disturbance, and our University Police officers escorted them to the sidewalk,” said Bob Ludwig, interim director of Media Relations.
In November, MPD questioned LaRouche supporters driving through campus using a megaphone to urge for Vice President Dick Cheney’s impeachment. One was detained for allegedly making disparaging remarks to police officers.
After the debate, about 20 LaRouche Youth Movement members circled in front of the MPA Building.
“It’s much colder in there than out here. The Democratic party is destroying itself.” said Nick Feden, a member of the group.
The other five Democratic candidates for president chose to not participate in the D.C. primary and instead are concentrating their resources on state caucuses and primaries that have traditionally been used to select party nominees.
“The purpose of this vote is to express support for the District,” Braun said. “It would be unthinkable for me to not participate.”
The candidates also discussed news that the Bush administration is planning to send people to the moon and Mars in the near future. The candidates agreed that money on such projects would be better spent elsewhere.
Sharpton suggested the President visit Wards 7 and 8, in Southeast D.C., located across the Anacostia River, instead of Mars or the moon.
“It’d be cheaper, and he’d learn just as much,” Sharpton said.
Radio station WTOP sponsored the event, along with GW, the NAACP, the Urban League, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and Congresswoman Norton.