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Statehood fuels Norton challengers E-mail

http://www.currentnewspapers.com/admin/uploadfiles/DP%20July%207%201.pdf

Wednesday, July 7, 2010            Vol. IX, No. 5

THE DUPONT CURRENT

Statehood fuels Norton challengers

By IAN THOMS

Current Staff Writer

Eleanor Holmes Norton is a 10-term delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, a former board member of several Fortune 500 companies and the first woman to chair the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Douglass Sloan is a Ward 4 advisory neighborhood commissioner, a public affairs consultant, a former mayoral outreach coordinator and a former council staffer. And he wants her job.

Sloan said he knows he faces a tough challenge in trying to unseat Norton. But he sees vulnerability in his opponent, mainly in her inability to secure voting rights for the District, even with solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and a supportive president.

“Those were ideal circumstances,” Sloan said in a recent interview. “She’s been there 20 years. Her main focus has been not so much statehood, but voting rights. And she hasn’t gotten anywhere. We’re the same place we were 20 years ago in terms of voting rights.”

Norton shares Sloan’s frustrations, but she said the Democrat-controlled Congress hasn’t been as friendly to her cause as he and others might have thought. “Our Democrats are way more conservative today than they were [when I first came to Congress in 1991],” said Norton. “Who controls the balance of power in Congress now? The Blue Dogs.”

Norton backed off her most recent push for voting rights, which was set for a vote in the House this spring, when an amendment backed by the National Rifle Association threatened to eviscerate D.C.’s gun laws. The Senate had already passed a similar voting-rights bill, but a gun amendment there didn’t go as far as its counterpart in the House version, Norton noted. The House amendment, for instance, would have allowed District residents to carry firearms openly in the streets and in public buildings.

Despite the recent setback, Norton still believes she will be able to get a voting-rights bill through Congress without having to choke down what she describes as dangerous concessions on gun control.

“I’m standing watch like crazy,” said Norton.

But Norton’s failure to deliver voting rights, as well as her preference for pursuing voting rights over full statehood, has apparently given challengers like Sloan an opening.

Last month, Sloan trounced Norton in an endorsement vote by the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, receiving 41 votes to Norton’s 19 — a surprising showing that many committee members ascribed to Sloan’s commitment to seek statehood for the District should he win.

“I think [Sloan] is a candidate of the future in some ways — someone who could galvanize people to fight for their rights,” said committee chair Tom Smith. “Whether this is his time or not — and I suspect it isn’t — he is a very attractive candidate.”

Smith’s group, which is comprised of many of the most politically active Democrats in Ward 3, has long wanted Norton to pursue statehood for the District as vigorously as she seeks voting rights.

“She has refused to even intro- duce a statehood bill,” Smith said. “She has said she doesn’t want to introduce measures that have no chance of going anywhere.”

While Sloan got the most votes, he did not earn the committee’s endorsement, for which a candidate must get 75 percent of the vote.

Though Norton stressed that the committee consists of only a small sampling of voters in one of the city’s eight wards, and is not representative of the District or Ward 3 as a whole, she was upset about the endorsement vote. She said she was not invited to speak to the committee. Sloan, however, made a short speech while committee members voted.

“I was treated unfairly,” said Norton. “It’s unprecedented in my political career. They heard from my opponent and not from me.”

Norton said that if she had been permitted to speak, she would have told the committee that she plans to introduce a statehood bill to Congress soon, along with continuing to pursue voting rights.

Smith responded that his group sent e-mails inviting all candidates to its meeting. Also, the meeting was mentioned on the group’s website and advertised through the D.C. Democratic State Committee.

“All the candidates’ campaigns and staffs got notices and were told if they wanted to speak, they would be given an opportunity to do so,” said Smith. “This is a standard thing candidates do when their folks drop the ball, or they drop the ball — they want to blame the rules.”

While Norton lost the vote in Ward 3, she easily won a straw poll held by the D.C. Democratic State Committee on June 12, with 784 votes to Sloan’s 174. The poll took place at a daylong Democratic Party convention that featured a debate between Norton and Sloan; all Democrats registered in D.C. were eligible to participate in the voting.

“I think the vote that Eleanor received reflects her popularity,” said David Meadows, executive director of the state committee. She “was not present during the Ward 3 endorsement vote. That might have something to do with the results. And I think it was interesting that a lot of Ward 3 Committee members wanted to show their support for statehood.”

Donna Jean Alston, who has also picked up petitions to get her name on the Sept. 14 Democratic primary ballot, received 28 votes in the straw poll. Alston is also circulating petitions for the mayoral and at-large D.C. Council member races.

Alston, a Ward 7 resident and former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Southwest, said when she picked up petitions for the delegate race, she was unsure whether Norton intended to run for re-election. “I know she’s going to get it, God bless her,” said Alston. “I can’t do what she has done. I can only model behind what she has done.”

A fourth potential candidate, Allen Wallace, has also obtained petitions; he was not included in the poll. Wallace, a former Metropolitan Police Department officer, said he is still deciding whether to run.

Wallace said Norton and city officials should have accepted changes to the city’s gun laws in order to obtain voting rights. “We have tough gun laws and it doesn’t deter violence in the District of Columbia,” Wallace said.

Only Norton and Sloan had turned in their petitions as of yester- day, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

In interviews, both Norton and Sloan seemed eager to debate again.

“There’s no doubt it’s going to be a challenge. We’re pushing uphill here to get name recognition,” said Sloan. “But I think the office has been underutilized. And I’m running to redirect it so it focuses on local policy issues that directly affect D.C. residents.”

Sloan said that if he wins, he would use his position to increase HIV/AIDS awareness and job training. He also would work to ensure that federal construction projects employ local and minority-owned firms. Sloan last ran for office in a 2007 special election to replace Mayor Adrian Fenty as Ward 4 council member. Muriel Bowser defeated Sloan and 17 others to win that race.

Norton said she welcomes Sloan’s challenge. She is confident District residents appreciate her work, which she said has resulted in securing a $5,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers; a federal subsidy for D.C. students attending public universities elsewhere in the United States; and about $1 billion in federal stimulus funding.

“With the record I have, I relish the debate,” said Norton.

 
Home Statehood Statehood fuels Norton challengers

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