Plugged In Nationally, Tuned Out Of the District

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Harold Ickes is the prototypical insider, a career political operative who knows as much about how Washington works as anyone.

Just don't ask the former Clinton White House official and Democratic superdelegate what ward he lives in.

"Oh boy," Ickes said recently by phone. "It's either 2 or 7. I live in Georgetown."

Or who represents him on the D.C. Council.

"Don't know."

Or the name of the public schools chancellor.

"I don't know the name, an Asian woman."

If Ickes isn't plugged into the local political scene -- correct answers: Ward 2, Jack Evans and Michelle A. Rhee -- that's because there have long been two separate and distinct Washingtons. One is federal, the other local, and rarely do those in these two worlds think of one another.

But next week, they might. Ickes is one of 75 people appointed by Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean as at-large superdelegates to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. These national power brokers are seated with the delegations from where they live, so the 15 who reside in the District will join the 25-member D.C. delegation. That's easily the highest proportion of national-to-local delegates in the country.

The presence of these high-profile figures simultaneously excites and frustrates the local delegation, made up of city officials and activists, including Evans, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and D.C. Democratic Party Chairman Anita Bonds. As it does every four years, the D.C. delegation will use the convention to renew a public push for congressional voting rights. But even though the big shots command media attention and enjoy outsize influence that could help the District's cause, most aren't planning to spend much time with the locals or join them at a voting rights rally at Denver's U.S. Mint.

Instead, the at-large superdelegates, including political strategist Donna Brazile, Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen and Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger, will join the locals for breakfast at the Crowne Plaza hotel, where the delegation will be based. After picking up convention credentials, however, the superdelegates will rush off to lobby for their own interests.

"They don't come to our events, and if they don't come, why are they there with us?" Evans said. Seating the national figures with the D.C. delegation, he added, is "a convenient place to put them, but with it should come responsibility."

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