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D.C. Statehood: Liberals Could Scuttle Chances

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By Tom Sherwood
The Washington Post
Tuesday, October 20, 1981

From The Washington Post archives, October 20, 1981

The campaign to elect delegates to a constitutional convention aimed at making the District of Columbia a state is raising fears among some statehood proponents that the delegates could end up writing a document that city voters or Congress would reject as too liberal.

"It would be too bad to mess up the issue of statehood with a lot of other issues that the Neanderthals in Congress can jump on," said Sam Smith, publisher of the D.C. Gazette newspaper and unofficial historian of the decade-old statehood movement. "We want to give them a true-blue constitution."

"One of the dangers is that we may get very ideological on the structure of government," said Smith, a longtime liberal activist. "The issue is statehood. The issue is not abortion, not gay rights or coming up with the perfect society."

"It's a tremendously liberal group of candidates ," said D.C. council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who is running in the Nov. 3 election for an at-large seat to the convention. "We are going to have to develop a constitution . . . capable of being approved by the Congress."

Smith and Clarke said the convention would not shy away from a strong bill of rights, but said delegates would have to face "political reality" from the voters and a conservative Congress.

Lillian J. Huff, former D.C. Democratic national committeewoman and an at-large delegate candidate, said she is less concerned about a too-liberal constitution being written.

"I personally think we have an opportunity to draw up a constitution in terms of what the people really need," she said, instead of "worrying about what the Congress is thinking or anyone else is thinking. We're going to have differences, but people are sensible enough to know this is a historic occasion . . . and we don't want to blow it."

A total of 103 candidates are vying for 45 delegate seats in the election, the latest step in a lengthy, complicated and far from complete legal process that officially began last year when D.C. voters approved a citizens' initiative directing the city government to formally seek congressional approval to make the city a state.

But the current delegate election campaign has drawn little interest from the city's top elected leaders, political establishment and business community, largely leaving the contests to a potpourri of liberal community activists, a few elected or appointed officials and a sprinkling of political unknowns.

"There's no real formal slate making. Nobody is that well organized, or paying attention to it," said Wesley H. Long, a member of the city's Public Service Commission and a delegate candidate from Ward 2.

Long said the campaign to elect delegates to the convention has been overshadowed in the minds of the voters and in the media by the school board races and the education tax credit initiative, which are also on the ballot.

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