Charles I. Cassell, the newly elected president of the D.C. constitutional convention, said yesterday he is "confident of pulling together" the diverse and sometimes fractious 45-member convention to pursue the goal of statehood for the city.
"I got commitments from many delegates . . . that we'll be supporting each other," he said after the closely contested election Thursday night in which he outpolled City Council member Hilda Mason, 23 to 21.
"The mood is cheerful," Cassell said. "There is great hope of guiding this thing in an effective way toward statehood ."
The election of Cassell and seven other officers to the convention's executive committee came as delegates were attempting to wind up preliminary organizational efforts before starting to draft a constitution, the first formal step toward statehood.
Once the organizational work is completed, the convention has 90 days to write the document. It will then present it to city voters, probably in this fall's general election. If approved then, it goes to Congress for consideration. Both the Senate and the House must approve the proposed constitution and the president must sign it before statehood can be implemented.
After much political jockeying Thursday night at the convention's meeting hall in the old Pepco building at 10th and E Streets NW, Cassell, 57, an architect and head of facilities development at the University of the District of Columbia, emerged as the victor over Mason.
James W. Baldwin, 57, of Ward Seven, former director of the D.C. Human Rights Office and now a personnel consultant, was elected first vice president. Janette Hoston Harris, of Ward Four, a UDC history professor and Democratic party activist, was elected second vice president in a close race against Ward Six delegate Charlotte Holmes. Alexa Freeman, 29, a gay rights activist and American University law student from Ward Two, was elected third vice president.
Elected secretary without opposition was William Cooper, 25, a computer consultant from Ward Four. Richard Bruning, 31, a city juvenile court clerk typist from Ward One, was elected assistant secretary, narrowly defeating Norman Nixon, 19, a UDC student from Ward Five. Theresa Jones, a community liaison specialist for the United Planning Organization in Ward Eight, was elected treasurer without opposition, and Victoria Street, an educational consultant and former D.C. School Board member from Ward Four, was elected historian.