Mayoral politics surfaced at the D.C. statehood convention for the first time last weekend when several delegates challenged plans by others to invite Democratic mayoral candidate Patricia Roberts Harris to speak before a convention committee on health and housing issues.
The committee chairman, Gwendolyn Paramore, announced Saturday that Harris, who headed both the Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services departments in the Carter administration, was scheduled to address the committee today.
Convention delegate Harry Thomas immediately objected, saying that if Harris was going to speak, all mayoral candidates should speak.
Currently, there are nine Democratic and two Republican candidates for mayor, including incumbent Marion Barry.
Paramore insisted that Harris was invited as an expert in health and housing, not as a candidate for mayor. Other delegates joined in a chorus of skepticism, however, and Thomas, a Barry supporter, made a formal motion to require invitations to all candidates if Harris spoke.
The motion was defeated, 13 to 20, with the losers grumbling privately that Harris supporters wanted to use the convention as a platform for her candidacy.
The grumbling was directed chiefly at delegate Janette Hoston Harris (no relation to Patricia Harris), who is a member of Paramore's committee and also a coordinator of the Patricia Harris election campaign. Janette Harris told a reporter after the vote that no political intentions were involved. She acknowledged recommending that Patricia Harris be invited to speak but said she recommended her routinely along with other experts in the health and housing fields.
"It would be bad business for us to link [the convention] with the mayoral campaign," she said. "The issue of statehood is not partisan politics. We need everybody--the mayor, the City Council, the ANCs [advisory neighborhood commissioners], the school board--to help us through this convention."
The 45-member statehood convention is in its third week of preparing a constitution for presentation to the voters and Congress as a first step toward possible statehood. It has until May 29 to finish writing the constitution. The document will then likely go on the general election ballot this fall for approval by city residents.
In the meantime, the convention, working from its headquarters in the old Pepco building at 10th and E streets NW, has divided into 10 committees to study and draft various articles of the constitution and hear from experts on legislative, administrative and judicial branches of government and other basic issues such as taxation, suffrage, education, housing and health.
Public hearings on proposed constitutional articles will be scheduled later.