As the D.C. statehood convention nears the halfway mark in its 90-day odyssey, delegates are scurrying to get their concepts for self-government--ranging from the mundane to the exotic--into the pipeline for inclusion in the city's proposed constitution.
Most proposals would scrap the current system and start from scratch, rather than create another layer of bureaucracy atop the one that exists. For example, Ward 7 delegate James Terrell, chairman of the convention's legislative committee, has submitted a 20-page proposal setting out a 23-member, unicameral legislature to replace the present 13-member City Council.
In the same vein, Courts Oulahan, a lawyer and Ward 3 delegate, has circulated a closely reasoned proposal for a two-tiered or three-tiered court system to replace the present federally-controlled judiciary.
Ward 2 delegate and cab driver Kenneth Rothschild is pushing a more unusual idea: something called "multiple-interest constituency grouping."
Under this proposal, voters would register not just as Democrats, Republicans or independents, but also as members of a variety of special interest categories, including blacks, whites, gays, Jews, lawyers or environmentalists, Rothschild said. Registrants would vote in as many categories as they were registered in. Categories with large numbers of registrants would have proportionately more seats in the legislature.
The range of ideas reflects the broad-based membership of the convention--from academics and career bureaucrats to community activists and political radicals.
Reference materials for delegates to study at convention headquarters include womb-to-tomb welfare provisions of the Soviet Union constitution, submitted by Ward 1 delegate and Communist organizer Maurice Jackson. But there is more conventional fare: an 11-page, point-by-point comparison of the bills of rights of 26 U.S. states and a set of model provisions for suffrage and election procedures prepared by various delegates and staff researchers.
Tempers flared at a recent session of the convention when several delegates challenged the hiring of convention public relations man Eddie L. Madison, because he is a Maryland resident.
Challengers said that in hiring Madison, the convention's executive committee violated a resolution that convention staff members be D.C. residents.
Convention president Charles I. Cassell repeatedly blocked attempts by delegates to pursue the issue, ignoring their pleas or ruling them out of order.
"I'm sorry, Mr. President, you can't do this," said exasperated Ward 1 delegate Robert Love. "You cannot by fiat override the wishes of this body." Other delegates shouted angrily at Cassell.
Cassell shrugged. Convention first vice president James Baldwin said D.C. personnel regulations permit the hiring of nonresidents for hard-to-fill positions in the government. The nondebate ended.
Madison, a former press secretary for Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) who now lives in Silver Spring and is receiving $2,500 for his convention work, was present during the squabble but said nothing.
The convention phantom newsletter strikes again!
A second issue of the "Alternative Caucus News," an anonymous and irreverent newsletter that takes pokes at delegates and the sometimes raucous convention atmosphere, has circulated through the headquarters offices on the ninth floor of the old Pepco Building at 10th and E streets NW.
Among other things, it says, "Will the delegates please stop yelling at each other?" and, "Will CC Charles Cassell please read the rules, rather than make them up as he goes along?"
At another point, it asks, "Has anybody seen CO, AS, DC, JG or JM?"--a reference to the frequent absence from convention meetings of delegates Courts Oulahan, Anita Shelton, David A. Clarke, Joel Garner and Jerry Moore. Clarke and Moore are D.C. City Council members.
Delegates say they suspect the unsigned newsletters are authored by one or more fellow delegates. The "Alternative Caucus News" title is an apparently sarcastic reference to a racial split that occurred early in the convention and triggered creation of informal black and white caucuses. Of the 45 convention delegates, 28 are black and 17 white.
Will the real "honorary chair" of the convention please stand up?
Back in February, the delegates voted to create, in addition to such convention offices as president, secretary, treasurer, etc., an optional position called honorary chair, just in case somebody felt a need for it.
The largely ceremonial seat has gone unfilled. Some delegates say privately it was intended as a gesture to at-large delegate Hilda Mason, a City Council member and D.C. Statehood Party stalwart, who lost to Cassell in her bid for convention president. But no one has nominated her.
Recently, several delegates mounted a quiet campaign to put someone else in the honorific seat: Norman Nixon, 19, the convention's youngest delegate and a student at the University of the District of Columbia.
But a possible Mason-Nixon collision was averted last week when Nixon promoters instead made him vice chairman in charge of youth coordination on the convention's public information and media committee.