Gary Hildebrand got out a pen and started going through the names of the 41 members of the Delaware House of Representatives.
"Oberle can be talked to," said Hildebrand, who is a lobbyist for the Delaware AFL-CIO. He made a tick beside Oberle's name. "Bennett can be talked to (another tick). So can he (tick). And so can he (tick)."
Hildebrand added up the ticks. "Yup," he said, to a coalition of Delaware activists and labor leaders gathered in a United Auto Workers hall in Stanton. "I'd say we're in pretty good shape. But I'd say we have plenty of work to do, too."
It might seem incongruous for the voting rights of the citizens of the District of Columbia to be up for discussion in a pine-paneled meeting room 100 miles from the District Building. But that was the situation, and the agenda, on a Friday morning at the end of March.
Every state legislature except Kentucky's met this winter, or is meeting this spring. So a coalition of D.C. groups is summoning a major lobbying surge in an effort to win ratification of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment. I went to Delaware to see first-hand how the early strategy sessions are taking shape.
The DCVRA passed Congress in 1978, and went to the states. Three-fourths of them must ratify it before 1985 if the city is to be empowered to elect senators and congressmen with full voting powers.
But only 12 states have voted aye in five years, and only two years remain before the proposed amendment dies automatically. Twenty-six more states are needed, and most political pundits think that's too many.
However, Delaware looks promising. The DCVRA came close to passing both houses of the state legislature in 1981, even though the house majority leader declared during debate that the measure would pass "over my dead body."
That gentleman, a Republican, is still living. However, he's not majority leader any more. In the 1982 elections, the Democrats captured both Delaware houses. "So, if we're ever going to do it, this looks like a good time," said Dennis Crowley, a lobbyist for the Delaware State Education Association.
"Of course," Crowley added, with a rueful smile, "in Delaware, you never count your chickens."
The problem, as Democratic Rep. John Campanelli told the Stanton meeting, is race. "I hate to say it," he said, "but people see this as a black-white issue. We'll take a trial vote in the (Democratic) caucus. But if you're talking about adding two black, probably liberal U.S. senators, I'm not sure they're gonna go for it."
Even Delaware labor leaders who have been friendly to Democratic causes in the past have refused to lift a finger for DCVRA. The problem is the city's image.
Norma Melendez, a lobbyist from D.C. Common Cause, recalls telephoning one union official. "He started ranting and raving about how Washington is a city of crime," she said. It turned out that a friend of his had been robbed on a Washington street several years ago.
The official was invited to the Stanton meeting, but he didn't show up. "Those are tough attitudes to overcome," said Melendez, a secretary and a lifelong Washingtonian who has coordinated DCVRA lobbying in Delaware since 1981.
Even Hildebrand, who assumed unofficial command of the Delaware DCVRA effort, has doubts. "I don't care for D.C.," he announced.
"I drive a Bronco, see. One time, I tried to park it in one of those underground parking lots downtown. About four of them said I couldn't because my roof was too high."
Does that have anything to do with whether DCVRA should pass?
"I know it shouldn't. But it still bothers me."
Despite such unhealed wounds, the meeting in Stanton cheered Melendez. She declared herself to be "extremely encouraged. They all seem eager to do some work. That's how it's going to get done."
Hildebrand, Crowley and representatives of the UAW and Common Cause will meet with individual legislators in Dover next week. It may be too little and too late, but the good fight is being fought for a cause that's as worthy as they come. Progress reports as they arrive.