Hours after District Democrats threatened to nominate Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) for vice president at the party's national convention in Boston next week to draw attention to the District's case for voting rights, organizers yesterday awarded Norton a prized evening speaking slot.
Norton will address fellow delegates sometime between 7 and 11 p.m. July 29, the night that Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) will accept his party's nomination for president, according to a preliminary list of speakers released by convention planners.
D.C. officials called the speech a unique opportunity to address the nation on the most dramatic night of the convention about the District's long quest for voting representation in Congress.
"We are speaking to educate an almost completely ignorant public about the denial of our voting rights," Norton said last night, crediting her speaking slot to discussions with DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, party officials and the Kerry campaign.
During a morning news conference yesterday, D.C. Democratic Party Chairman A. Scott Bolden had rebuked the same leaders for paying lip service to the statehood issue while failing to incorporate it into Kerry's presidential campaign.
"It is simply not enough for the Democratic Party to support voting rights but do nothing to ensure it or act on it," Bolden said. He said the District's 39-member delegation was prepared to try to nominate Norton for vice president -- allowing her to address the gathering the night that Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), speaks to the convention.
After Norton was given a top speaking slot, Bolden had only praise for the party. "This is an outstanding development, and one which reinvigorates our notion that we have a great partnership," he said. "The Democratic National Committee not only supports voting rights, but keeps its commitment to D.C. citizens."
D.C. activists thanked local party leaders for trying to elevate the voting rights issue in January by staging a first-in-the-nation, non-binding presidential primary in the District and for proposing the convention strategy. "This is the best thing we've gotten at convention," said Sean Tenner, head of the D.C. Democracy Fund. "I can't imagine it working out any better for us."
Norton's speech might not be shown by the major broadcast networks, which plan only three hours of coverage next week. However, cable news outlets are expected to carry much of the evening sessions.
Norton said she will be introduced by a video explaining the District's lack of a voting member of Congress.
The District, which has been part of the electoral college since 1964, is the only member that has never voted for a Republican presidential candidate.
D.C. leaders plan to step up their perennial campaign for democracy for the nation's capital, encouraged by the city's economic gains and the possibility of a Democratic takeover of Washington this fall.
Norton and congressional supporters of District voting rights have introduced legislation to expand an annual federal payment to the city and grant at least some form of voting representation. Yet some Democrats are frustrated at what they consider second-class treatment of the District.
Still, local Democrats are divided over what representation short of statehood they would accept. This year's national Democratic platform, which Norton helped draft, dropped a specific endorsement of D.C. statehood for the first time since 1988. Some local Democrats criticized the change.
Norton said the new language, supporting "equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation" in the District, is shorter and clearer and encompasses statehood and the current focus on Congress.
Kerry has said he generally supports D.C. voting rights but opposes a Republican plan that would expand the House of Representatives to include a voting representative for the District and give an additional member to Utah. He said that plan could create partisan reapportionment problems.
"I intend to fight to see that representation occurs somehow, and I can't tell you what possibly will pass, but I know what I believe," Kerry said in May.
Edwards has said he supports D.C. statehood and voting representation.