A coalition of D.C. Council members and activists called yesterday for the removal of the city's Democratic Party chairman, A. Scott Bolden, saying his leadership has been divisive and exclusionary.
At a news conference on the steps of City Hall, the group of about 20, including council members Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), said it was outraged by Bolden's decision to have the D.C. Democratic State Committee endorse candidates for the council races before the Sept. 14 primary.
"The highly shameful actions of the Democratic Party have led to a fraudulent endorsement process," said Chavous, who, along with Allen, did not receive an endorsement from the party last week. "There was a staged nature to it. This was a setup from the word go."
In an overwhelmingly Democratic city with little presence from an opposition party, the internal party bickering came on a day that traditionally signals the homestretch before the fall election. While in some other cities Democrats might be unifying to take on Republican adversaries, the D.C. Democrats allowed their intraparty squabbles to spill into public view.
The endorsements, made at a committee meeting, marked the first time the party has backed individual candidates before a primary. Critics charged yesterday that Bolden orchestrated the endorsements to help candidates he prefers, particularly Vincent C. Gray, who won the endorsement in Ward 7. Gray, who operates Covenant House, which helps troubled youths, has worked closely with Bolden in the party.
Several speakers said Bolden, who is running for reelection to the state committee this fall, should be voted out of office.
Barbara Lett Simmons, a party officer, called Bolden's actions "the most dictatorial and disgraceful leadership the party has ever had."
Bolden responded by saying that the party's bylaws allow the endorsements, and he called the opposition a case of sour grapes.
"If those people who now oppose us had received the endorsement, would there be any opposition or divisiveness?" Bolden said. "I think the ongoing criticism of the process or me is more controversial than the endorsement itself. I hope these attacks are not acts of desperation on their part."
Bolden added that Chavous, Allen and many of the other critics yesterday did not show up to participate in last week's endorsement meeting, while Gray and council member Harold Brazil (D-At Large), who won the endorsement in the at-large race, did attend. No candidate was endorsed in the Ward 8 race because no one received 60 percent of the votes.
The coalition that spoke in front of City Hall was notable in that many speakers are running against each other in the primary. But for one day at least, they were partners in attacking Bolden.
They charged that Bolden did not have the support of his own state committee for the endorsement meeting. Of 74 committee members, 45 attended.
Mary D. Jackson, a Ward 7 activist who is running against Chavous, called the state committee endorsements a "dog and pony show."
"It's an elite social club," she said. "They do not do anything to bring the masses in."
But Bolden said that attendance at committee meetings usually averages about 50 members, so last week's event was not unusual. When he asked the committee members who were present to vote on the endorsement process, Bolden said, eight of the 45 objected to it.
"That's not divisive; that's democratic," he said. "This was far from party-boss politics."
Bolden has said he pushed for the state committee to make endorsements to give the party more influence in city elections. Traditionally, the state committee has not been as influential as the individual ward party organizations, which also endorse candidates.
"In a one-party town, it makes no sense for the party to weigh in after the primary," said Chuck Thies, a Bolden ally who is running for a spot on the state committee this fall. "If you're going to have relevance, you are forced to weigh in in advance."
But Bolden's critics argued that the state committee should not overshadow the ward organizations, which usually have more input from voters and therefore are more democratic.
Bolden disagreed, saying that sometimes the individual wards endorse different candidates -- for example, in an at-large race. If that is not considered divisive, Bolden said, then why is it a problem for the state committee to endorse candidates?
"It borders on the nonsensical," Bolden said. "No matter how many times they say it, it doesn't make the endorsements a sham."