The District of Columbia will vote for John F. Kerry and John Edwards in November. Of that, the city's Democrats say they are certain. The city has never given its three electors to a Republican presidential candidate.

So as they head up to Boston for their party's national convention, members of the city's Democratic delegation are focused, laserlike, on an entirely different issue: how to shift the nation's focus onto the city's ongoing struggle for full voting rights for its residents.

"Statehood, voting rights and self-determination is, and always will be, the key issue," said A. Scott Bolden, chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party. "We've got to keep pushing it, no matter how long it takes."

And it has taken a long time.

Every four years, D.C. Democrats seek out the nation's attention during the national conventions, hoping to create momentum behind a push for statehood or at least the right to wield greater control over their city's future. In the past, the issue has been largely overshadowed.

This year, city officials hope to be more successful, in part by staging a new Boston Tea Party aimed at highlighting the "taxation without representation" they say still exists in the nation's capital.

Tomorrow, shortly after the convention begins, the District's delegates will excuse themselves to gather on the banks of the Charles River. There, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the city's other top leaders will dump tea made in North Carolina into the water.

They have invited a number of the national party's heavyweights to the tea party, including former presidential candidate Howard Dean, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (Mass.).

"I think the Democratic Party has to come en masse to our tea party," said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4). "I'm pumped, man. I'm pumped for statehood and for getting a Democratic president."

The delegation also pushed hard to win a speaking role for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, even threatening to nominate her for vice president to secure a moment on the podium. Norton will address the convention Thursday night.

The D.C. delegation is made up of 45 residents, politicians, local activists and party faithful.

Three delegates are pledged to Dean, 12 are pledged to Kerry, five are pledged to one-time candidate Al Sharpton and the rest are not committed to any candidate.

Among the delegates is Mary Burke Washington, the widow of the first mayor of the city, who will be attending her seventh convention. Her first was in 1944, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was renominated in Chicago. "I couldn't even vote," Washington recalled. "But I was visiting a friend in Chicago. Her father got us tickets. [Roosevelt] surprised everyone by putting on his ticket Harry S. Truman."

The 2004 convention in Boston will be the first recent one that Washington will attend without her husband, Walter, who died in October. She said she will push for full voting rights, as her husband would have wanted. "Before he died, he said, 'You continue to work on that issue,' " she recalled. "And I have."

In addition to planning for the public events, Norton and Williams have been working behind the scenes to pressure the Democratic Party and the Kerry campaign to highlight the voting rights issue.

In January, the city agreed to hold a nonbinding, first-in-the-nation primary in exchange for the party's willingness to give the statehood issue prominent attention during the convention. Williams and Norton reminded the party of that deal in a letter last week.

"It is imperative that the [Democratic National Committee] and the Kerry campaign keep this commitment to us and the citizens of the District of Columbia and give the D.C. voting rights issue important time and attention when we convene in Boston," they wrote July 13.

Some of the city's Democrats were miffed when the word "statehood" was removed from the national party platform, leaving more general language about the need for voting rights in the District.

But others said the issue may work in the city's favor. "If you had left it on the platform, people were getting used to it," Fenty said. "By taking it out, it highlights the fact that we don't have the same rights."