CLEVELAND — In the street outside, a small demonstration by a scruffy band of communists demanded “actual revolution.” Inside one of the country’s most elegant clubs, in a formal drawing room, the mayor of the nation’s capital asked for something less radical: voting rights and statehood for the District of Columbia.
But on the night that the Republican Party officially nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president, the revolutionaries on the street and the D.C. statehood advocates suffered the same indignity: Hardly anyone paid them any mind.
Mayor Muriel Bowser is a Democrat, but she flew into Cleveland just for the day because “I was curious to see the convention” and to attend a pro-statehood dinner, on the theory that, as she put it, “Statehood is really a conservative issue, if you ask me. It’s the conservative principle of having the most government closest to the people, at the local level.”
But the plight of the federal district — 670,000 people who pay federal taxes but don’t get any vote in either house of Congress — didn’t make much of a sound in a city busy shouting its love of or disdain for Trump, a man who is building a very beautiful, very expensive hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, five blocks from the White House.
Despite Bowser’s powers of persuasion about the injustice her city lives under, the audience gathered on the third floor of the Union Club hardly seemed likely to advance the cause of statehood. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in the building, but he never made it up from the ground floor, where a big law firm was holding a reception. Inside the statehood dinner, the guests were rather less high-powered.
There were four radio reporters, two of whom said they’d heard about the reception back at the convention’s media center and they figured there would be free food, possibly even shrimp. (No such luck — salmon and pork. Brussels sprouts, too, and lovely little pastries.) There was Mark Plotkin, the longtime D.C. radio commentator and statehood advocate, who stopped first at the law firm reception downstairs, for the superior hors d’oeuvres. “I’m America’s guest,” he said.
There was a cluster of actors and other entertainment industry types, who were in the building for a reception of the Creative Coalition, a non-profit that advocates for the arts and education — and now for D.C. statehood, too. A couple of the actors said they weren’t really familiar with the details of the issue, but actor Billy Baldwin said that he had lived in Georgetown once and interned on Capitol Hill and although “I don’t really know the subject, I think it’s a great idea. I’m going to start investing in flag companies immediately, for when they have to add the 51st star.”
Most of the 27 people on hand were friends and associates of Paul Strauss, the District’s shadow senator, an elected but unpaid position in which he is supposed to lobby for statehood. “This is obviously a very untraditional, unpredictable political cycle,” said Strauss, the dinner’s main organizer, implying that there might be a path toward congressional approval of statehood.
The reception did attract one actual Republican delegate — from the District — and the chairman of the D.C. GOP, Patrick Mara, who did not share Strauss’s optimism. Indeed, Mara had not bothered to invite any Republican delegates from beyond the District’s own borders. “You have to be careful about invitations, because a thousand people could show up, looking for a free dinner,” he noted.
Joe Brookman, a D.C. Republican who is attending the convention, said he has tried bringing up the topic of the city’s voting rights with delegates from around the country, to little effect. “Most of the other states’ people don’t care and when you have that discussion, they don’t really engage,” he said.
The mayor said she thinks it’s nonetheless worth staging events like Tuesday night’s reception to educate people around the country. She said she has not had a chance to ask Trump about statehood; her discussions about the District’s Trump International Hotel, which is scheduled to open this fall, have been with the nominee’s daughter, Ivanka. But Bowser said Donald Trump “has a favorable impression of Washington. My sense is that his non-politically informed gut is that Washingtonians should be treated as any other Americans.”
Mara, like Strauss, noted that Trump’s new running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a history of supporting D.C. voting rights, although Trump himself has said that he is unfamiliar with the issue but thinks it would be tough to change the status quo.
“I doubt either party is going to raise the issue in Congress anytime soon,” Mara said.
At which point Plotkin raised a more immediate issue: “Is the buffet open?”