District Democratic Convention reflects division, cohesion

District Democratic Convention reflects division, cohesion

Fueled by a tense presidential nomination race, hundreds of political activists gathered at Francis C. Hammond Middle School last Saturday at the Eighth Congressional District Democratic Convention, to elect national delegates that will travel to Denver in August for the Democratic National Convention, where they will nominate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill) or Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) for president.

City Councilman Paul Smedberg and former T.C. Williams teacher Hazel Rigby, both Alexandrians representing Clinton, were two of the eight delegates elected from the eighth district, which includes Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church and portions of Fairfax County.

The districts elector for the general election in November, former state delegate and Alexandrian Marian Van Landingham, was also voted in, and will cast her ballot for the Electoral College if the Democrats carry the Commonwealth a feat that would reverse a 44 year-long losing streak for the party.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), and Del. Brian Moran (D-46) also attended.

Although Van Landingham called the appointment ceremonial she said that she is well aware of the significant role that the Electoral College can play as the presidential decider, as it did in the controversial 2000 election in which President George Bush was elected over Al Gore, who won the popular vote.

As we know, the 2000 election was decided by the Electoral College despite the fact that from a national standpoint, by popular vote, Gore had won, Van Landingham said. So the Electoral College still counts and its something thats viewed as somewhat of an anachronism.

A competitive, spirited air filled the middle school auditorium between Obamanites and Clintonians, but also between Democrats and the incumbent Republicans in a city with Democrats in every elected position except the non-partisan school board, as keynote speaker Mayor Bill Euille noted. 

Call it what you want, but in the events of the past eight years, America and the world has been lied to, hoodwinked, blindsided, and America has lost its respect around the world, Euille said. [We have] an economy in flux, fuel and oil prices at an all time high, a housing market collapse, spiraling food costs, a war which should not have been engaged in the first place, with no end in sight.

Additionally, we have our own internal wars. We have a war on healthcare, education, affordable housing, crime, the environment, unemployment, a fractured infrastructure, Euille continued. I feel like we have been Bush-winked.

Donning fresh Obama baseball caps and Clinton stickers, participants passionately contended over resolutions representing the Eight Districts platform. One resolution in particular, which would strongly urge all uncommitted superdelegates to announce no later than June 10, one week after the end of the primary and caucus process, their support for the candidate that they favor, prompted harsh debates across the auditorium.

The resolution states that it is in the interest of the party as whole, increasing the chances of gaining House and Senate seats, including the potential senate seat sought by former Gov. Mark Warner. But Clinton supporters worried that if superdelegates announced their choices early, it would unfairly sway voters before the actual nomination in Denver.

I object to this resolution because I can see that it is an attempt to predetermine superdelegate votes to force that kind of identification prior to the convention, said Arlington County Del. Judy Beck.  We dont know how this involvement will play out. A lot of folks think its in the bag, but its not not until every vote is counted. This is not a sitcom that has to be wrapped in 30 minutes.

Alexandria national delegates were also outspoken. The last I looked, this race, in actuality, is actually fairly close, Councilman Smedberg said. We cant tell the superdelegates how to vote. In fact, they dont have to decide [until the nomination]. They dont have to listen to us I dont think that we should be given suggestions.

I speak with those who say oppose this amendment, Rigby said. We have never wanted even the Obama delegation has never wanted the superdelegates to steal the election from anybody. The thing that will cause our party to divide is if either side thinks the election was stolen from them and was not handled through to the completion until every vote was taken.

Following an indiscernible yay-or-nay vote, votes were tallied and the resolution passed. The proposals language indicates no requirement, but simply an urging for superdelegates to reveal their choice before the national nomination.

Though animosity between Obama and Clinton supporters was palpable, so was the partys cohesion against the GOP, albeit at the end of the nearly seven-hour-long event when all nine proposed resolutions eventually passed, distilling the eight districts stance on issues like ending American occupation of Iraq, repudiating torture as U.S. policy, the GI Bill, transportation funding and undocumented immigration.

Thats just the normal competition, Van Landingham said of the debates. You saw people who really have worked extremely hard for their candidates, over the past year in particular. These are people that care a lot, or they wouldnt be in the process. And I think they care enough that they dont want to see sort of an extension of the Bush campaign.  

Democrats have not won Virginia in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964, and Northern Virginia is seen as the purveyor of sway this unique election year. If the Republican trend continues, however, Van Landingham will not cast a vote in the Electoral College, while Alexandria delegates Smedberg and Rigby will attend the big show in Denver this August regardless, to support Clinton, who has said she will endure the race until its end.