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The Ward 8 Democrats aren’t used to white people. For years, the officers of the ward’s party cell have been exclusively black. And, to judge from a recent dust-up in the organization, they prefer it that way.
On Nov. 22, recently elected Ward 8 Dems President Eugene Dewitt Kinlow presented his new leadership slate to the members for their stamp of approval. To chair his issues and legislative affairs committee, Kinlow chose Ward 8 homeowner Kirsten Burgard. Burgard brings a lot to the organization. Like many in the ward, Burgard has been active in politics for years, serving as a campaign manager for Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich’s (D-Ohio) 1996 run while she lived in Cleveland. She moved to Ward 8 in December 2000 and currently serves as one of the ward coordinators for presidential hopeful Howard Dean.
Burgard also brings something unique to the party cell: She is white.
When it comes to race, Ward 8’s a pretty homogeneous place. According to the 2000 census, the ward is 92 percent African-American. So Burgard got some interesting looks when she answered questions regarding the skill set she brings to the organization. “What brought you to the Ward 8 Dems?” asked Ward 8 Second Vice President Sandra Seegars.
Ward 8 Dems First Vice President Mary Cuthbert had already made up her mind about her neighbor: “Poor white trash,” Cuthbert shouted at Burgard, who works as a loan specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Other attendees reported slight variations on the redneck theme, insisting that Cuthbert had called Burgard “white trailer trash.” According to several accounts of the incident, Cuthbert chanted the racial epithets over and over.
Cuthbert had no comment to LL about her remarks.
Cuthbert’s slurs stirred about as much outrage among the crowd as, say, a denunciation of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. No one stood up to scold her. Instead, Kinlow asked Cuthbert to calm down and leave the room. She refused. “‘Poor white trash.’ That was her response to me,” explains Kinlow.
The organization ratified Burgard’s appointment, and the meeting moved on without too much fuss.
When Democratic State Committee Chair A. Scott Bolden later rose to speak, he apologized to Burgard on behalf of the party. Bolden says that when Cuthbert began her outburst, he instructed his 8-year-old twins to leave the Washington Highlands Library basement room immediately. “I was shocked and disgusted at what I heard,” says Bolden.
Burgard remained quiet throughout the episode. “My family’s from Finland,” she explains. “We don’t express our feelings
The episode didn’t sit well with Kinlow, who decided to draft a letter asking Cuthbert to apologize to Burgard and the Ward 8 Dems. It stopped short of asking for Cuthbert’s resignation.
So last Saturday, Dec. 6, Kinlow assembled his Ward 8 executive committee at the 7th District police station. During the four-hour session, no Ward 8 leader confronted Cuthbert about her remarks. Instead, they wanted to know what Burgard thought about being called “white trailer trash.”
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. “Why haven’t I heard anyone ask Mary why she said it?” says Burgard.
In the end, Ward 8’s leadership voted 7 to 5 to keep Kinlow’s letter under wraps, refusing to allow it to seep into the public sphere. The committee also resolved to have Kinlow make a statement at the next meeting about what had happened.
The end result: Cuthbert escaped any kind of censure.
Those who voted with Cuthbert to keep the letter private included Seegars, Ward 7 and 8 school-board rep William Lockridge and his wife, Wanda Lockridge, and Ward 8 Dems Corresponding Secretary Toayoa Aldridge. They didn’t want to go against a member of the Ward 8 “family.”
It was an awfully spineless outcome for a group of politicians who love to shame the mayor for not being inclusive enough. They repeatedly hammer Williams for a perceived dearth of east-of-the-river appointees to his administration. And whenever they see any evidence of racial politicking downtown, they demand apologies, meetings, and attention. They apparently have a different standard when diversity knocks on their own door.
“Predominantly and historically, the Ward 8 Dems have been African-American,” explains Wanda Lockridge. “This is new to all of us.”
LL’s suggested resolution: Rename the group the “African-American Ward 8 Democrats.”
Burgard says that she will remain active in the organization. “That’s the other Finnish thing,” she says. “We’re stubborn.”
“I would hope [Cuthbert] would do the right thing,” adds Burgard. “If you make disparaging remarks in public, you need to make a public apology.”
That’s not likely to happen, given the ward leadership’s gutlessness.
Local supporters of presidential hopeful Kucinich anguish over their candidate’s marginalization in the media.
They brood that the press has focused more on his vegan diet than on his proposal for universal health care.
They fret that handing out Kucinich fliers at Seabiscuit screeningsplaying up the long-shot themeattracted more attention than his call to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq.
They worry that mainstream news organizations dismiss endorsements from Kucinich backers such as Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco, and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream mogul Ben Cohen.
Now there’s a winning kitchen Cabinet.
So in the past few weeks, Kucinich fans have bombarded LL with phone calls and e-mails insisting that their candidate be taken seriously. Every time LL writes an item on the D.C. primary, a predictable gripe lands in our in box: “How is it that in your coverage of presidential candidates, the candidate who is staunchest in support of the District getting statehood (skip those baby steps of self rule!) and supports progressive causes that would cause the District to blossom gets NO mention in your coverage while you continue to mention politicians who have pulled out of the District race entirely?” wrote Kucinich supporter Tony Nemil last week.
“Please correct this oversight and restore my faith,” he added.
That puts LL in an awkward spot. Usually we chastise others for mixing church and state.
LL has given Nemil and other Kucinich supporters a few reasons for the silent treatment:
• Presidential front-runner Dean has locked up endorsements from local elected officials. Other contenders, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and retired Gen. Wesley Clark, have gotten attention from other local busybodies. Kucinich, meanwhile, hasn’t gotten a favorable nod from any noteworthy local politicos.
• In a poll commissioned by WTOP radio and WJLA-TV, Kucinich finished dead last. When asked whom they planned to vote for among the nine presidential candidates, only 1 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would vote for Kucinich. When the field narrowed to the four Democrats remaining on the D.C. presidential primary ballot, Kucinich bumped up to 4 percent.
• While Al Sharpton has displayed his commitment to D.C.’s primary by opening a local campaign office east of the river, and former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun in the past few weeks has appeared before the D.C. Democratic State Committee and the Ward 3 Democrats in person, Kucinich has stayed away from local D.C. events.
LL had to cross that last reason off the list this week. On Monday night, Kucinich stood before about 75 local supporters at Mimi’s American Bistro in Dupont Circle while LL earnestly took notes. The assemblage was long on hair and beardsjust the peace-loving profile that you’d expect to see at a Kucinich event/Woody Guthrie tribute.
The candidate was introduced by Patch Adams, whose unconventional approach to medicine was made famous by actor Robin Williams in a 1998 film. Adams went Hollywood on the crowd, making more wardrobe changes than an Academy Awards host. He approached the microphone dressed in a frumpy flowered frock and Broom Hilda-style mask, and carrying a “Grandmothers for Peace” sign accompanied by a similarly dressed companion.
The drag performance truly puzzled LL: Was this a misguided attempt to connect with Dupont’s sizable gay community?
Moments later, he stripped down to SpongeBob SquarePants boxer shorts and a T-shirt that pictured President George W. Bush with a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer schnozz above the statement “The world is not a joke.” Adams rambled on for a few minutes in his underwear as supporters munched on a spread of hummus, grilled veggiesand lots of cheese, including cheddar, Swiss, and havarti.
The cheesefest, like all parts of presidential campaignery these days, was calibrated for maximum political impact: Kucinich has said that he doesn’t plan on proselytizing about veganism, of which he is a practitioner, and his supporters’ vigorous spearing of these dairy-laden products bolstered the message.
Despite his D.C. credentials deficit, Kucinich may merit a second look from local voters. After all, the congressman has chosen to remain on D.C.’s primary ballot. Five othersLieberman, Clark, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.)requested that their names be removed from the ballot, blowing off District voters by bowing to Democratic Party rules that enshrine the sanctity of Iowa and New Hampshire’s first-in-line standing.
In front of the Mimi’s audience, Kucinich projected a front-runner’s confidence. “Our campaign in the District is on the move,” he said.
Kucinich later told LL that his experience as a big-city mayor makes him sympathetic to the District’s plight. In 1977, Kucinich became Cleveland’s “boy mayor” at the age of 31. He feuded with local leaders, including those of the city’s banks, who demanded that the mayor sell the city-owned electric company to make good on $15.5 million in municipal loans. Kucinich refused, and Cleveland became the first city since the Great Depression to default on its debts.
The candidate made all the boilerplate promises to local supporters. “As the next president of the United States, I will send to the Congress a bill to help D.C. achieve statehood,” he said.
He vowed to make D.C. statehood one of his “top priorities.”
For all his concern, Kucinich didn’t have too much time for local supporters. The presidential hopeful arrived at 6:30 p.m., spoke for less than 15 minutes, and later jetted off to New Hampshire.
•The 18th annual Olender Foundation Awards, held Dec. 3, featured a dozen or so elected officials in attendance, hundreds of laudatory words for medical-malpractice-suit maven Jack H. Olender, and 2,108 calories, according to At-Large D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson.
Sponsor of the “Nutritional Information at Restaurants Act of 2003,” derisively referred to by his D.C. Council colleagues as the “Fat Bill,” Mendelson distributed a memo and amended copy of the menu to his John A. Wilson Building cohorts the next morning. “I am not sending this to you because it was a delicious meal (it was), but because it is an example of how the nutritional information required by Bill 15-387 could appear on menus,” Mendelson wrote to his colleagues. “As far as I know, everyone enjoyed the wonderful evening.”
Fat-bill adversary Harold Brazil, who has called the bill “stupid,” found out that the rainbow trout filled with lump crab and served with baby bok choy, jasmine rice, and champagne sauce he had devoured had loaded him down with 1,161 calories, 49 grams of fat, 99 grams of carbohydrates, and 8,569 milligrams of sodium.
Olender testified in favor of the bill and gave a copy of the menu to Mendelson. “You only have to look at the sponsors of the bill. They’re trim and athletic and svelte, led by Phil Mendelson,” the lawyer tells LL.
Mendelson should count the calories on that ploy to butter him up. Elissa Silverman
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