Phil Mendelson, denied his usual convention spot
Phil Mendelson, denied his usual convention spot Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Hillary Clinton might support statehood for the District, but the presidential hopeful—or at least her campaign—isn’t interested in allowing local Democrats to choose their own delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Clinton’s campaign took the unusual step this week of preventing councilmembers and local activists from running for delegate spots, choosing instead to effectively hand the positions out to her own associates.

Had everything gone as usual, D.C. Democratic State Committee members vote on who will take four delegate positions, plus an alternate spot and two reserved for elected officials. Both Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange were originally positioned to take the two spots for elected officials.

Instead, Clinton’s campaign took what one longtime DCDSC member calls the “unprecedented” step of only nominating a handful of Clinton associates to run for the positions.

While victorious party nominees have traditionally been able to strike or hold back delegate contenders who could embarrass the party, it’s all but unheard of for a campaign to hold back nearly an entire delegate field in order to effectively pick the delegates. 

That means no spots for Orange, Mendelson, or the many District activists who hoped to compete for a place at the convention. When Mendelson heard that he wouldn’t be headed to the convention as he had in 2012, he relayed his complaints through at-large councilmember and D.C. Democratic State Committee boss Anita Bonds. Mendelson says the Clinton campaign effectively “rearrange[d] who’s important” in District politics.

“I thought it was insulting,” Mendelson tells LL.

The Clinton campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Thanks to the Clinton campaign’s intervention, some of the delegate spots went instead to former Clinton-era State Department official and failed District mayoral candidate Reta Jo Lewis, pundit and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, Marion Barry widow and Clinton associate Cora Masters Barry, and Clinton State Department protocol chief Capricia Marshall.

The alternate spot went to Bonds staffer and local Dem diehard David Meadows, whose history with the party means he likely could have landed a full delegate spot of his own if not for the Clinton campaign’s interference.

One of the seats typically reserved for local officials went instead to top national-level lobbyist Steve Elemendorf, a former advisor to House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. Another went to Dyana Forester, a staffer for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. 

Usually, the delegate selection is a grassroots, lower-case “d” democratic process. In 2012, a little-known 25-year-old Adams Morgan resident was able to out-organize better connected politicians and nab a spot ahead of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and Marion Barry.

“It’s a slap in the face,” longtime Ward 8 activist Philip Pannell says of the Clinton campaign’s move.

Pannell thinks disregarding local-level party members could hurt the Clinton campaign in November. While the District will certainly back Clinton in the electoral college, the campaign’s move could alienate Clinton supporters who might have gone to campaign in battleground states like Virginia. 

“[Michael Eric Dyson] isn’t going to make any phone calls,” Pannell says.