Nate Bennett-Fleming

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At least the Ward 8 Democrats aren’t boring. A previous president of the group accused the D.C. Council of metaphorically cutting Vincent Orange‘s throat by not giving him a ceremonial position, and the organization’s January mayoral straw poll turned so rowdy that police were called.

Now the Ward 8 Democrats are embroiled in a controversy that’s caused a branch of the city-wide D.C. Democratic State Committee to rule against the group’s president. And like so much else in Ward 8 these days, the feud is also shaping up as prelude to the upcoming fight for the ward Council seat currently held by Marion Barry.

The spat pits Ward 8 Democrats president Natalie Williams, Barry confidant Rev. Anthony Motley, and others against members of the group’s executive committee. The controversy came to a head last month in the form of a letter to DCDSC chairwoman (and at-large Councilmember) Anita Bonds, in which nine members of the executive committee complained that Williams has tried to avoid the committee by prematurely ending its meetings.

“She talked about bringing integrity to the ward and to the organization, and it’s really been just the opposite,” says Wanda Lockridge, one of the letter’s signatories.

Williams won a contested election last September to take the Ward 8 Democrats’ top position. To Williams, her opponents on the executive committee—-including Shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-FlemingVince Gray deputy chief of staff Sheila Bunn, and ex-State Board of Education representative Trayon White—-are either sore over her victory or attempting to weaken her ahead of a potential Council campaign.

“I have entered in it and kind of shook up the status quo, if you will, shook up the plans,” Williams says.

The Ward 8 kerfuffle centers on multiple disputes, including a fight over committee assignments and a purported attempt by the Williams camp to strip ex-president Markus Batchelor of his position. Bennett-Fleming says he thought DCDSC had to get involved because the fights were distracting the organization, which will be expected to support mayoral hopeful Muriel Bowser in an unusually contested November general election. 

Perhaps the most interesting of the disputes involves Motley and White, who LL readers will remember from his recent lawsuit against the District over alleged police brutality at a turkey giveaway. In January, Motley and White engaged in a lengthy argument over email, most of which consisted of whether or not Motley should call White “Mr. White.” When White said that Williams was Motley’s puppet in a scheme somehow related to the 2016 Council election, though, an incensed Motley tried to convince the Ward 8 Democrats to discipline White.

“I think that it’s ridiculous,” Motley tells LL of the accusation that he’s the puppetmaster behind the group. “I don’t run anything.”

The fight over Williams’ tenure in the top job could spill over into the race to succeed Barry. Williams, a former Barry staffer who unsuccessfully ran against him in 2012, says she intends to run again for the seat at some point.

“There are a number of people who are contemplating that the seat will become vacant at some point, and they would like to secure that,” says Motley, who asked LL to make sure to write that he isn’t considering a run himself.

Of course, if the seat were to open up before 2016, it’d be because something had befallen Barry. But don’t tell that to Batchelor, who tells LL that people on both sides of the Ward 8 fight would like to replace Barry in the Wilson Building.

“I really am disgusted by a lot of people in our ward who have a death-watch on our councilmember,” Batchelor says.

On May 3, the DCDSC committee handling the fight gave a win to Williams’ opponents, ruling in their favor on the committee, White, and Batchelor controversies. The whole DCDSC is expected to take up the issue next week.

Williams says she’ll appeal the ruling. In the meantime, she has a message for her rivals inside the Ward 8 Democrats: “Get over it.”

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery