City Paper is not for tourists
D.C.’s voting rights push has some new, young energy and a new strategy for winning a vote in Congress. And for once, the new tactics aren’t coming from D.C. congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The latest voting rights push for the District was hatched in a distinctive venue at a dinner Wednesday hosted by District entrepreneur Jeffery Zients. The last time D.C. politicos saw Zients, he was part of the local business team that attempted and failed to buy the Nationals.
He hasn’t exactly been known for his voting-rights advocacy. Zients spokesperson Winston Lord says his boss has a simple motivation: he’s a native Washingtonian who wants a vote in Congress. “He wants to bring like-minded individuals together to strategize about how to make this reality.”
According to sources familiar with the dinner, some of those gathered around Zients’ repast are familiar faces in the voting-rights battle. WTOP rabble-rouser Mark Plotkin spoke. Republican Jack Kemp was on hand. So was mayor-to-be Adrian Fenty—a logical new best political friend for whiz-kid Zients.
Zients reached out to some newcomers as well among the 35 on the guest list, including former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux, who says he was roped into attending by a colleague at the Patton Boggs law firm. (Some who attended the meeting say Breaux’s interest in the issue was stoked by his move to the District and attendant disenfranchisement.)
According to those noshing with Zients, it was an old fashioned skull-session aimed at seizing the opportunity to move a bill sponsored by Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and Norton that would give the District a voting representative in the House. Attendees were hatching a strategy to move the bill during the lame-duck session of Congress.
Norton’s absence at the dinner is notable. The sometimes-surly nonvoting delegate has held virtual dictatorial powers over the District’s voting-rights strategy. She could not be reached for comment about not being invited. And it wasn’t like those around the table weren’t discussing matters outside her curriculum vitae.
Lord says the dinner was no snub of Norton. “We appreciate what others have been doing on this effort,” he says. Norton’s spokesperson Doxie McCoy indicated that dinner organizers of the event called her office asking for contact information of some voting rights advocates.
But Plotkin—who ostensibly is a working journalist/analyst—finally has his dream: a chance to get movers and shakers to craft a real action plan for voting rights without Norton’s input or veto.
According to Breaux, the dinner yielded several strategies for moving the bill, which gives the District a vote in the House in return for giving the state of Utah an additional at-large seat that would presumably go to the GOP.
“I was trying to be helpful and explain that the lame-duck session is going to be difficult,” says Breaux. “The only thing is, if they can get [Utah Republican Sen.] Bob Bennett and [Utah’s senior senator] Orrin Hatch to go to [Majority Leader Bill] Frist, I think they can get some sort of agreement to get it done quickly.”
Breaux thinks it is important to ratchet up the pressure right after the election. If the Democrats win, “some of them might take the attitude, we will do it in the next Congress.”