In a city where the Democratic primary is usually the decisive election, and where 75 percent of registered voters are members of the Democratic Party, it is easy to forget that there are actually other political parties.
Many D.C. residents -- including myself and even conservative pundit Tucker Carlson -- are registered as Democrats just so our votes will “count.” But there are about 29,300 registered Republicans, 4,300 Statehood Greens, and 1,400 members of other parties in the District -- not to mention about 70,000 unaffiliated voters.
On Wednesday, the D.C. Council held a hearing on the emergency nomination of Clinton Administration Secretary of Veterans Affairs Togo West to head the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The chair’s seat became vacant when Errol Arthur announced his resignation in order to move to another job -- which would have left just Charles R. Lowery, Jr. on the three-member board as the Sept. 14 primary loomed.
Mayor Adrian Fenty quickly tapped West, and his hearing Wednesday was a love-fest. Frequent Fenty critic Phil Mendelson called West “an excellent choice.” Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. concurred, saying, “It’s not often that I have had the privilege to speak so highly of a mayoral nominee.” The hearing was short and sweet, and West should be confirmed today.
But that will still leave one vacancy on the Board -- and Republicans aren’t happy about that.
The Board is required to have at least one member from a minority political party, and it has been three months since Fenty nominated Mital Gandhi, a former international elections observer who now serves on D.C. liquor board and as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, for the slot. But his nomination has languished.
In a letter to the Council, the four Republican candidates for seats on that body this year accurately state that “the Council has an obligation and a duty to follow the D.C. Law that ensures there is minority representation on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.” They fairly wonder why, if the Council can rush to act on the West nomination, it cannot act on Gandhi as well.
Ward 3 GOP candidate Dave Hedgepeth said, “If the Council fails to vote on Mital, Councilmember [Mary] Cheh needs to explain to the 8,000 registered Republican voters in her ward why she thinks only Democrats should be on the Board of Elections and Ethics.”
Tim Day, the Republican challenging Thomas in Ward 5, similarly stated, “It’s unfortunate Councilmember Thomas did not care to attend Mital’s Committee hearing and yet he still has the arrogance to delay Mital’s nomination.”
The nominee himself sent an e-mail to the Council, saying that he is “a proud Republican in the District of Columbia,” and that he hopes his “party affiliation does not bias your views on my nomination. ... I respect your vote, be it affirmative or negative, but I ask that you move forward with a vote.”
Gandhi has been through a public hearing and received a favorable recommendation from the committee. Still, the full Council has every right to reject him, if it feels he is the wrong person for the job. But Gandhi deserves an up-or-down vote.