Thies: Un-Democratic in D.C.

On Dec. 10, the D.C. Council will get its newest member.

No, it will not be a candidate who voters elected.

Instead, the D.C. Democratic State Committee (aka, the Party) will appoint an interim member to fill a soon to be vacated at-large seat.

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The D.C. Home Rule Charter says that empty seats of at-large council members who belong to recognized political parties are filled by their respective party.

The process might sound good on paper, but in practice it stinks. A mere 81 people -- all Party insiders -- will decide the next member of the 13-person D.C. Council.

If that doesn’t sound bad enough, consider the 2011 appointment of Sekou Biddle to the Council.

First, the Party violated its own rules that call for voting to be transparent. Instead, Party officials cast secret ballots.

Second, when the contest deadlocked between Biddle and Vincent Orange, several Party bigwigs and Biddle campaign operatives left the venue in which the voting was conducted to enter a backroom.

After the players emerged, another round of voting was conducted and Biddle won.

Say what? Yes. Really. An actual backroom deal was brokered.

Several Council members were there to witness the chicanery.

Nonetheless, nothing has been done to improve or reform the process. The Council moved to amend the Home Rule Charter by referendum in November -- convicted felons may no longer serve on the Council or as mayor -- but took no action on what is obviously an outdated practice that is susceptible to abuse and possibly corruption.

In keeping with the slow moving train wreck that is the Party, this time around the procedures are shaping up to be no better.

Did you even know an appointment to the Council was taking place? Guess what. Every registered Democrat who has resided in the District for a year is eligible. Thinking about running? Too late. Petitions are due tomorrow.

The Party did not do a very good job advertising the contest, did it?

The chairman of the Party, Anita Bonds, is running for the seat. Competition is a nuisance.

Also, if you wanted to run, well, good luck. Remember those 81 Democratic State Committee members? In order to compete you need signatures from at least 27 of them.

So, not only do insiders determine the appointee, they determine the field of competitors, too.

Did the Party have an event where prospective candidates could meet the gatekeepers and appeal to them for signatures? Nope. Instead, the only way to get a John Hancock was to track down Party officials at home, work or some undisclosed location.

Nonetheless, four candidates are attempting to compete with Bonds for the gig. Doug Sloan, an ex-officio Party member who ran against Eleanor Holmes Norton in 2010, tells me he has the requisite signatures. John Capozzi, a former Party member and one-term Shadow Representative, is running for the seat on a platform that objects to the appointment process. When we spoke on Monday night, Capozzi was hunting down the final four Party officials whose signatures he needs.

Donna Alston and David Fuller have also jumped into the race, but Party insiders (who else!) tell me both will find it nearly impossible to qualify.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.

In 2013 (probably in early March), voters will have a say in the matter. There will be a special election to fill the at-large seat through the end of 2014. Candidates from all parties and independents are eligible to compete.

In the meantime, Bonds appears likely to secure the interim appointment. However, the old-guard politico and veteran of Marion Barry’s mayoral administration is not resting on her laurels.

According to one report, Bonds attended a Thanksgiving turkey giveaway co-sponsored by her employer, a beneficiary of many District contracts. At the event, Bonds is reported to have threatened to repossess turkeys from attendees who would not sign her petition.

If Bonds's alleged behavior and the backroom Biddle deal aren’t enough to convince the Council to amend the process whereby future at-large vacancies are temporarily filled, what is?

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