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ĎShadowí seats draw contenders

(Published September 2, 2002)


Staff Writer

This fall, District of Columbia voters again will have the opportunity to elect a U.S. senator and representative ó well, sort of.

Following a 1980 referendum, the District created three "shadow" positions, two shadow senators and one shadow representative. These positions have no congressional vote, no official office and no federally recognized capacity. They receive no funds from either the D.C. budget or from Congress.

The shadow race is uncharacteristic of most statesí senator and representative races. Whereas candidates for the real Senate and House positions need to campaign on a plethora of issues, the shadow candidates need only comment on gaining voting rights for the District and petitioning for statehood.

Often confused with the U.S. delegate position, the shadow senator and shadow representative are not officially recognized by the Congress. The Districtís delegate to the House of Representatives, a position modeled after delegate positions granted to U.S. territories and held currently by Eleanor Holmes Norton, gives D.C. residents a limited level of representation and limited voting rights.

In the Sept. 10 primary election, the Democratic and D.C. Statehood Green parties are fielding candidates for the positions.

Just like their real counterparts in the Congress, members of the shadow delegation serve either a six-year term as shadow senator or a two-year term as shadow representative. Although the District has two shadow senators, Florence Pendleton, the senior shadow senator, is not up for re-election until 2006.

The incumbent junior shadow seeking re-election is Paul Strauss, who was first elected to the position in 1996. Strauss, a proponent of greater autonomy for the District, advocates expanding congressional voting rights for residents of the District as well as petitioning for statehood.

"Itís not accurate to say I want to be the shadow senator," Strauss said, explaining how he hopes one day to be a full-fledged senator from the District.

Strauss said he first ran for the office hoping to raise the visibility of the voting rights and statehood issues among D.C. residents. He noted that he was a longtime resident, having lived in the District for his entire adult life. Because he worked as a civil litigator on constitutional issues as well as served 10 years on an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, he claims experience in the legal and legislative processes required for the shadow position.

Strauss has maintained an office of seven full-time and three part-time employees in addition to volunteers. He believes that despite the lack of public funding for the office, he and his staff have served the District well.

"If you look at the hours me and my staff have put in, weíve been a real bargain for the taxpayers," Strauss said.

Although not officially a member of the Senate, Strauss nonetheless submitted testimony on numerous occasions to Senate hearings regarding the District.

Strauss cites the progress made during his tenure as reason for voters to re-elect him. Specifically, he noted the means by which he has defined the position.

"Weíve raised the level of respect of the office in the District and on Capitol Hill," he said. "Six years ago, the debate was whether we should even have these positions. Now itís if weíre getting the best use from them."

Strauss initially faced three other contenders for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary. Two of the candidates, Billie Day and John Harvey, withdrew from the race in July. The remaining contender is Pete Ross, who owns a D.C. furniture manufacturing company and previously challenged Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans.

Calling himself a "product of the 1960s," Ross said he wants to use the office of the shadow senator to make the issue of D.C. voting rights and statehood more vocal.

"I feel we need to be more pro-active than the current shadow senator," Ross said.

Ross imagines organizing 1,000 residents before the Capitol to petition for statehood. "We have enough lobbying," he said. "We need someone to demonstrate."

He also notes that nationwide, the majority of citizens need to be educated on the movement for voting rights and statehood for the District. Ross said he plans on staffing his office with volunteers.

Ross decided to run for Straussí seat because he felt more needed to be done to advance the cause of statehood.

"I donít feel heís doing everything that he should be doing as shadow senator," Ross said.

Particularly, Ross said he feels Strauss needed to attend House hearings on the District in addition to the Senate hearings. Strauss noted that he follows Senate etiquette, stressing his officeís respect for congressional voting protocols.

The Democratic nominee will face the Statehood-Green candidate, Joyce Robinson-Paul, in the November general election.

Robinson-Paul has served as a Ward 5 ANC commissioner for the past 16 years. She described her platform as refocusing priorities "back to basics."

"We have everyone handling our affairs. Weíre sick of it," she said.

She said she believes that Congress fails to understand local issues that most directly affect D.C. residents, primarily the young and the elderly. Pursuant to these beliefs, Robinson-Paul envisions herself petitioning for D.C. priorities in Congress and before the city council in addition to her statehood advocacy role.

"I want to bring a new perspective," she said.

Robinson-Paul said she is opposed to the hosting the 2012 Olympics and continuing the Grand Prix. She said she believes the revenue generated from these and other similar ventures does not benefit the District.

"Itís just a game," Robinson-Paul said. "All theyíre doing is taking from the District."

Despite the current political power struggling, she said she believes the publicís welfare can still benefit.

"Some people say politics stink," she said. "I believe that it can work for the people."

Seeking re-election as shadow representative is Ray Browne.

Browne came to define his office by his efforts to garner support for the District by taking the issues of equal congressional voting rights and D.C. statehood to local governmental bodies across the nation.

"We need to show the Congress that America supports us," he said.

In looking forward to serving another term if re-elected, Browne stated his intent of continuing his plan of seeking national support for the District.

"I want to continue the progress weíve made on voting rights," Browne said. "Iíve taken the voting rights issue nationwide."

During his tenure, Browne gathered support for the District from local governments in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Additionally, he received support from the mayors of Atlanta, Detroit and New Orleans, from the Illinois state legislature and from the governor of Hawaii.

Browne said he hopes that by getting definitive support from people outside the District, Congress will recognize national support for the cause and move to give the District autonomy similar to what states enjoy.

A continuing struggle for Browne is operating on enough funds to travel around the country. He said that some trips were cancelled and others rescheduled.

"Thatís been a continuing challenge," Browne noted, stating most of his funding came from small contributions. "Itís been from folks like you and I."

Susana Baranaño is Browneís only challenger in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.

Baranaño is similarly supporting voting rights and statehood, but feels that Browne failed to involve the public in the process.

"So what?" Baranaño said. "He gets people to sign a petition. So what? Itís not amounting to definitive change."

"I think itís time for us to get the American public aware of the issue," she said. "I think we have to be more vocal. We have to be more out of the shadows."

Baranaño envisions herself bringing together more members of the public. She imagines bringing business and members of organizations together and involving them in advocacy for the District.

Baranaño also noted that because she is bilingual in English and Spanish, she feels she can get D.C. Hispanics involved. Additionally, she feels that she can bring in the womenís vote.

"Iím with the Womenís National Democratic Club," she noted.

The Democratic nominee for the shadow representative position will face Adam Eidinger, the uncontested D.C. Statehood-Green Party candidate in the November general election.

Eidinger said he believes that a more vocal population will be able to bring about change. He plans on using the position to organize residents in demonstrations at Capitol Hill.

"Iím not demoralized," Eidinger said of his reason for running. "Iím mad."

Eidinger said his experience organizing political rallies will make him more effective. He helped to organize protests of the World Trade Organization and an April 20 rally for the Palestinian people.

"Itís a principled fight," he said.

He wants to see legislation passed by the city council become permanent, without having to be approved by Congress. Additionally, he wants the District to be in control of its own funding.

Eidinger said he hopes to appeal to newer and younger residents who experienced the political transition of living in a state versus the District.

"I think anyone over 50 is not willing (to risk anything)," he said in reference to Browne. "Iím more than willing to put my life on the line for democracy."

One of Eidingerís proposals includes an equal voting rights holiday to petition for statehood.

"We have to become more militant," he said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator