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Democrats add some ‘diversity’
(Published September 10, 2001)
By DIANA WINTHROP
Some folks in attendance at the September D.C. Democratic State Committee meeting were quite surprised to hear Chairman Norman Neverson endorse a candidate for an ex- officio seat on the state committee. That’s because Neverson has a reputation among his supporters of staying neutral. (His detractors say he tries to juggle various factions within the party so as not to be out of favor with too many people at one time, which could cost him his chairmanship.)
Four candidates were vying for the ex-officio spot on the state committee which became vacant upon the death of Ward 4 activist Richard Smith. Normally neutral Neverson reportedly gave a rousing speech for the need to elect a Hispanic to the committee, which guaranteed community activist V. Hector Rodriguez – the only Hispanic among the four – would win the position.
Sources say Neverson, who is close to Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, received some pressure from the DNC because of the "lack of diversity" on the D.C. state committee. Apparently, the total lack of political representation for the growing Hispanic community in D.C. Democratic politics has become an "embarrassment" to the national party. That lack of diversity could cause some problems for the D.C. Democratic committee, which could be charged with being out of compliance by the national committee.
A dozen ex-officio members of the D.C. state committee were included in the committee’s bylaws years ago to provide diversity among the membership of approximately 70 members on the D.C. committee.
Omar Abdul-Malik, a Democratic activist who ran for the open position, says he became aware a few days before the meeting that Neverson had a "lack of impartiality." Abdul-Malik says he was "not surprised" when Neverson stumped for Rodriguez. The state committee has never done a good job in reaching out to the District’s Hispanic community, he says.
Ward 3 Democratic Chairman Thorn Pozen agrees, though he says the committee made an effort during the last election cycle to woo Hispanic candidates -- but it failed. Abdul-Malik says he "isn’t crestfallen" and he plans to stay active in party activities -- especially in Ward 3, where he lives.
The election of Hector Rodriguez as an ex-officio member of the Democratic State Committee may take the political pressure off Neverson for now, but the 2002 elections are only a few months away and what about the Asian-American community?
The Washington Post headline on Sept. 7 screamed "80 Million Shortfall in Schools Stuns D.C." But advocates for children in D.C. and some parent-based organizations said they were not surprised by the shear size of the deficit, noting that they had warned that a financial meltdown was not unanticipated.
In part, the looming financial mess was guaranteed when the school system began eliminating private placements for special education children and increasingly identifying the number of students needing special education services from the District.
Also, there have been problems with federal monies in the schools since 1993 because of alleged documentation irregularities. Members of the newly reconfigured school board who took office last January were the most stunned by this news, though they should have at least known there was some problem. District III representative Tommy Wells says he "felt like he was hit by a ton of bricks" and was "stunned." School sources say Wells, like other board members such as Roger Wilkins, were made aware of the alleged Medicaid reimbursement problems, but since they -- along with a majority of the other school board members -- have no institutional memory of the school system, they were unprepared for the depth of the financial problems. Wells says he is worried that the children will suffer if money isn’t found.
Apparently, Councilman Kevin Chavous, who chairs the education committee and expressed his surprise at the shortfall to the Post, didn’t listen too closely to testimony before his own committee. Witnesses who testified before his committee for full school funding cited the anticipated problems in special education expenditures as a budget disaster waiting to happen. Councilwoman Sharon Ambrose said she "wasn’t surprised at all," citing special education expenditures as driving the school system budget. Ambrose, who previously served on the education committee with Chavous, says her biggest complaint was that the school system was "building a budget on estimates and those estimates were always wrong."
School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz hinted the school board will ask for additional funding early next year but only after the board has a "better handle" on the budget. Cafritz says the budget shortfall gives credence to the proposal for a school-based identification card which could help document students’ needs as well as track the school system’s expenditures.
The writer, a native Washingtonian with more than 25 years in the news business, spends her nights toiling as an editorial producer for a network morning news show. Contact her at email@example.com with your news tips.
Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator