Washington Post Blog Piece on the DC Democratic State Committee Process to Name an Interim DC Council Member

Posted at 6:20 PM ET, 01/12/2011

The problem with the D.C. Democratic State Committee

By Mike DeBonis

In the run-up to last Thursday’s vote to appoint an interim at-large D.C. Council member, a high-ranking member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee asked me how he thought the DCDSC could improve its reputation. It was a question that I had more difficulty answering than I anticipated. I’ve spent almost a week now thinking about it, in fact.

Over the four years I’ve covered the D.C. government, I’ve probably gone to more DCDSC meetings and events than any other reporter. I’ve also gotten to know a great many DCDSC members, including members of the leadership, whom I know to be conscientious and interested in the progress of the city.

But the institution throughout its recent history has been mired in mismanagement allegations, financial woes and, most often of all, irrelevance. The conduct of last Thursday’s election, with its furious lobbying and closed-door dealmaking, was notable mostly for the fact that it had real-world consequences.

It’s unfair to begrudge the group for exercising the right it has been granted under the District’s charter to fill vacant at-large council seats. But what is frustrating is that the D.C. Democrats haven’t found itself a role to play in this city aside from organizing the Democratic National Convention delegation every four years and, once every decade or so, filling an at-large council seat.

And when they do have those special roles to play, the State Committee has proved itself incapable of rising to the occasion.

In 2008, tasked with raising funds for the convention, the State Committee leadership chose to raise corporate money through an arcane outside organization that sought to keep its records in the dark, leading to an investigation and sanctions from the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance for accepting outsize corporate contributions.

This year, with a contentious internal campaign on its hands, the Democrats didn’t sufficiently appreciate that the eyes of the city would be on them. So rather than, for instance, use the open ballots their party rules suggest, individual votes were not accounted for.

The appointment is done now, and the DCDSC will likely now slink back into obscurity until delegate-picking time in 2012. So how can the DCDSC improve its reputation in the interim? I first thought to say that the Democrats need to do a better job raising money and keeping track of it. But the DCDSC needs to answer a bigger question first: What does it exist to do?

The organization’s mission

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