The historic brick mansion on the corner of Q Street NW and New Hampshire Avenue was ablaze with lights last night, Feb. 15. Every room was readied with large-screen monitors and refreshments as crowds of Democrats, journalists and television broadcasters from Fox News, CNN and local channels, not to mention bloggers and protesters, flowed in.
The 90-year-old Woman’s National Democratic Club was hosting all 10 candidates for leader of the Democratic National Committee. It was billed as the last full “debate” for all of them before the party election on Feb. 25.
The top two candidates are well known: Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim American in Congress, largely supported by Bernie Sanders primary voters; and former Congressman and Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez of Maryland, an “East Coast” Hispanic supported by Hillary and Bill Clinton and Joe Biden. Both were greeted with loud cheers by the audience of Democrats, packed in the back half of the club’s main room along with a bank of TV cameras and crews.
In the front section sat the VIPs: influential D.C. Democrats and six of the 447 DNC members who will be voting for the leader. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined the group at the end of the debate.
“Those are the ones you have to influence tonight,” District Council member Jack Evans, one of the moderators, pointed out to the candidates, seated close together on a long stage.
Aside from Ellison and Perez, the lineup included Sally Boynton Brown, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party since 2012; Raymond Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democatic Party since 2007; Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Robert Vinson Brannum, chair of the veterans’ committee of the NAACP’s Washington, D.C., branch; Jehmu Greene, a Texas Democratic strategist and former “Rock the Vote” president; Peter Peckarsky, a Wisconsin attorney; Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party since 2013; and Sam Ronan, an Air Force veteran and Democratic activist from Ohio.
Moderators MSNBC Anchor Stephanie Ruhle and Evans asked the eight men and two women to give a two-minute introduction of themselves before answering a unique-to-them single surprise (although mainly predictable) question. In recognition of the venue and with the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington in mind, most of the questions focused on women’s issues and the empowerment of women.
“That march was one for the Guinness Book of World Records with its more than four million participants world wide,” said Nuchhi Currier, WNDC President (for the second time in 10 years). “It was that march that re-energized Democrats to begin to resist the policies of Donald Trump,” she said.
The “debate” was interrupted about halfway through when two young activists stood up and held a sign “Democrats Resist Trump.” They demanded that the DNC leader commit all primary candidates to resist all of Trump’s policies. The Democrats listened politely with just a few grumbles to “sit down.” Facing no significant resistance, the group’s spokesperson sat down quietly after a few minutes. Perez thanked them for their activism and the group, which refused to be identified with any particularly organization, solicited press interviews after the event.
“I’m not sure who I’m going to vote for yet,” said DNC member MaryEva Candon, a WNDC member and a practicing attorney in D.C. She is concerned mainly about getting a leader who can bring back voters from the middle of the country. She indicated she was leaning towards Perez but also liked Ellison and the two women candidates Sally Brown and Jehmu Greene, although they are not well known. “I hope to meet with the some 75 members of the D.C. Democratic Executive Board next week to go over the candidates and hear who they favor,” she said. “Then I will make up my mind.”
The winner will have to garner 224 votes.