By Debbie Siegelbaum - 06/21/11 09:30 AM EDT
A popular Washington political commentator is initiating a public campaign to unseat President Obama in response to the city’s lack of a voting representative in Congress.
“The Obama administration is actively working against D.C.,” Mark Plotkin, political analyst for WTOP Radio, told The Hill.
“This is beyond disrespect,” he added. “This is an attempt to humiliate, diminish and marginalize, and something needs to be done.”
Obama was seen as the city’s best hope of getting voting representation in Congress. Its delegate can participate in congressional debates and craft legislation but can’t vote on the House floor. The president is a longtime supporter of the issue and co-sponsored a 2007 bill that failed to win enough votes for passage.
But he caused outrage among residents two months ago over the budget deal he reached with congressional Republicans, which contained a provision that prevented the city from spending government funds, even local money, on abortion services.
Several D.C. council members and Mayor Vincent Gray were arrested for protesting the deal, which renewed residents’ call for voting representation and led to charges that the president was using the issue as a bargaining chip with Republicans in order to pass a government funding measure.
Now Plotkin plans to initiate an open call on the radio for a D.C. candidate “of substance and stature” to run against Obama in 2012.
“You really need a reputable person of some stature and standing, so that this is not viewed as a gimmick,” he said. “It’s not a gimmick; it’s not a joke. It’s the highest form of political expression to say, ‘You have treated us wrongly and you have ignored us, and we’re not going to take it.’ ”
In addition, Plotkin recommends that the D.C. Democratic State Committee instruct its three electors either to file blank ballots or to vote for Obama’s opponent in the D.C. Democratic primary unless the president pushes for voting rights.
“The only real political currency we have is three electoral votes. I’m sure if they think anything is a lock, it’s the District of Columbia,” he said. “It’s 76 percent Democratic registration; he got 93 percent of the vote in the general election; it’s a majority-African-American population.”
The concept of withholding electoral votes in protest is not a new one. In 2000, D.C. Elector Barbara Lett-Simmons left her ballot blank to protest the District’s lack of congressional representation, the first time since 1988 an elector had not chosen the candidate he or she was elected to support.
“The only thing Barack Obama understands is political power and being embarrassed at the national convention, and that’s the plan,” said Plotkin. “My hopes are that he starts speaking and using the presidency as a bully pulpit. … How about starting with a ‘Thank you, D.C.’?”
The White House declined to address Plotkin’s plan directly, but did defend Obama’s support of D.C. rights.
“The president continues to be an unequivocal supporter of D.C. voting rights and the Home Rule Charter, which is very important to the residents of the District of Columbia,” wrote White House spokeswoman Joanna Rosholm in an email.
“Since taking office, the president and first lady have embraced the D.C. community and look forward to continuing to engage and support the citizens of our nation’s capital,” Rosholm added.
In April of 2010, the president urged Congress to give D.C. residents voting representation, calling on the legislative branch to pass the D.C. Voting Rights Act when it came up for a vote. The measure didn’t pass because a controversial amendment was attached that would restrict D.C.’s right to enact gun-control laws.
Obama and his administration were not the only lawmakers in Plotkin’s political crosshairs. The commentator also criticized Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) for her lack of action.
“Where the hell is she?” asked Plotkin of Norton. “I think she has no intention of doing anything that is serious about challenging the president. … She’s going along to get along, and there’s a limit.”
Norton’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time. She had asked for the D.C. Voting Rights Act to be pulled from the House schedule because of the provisions relaxing the city’s gun laws.
Plotkin also leveled harsh words against voting-rights group DC Vote, which he labeled “overly cautious.”
“I think DC Vote is well-meaning and well-intentioned, but has no political muscle or creativity,” he said. “They’ve become an appendage to Eleanor Holmes Norton. They are a symbiotic relationship, and they should be an independent entity.”
DC Vote executive director Ilir Zherka dismissed Plotkin’s criticisms of both his organization and Norton.
“I think it’s foolhardy for people on the same side to be critical of each other as we’re working to resolve a very difficult situation under long odds where the District of Columbia has very little power in the Congress and no natural constituency outside of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have an uphill battle, and I think folks who are on the same side of this battle ought to be working in concert or at least coordinating to some degree.”
While he declined to comment directly on Plotkin’s plans, Zherka did confirm a growing anger among D.C. residents regarding the whittling-away of their rights in exchange for political concessions.
“D.C. residents are very frustrated with our allies, maybe even more so than our opponents,” said Zherka. “And that’s because President Obama and [Senate] Majority Leader Harry Reid [D-Nev.] decided collectively to trade away the District’s ability to fund local abortions the way it sees fit in order to get a [budget] deal.”
Obama is “throwing the District under the bus,” he added. “I think what’s happening is people are looking for avenues to secure more democracy.”