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Anthony Williams should run for president for DC rights

I want former DC Mayor Anthony Williams to run for president.

Photo by cuatower on Flickr.

I don't actually want Williams to be the next president. Nor do I want him to seek the nomination of either party or run a national campaign. I want him to run to win the 3 electoral votes for DC, and only those votes—as a protest against, and to draw attention to, the secondary status of DC residents. Framed as such, I think Anthony Williams could win DC handily.

DC needs a high-profile protest move. It needs one even more now, after Congress reached a budget deal that avoided most national policy changes but meddled substantially in DC's own right to spend its own money.

It's hard to get more high-profile than running for presidential office. Would anyone know who Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich were had they not run unsuccessful campaigns? Most protest ideas are illegal, unworkable, or require a large amount of dedication from many people.

This only requires DC residents to vote a little differently and for one person to dedicate a couple of years to the effort. Because Williams would be campaigning in such a small area, the campaign would be cheap and he'd have time to talk to just about every voter in the District.

Williams is a great choice. Unlike Fenty, he left office still relatively popular. Unlike Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton or Mayor Vincent Gray, he's not busy filling another office; without the indication that he might run for some other office, he has no need to curry favor with the Democratic Party.

There are plenty of other individuals that fit this description, such as Sharon Ambrose and Carol Schwartz, but he is really the best possible candidate in my mind: He's smart, telegenic, and without scandal.

It'd be better if Williams hadn't joined so eagerly in the Board of Trade's task force on WMATA governance, which met in secret and recommended diminishing the public's role in Metro's decisionmaking, but that's not a fatal flaw.

Williams would get plenty of opportunities to talk to the national media about why he's running and about DC's disenfranchisement. In the months-long, 24-hour-a-day news coverage, every media outlet will be looking for stories to cover. Williams' candidacy would certainly be one of them. If he's polling well in DC, and looks to win, as I think he would, he could even argue that he should be included in the debates.

If he went on to win DC, that would be covered throughout election night and in post-election coverage. Solutions to DC's second-class status range from statehood, to retrocession, to a constitutional amendment, but Williams wouldn't even need to pick a preferred tactic. He would merely need to advocate that there be a tactic to make DC voters whole. This means representation in both houses, as well as a voice in constitutional amendments and contingent elections.

But what if he were to win and Obama needed those three electors? Most voters in DC, if recent voting is any indication, will not want to put a Republican in the White House just to protest their lack of representation. Williams could campaign with the promise that, in such a situation, he'd instruct his electors to vote for the Democratic nominee, as long as that nominee and the Democratic party promise to make DC suffrage a priority with real, concrete goals.

Let's draft Anthony Williams for the presidential campaign. Let me be the first to ask him to run. You can also ask him to run at this Facebook page.

David Cranor is an operations engineer. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and former Texan (where he wrote for the Daily Texan), he's lived in the DC area since 1997. David is a cycling advocate who serves on the Bicycle Advisory Council for DC.  


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So what's in it for him? I.e., What does your plan offering him to entice him to spend the next couple years taking a big chunk of his time to do this?

by Lance on Apr 10, 2011 11:20 am • linkreport

I don't know, Lance. You got any ideas?

by Tolheer on Apr 10, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Interesting idea. It probably won't go anywhere, but it would be funny.

I'd suggest he also run in VA and MD. He could make a point by grabbing some NoVa, Montgomery and PG votes. In NoVa he could spoil the blue side of VA a bit.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2011 12:07 pm • linkreport

Just to add, Colbert got a ton of attention by threatning to run just in SC. Now, Williams ain't as funny, but it shows it can be done.

@ Tolheer: Running for big office actually seems to be a nice profession. You get a lot of money from people and you get to spend it as you see fit. And it's a good ego-booster. People with no serious shot at actually winning get to live well for a while and make a good name for themselves: Ron Paul, Dennis K, etc. And if you're lucky, you get a good job for quitting at the right moment: Biden, Vilsack, Clinton... The least you can get is a nice commentator seat on one of the newschatterbox networks.

I am pretty convinced that is the reason why there are always so many odd candidates for president. Running for the senate is almost as good, especially if you're in a big state.

by Jasper on Apr 10, 2011 12:15 pm • linkreport

I seem to recall a study of people who ran for President and failed to secure the nomination. Compared to their colleagues, their careers afterward were significantly better. They made more money, got better jobs etc... Such a move would give Tony Williams a whole other level of fame and prestige, and as Sarah Palin (and Bristol too) has shown, fame is a powerful thing.

In addition, Williams might, y'know, believe in the cause and want to make the world a better place.

by David C on Apr 10, 2011 12:25 pm • linkreport

I like this idea because it sticks a needle in the side of national Democrats and Obama, who have taken DC for granted and pushed us under the bus at the slightest provocation ( see last week's budget deal).

Unfortunately, it's not a credible bluff because if Obama were in any kind of trouble from a challenger in 2012, DC residents would abandon this protest and vote for Obama handily. So it would be pretty easy to ignore.

The effect would more like the faithless electors in the past who have protested DC voting rights, i.e. a footnote in history that barely registers on the national consciousness.

Nevertheless, I like the idea.

by Ward 1 Guy on Apr 10, 2011 2:08 pm • linkreport

While I'm not a fan of the man, I think Adrian Fenty would also make a good candidate. Might even be an interesting path of redemtion.

This potential lockup and the abortion deal are loathsome -- and that is coming from a non-DC resident who doesn't think DC should get a vote in the Senate or become a state.

Getting him to agree, to this, however, is not going to be easy.

Mayor Williams was treated pretty badly around here. I think it is safe to say he may go back as the best Mayor in the history of the District. Plenty of foibles, the baseball thing still sucks, and I'm not sure he is telegenic, but he really turned this city around and deserves a strong vote of thanks.

by charlie on Apr 10, 2011 3:12 pm • linkreport

Great idea. The whole budget debate made me so upset that, as a DC resident, I have no voice in the national debate and my local tax dollars are directed as bargaining chips.

This is a great way to bring national attention to the lack of voice DC residents have.

by Sam on Apr 10, 2011 5:23 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: I'd suggest he also run in VA and MD. He could make a point by grabbing some NoVa, Montgomery and PG votes. In NoVa he could spoil the blue side of VA a bit.

But that really could swing the election to President Bachmann. Is that really what he wants?

If you keep it purely symbolic, then it won't actually make much difference. If you move beyond the symbolic to be a true spoiler, then you become Ralph Nader---it's pretty hard, looking back, to argue that Nader's 2000 candidacy was good for the country or even for his own supporters. I appreciate the problem but don't see a good way to make this work.

by David desJardins on Apr 10, 2011 6:30 pm • linkreport

The point isn't symbolism. The point is to get the media to cover the issue in a way that raises awareness. A lot of people still don't know that DC has no voice in Congress. There is also the outside chance that Obama will land on 267-269 electoral votes and will need DC to get over the hump. That's when Williams (or whoever, Tom Sherwood?) could force some concessions. Obama seems pretty willing to give in to the demands of hostage takers.

by David C on Apr 10, 2011 6:48 pm • linkreport

DC has been trying to get voting rights for over 20 years. Never gonna happen.

by TGEoA on Apr 10, 2011 7:13 pm • linkreport

Just the other day, Gallup released a poll showing that 85% of African Americans support the job that President Obama is doing.

DC still has a very important percentage of Black people -- it will be a hard sell for them not to vote for someone who they find is doing a good job.

by mch on Apr 10, 2011 7:17 pm • linkreport

@David C 'The point is to get the media to cover the issue in a way that raises awareness.'

So, it doesn't need to be Tony Williams. It could be anyone. Even you ....

It's your idea. Why don't you just run with it ...?

y'know, believe in the cause and want to make the world a better place.

Of course, we'd also have to address the ethics issues problems that have been rampant in DC ever since we received homerule. But as someone on here pointed out a while back, maybe if our government really meant something, there would be the will and the way for it to correct itself.

by Lance on Apr 10, 2011 9:18 pm • linkreport

Lance, it could be almost anyone - even me, but obviously a campaign by a relative nobody like me would have trouble gaining the traction that one by a former two-term Mayor would get. He brings immediate legitimacy to the campaign and only a few people can do that.

Of course, we'd also have to address the ethics issues problems that have been rampant in DC ever since we received homerule.

No he wouldn't, because he'd only be running in DC. [And if having ethical violations at the state level removes your right to representation, Congress is going to be very lonely place.]

by David C on Apr 10, 2011 9:40 pm • linkreport

Lance seems like he'd be great at parties.

by Clive on Apr 10, 2011 10:07 pm • linkreport

I like the idea, but I still think that a bit of organized civil disobedience would be highly effective as well. In particular, I think organizing a series of "human roadblocks" along all the major arterials into and out of the city during rush hour would generate a TON of press coverage.

by dcbrewer on Apr 10, 2011 10:21 pm • linkreport

DC requires electors to take a pledge to support their ticket. There's no penalty for breaking that pledge and the electors could operate "faithlessly" if they were needed to break a tie.

See a reference to the DC Code and a relevant link to a faithless DC elector from 2000 who abstained from voting below.

DC ST § 1-1001.08

(g) No person may be elected to the office of elector of President and Vice President pursuant to this subchapter unless:

(1) He or she is a registered voter in the District; and
(2) He or she has been a bona fide resident of the District for a period of 3 years immediately preceding the date of the presidential election. Each person elected as elector of President and Vice President shall, in the presence of the Board, take an oath or solemnly affirm that he or she will vote for the Best Section Begin candidates of the party he or she has been nominated to represent, and it shall be his or her duty to vote in such manner in the Search Term Begin electoral college Search Term End .

One of DC's electors did abstain from voting in 2000 as a protest against DC's lack of voting rights:

by Aaron Huertas on Apr 10, 2011 10:34 pm • linkreport

And a protest from the electors is meaningless.

However, having the entire US lit up in red and blue on election night, but with DC and DC's three votes showing up in green and forcing every single network TV anchor to explain why those three votes are in a separate column would be far more publicity than anything else.

It would go down in history, too - I don't know why various electors have defected over the years, but I know that it has happened. I was, however, as a kid aware of the Bull Moose Party, for example, from seeing old electoral maps in a history textbook.

by Alex B. on Apr 10, 2011 10:55 pm • linkreport

Sounds like a _great_ idea for someone to do this (assuming the candidate would ask the electors to cast their votes for the democratic nominee). I don't really know who the best person would be among those willing, but Williams seems reasonable to consider.

Perhaps there could be a more organized process for selecting the "DC Suffrage and Home Rule Candidate" instead of just going with Williams.

by Tim H on Apr 11, 2011 12:20 am • linkreport

Maybe DC's inbred political class just is *that* out of touch with the rest of the country's priorities. Maybe the we're the liberal equivalent of South Carolina --everyone hears us, but we act like such wackos, that we're marginalized at every opportunity. It's easy to ignore us because, while we piss and moan a lot, we don't take care of the issues that are within our control.

It's clear that our DC Federal Representatives have done nothing effective to advance our cause over the past 20+ years as our City Government leaders have continued to embarrass us at every turn.

Maybe instead of trying to continue to slam our heads into the wall with failed policy, we should start conforming to policies that have worked in other successful 'liberal' cities.

by ahk on Apr 11, 2011 8:17 am • linkreport

@Tim H

(assuming the candidate would ask the electors to cast their votes for the democratic nominee)

Why would you assume this? The entire point of the exercise is to remove those electors from the process.

Also, one of the key objections to letting DC become a state (or have full representation equal to a state) is that it is overwhelmingly Blue and votes for Democrats every time. You can undercut this criticism (no matter how vapid it is) by taking votes away from Democrats. Perhaps you could even make the ticket bi-partisan, adding someone like, say, Carol Schwartz to the ticket.

by Alex B. on Apr 11, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

I like this idea. We must raise the profile of DC rights and this is one way to do it. Another way, show up today for a protest organized by DC Vote outside the US Senate office building:

by Ed on Apr 11, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

Hooray! Get this wheel turning fast while we're all still freshly outraged over losing our needle exchanges and abortion funding. Great post, Dave.

by Sarah on Apr 11, 2011 11:13 am • linkreport

I think this is an excellent idea! David Catania for VP

by SJE on Apr 11, 2011 12:06 pm • linkreport

oops, I forgot that the VP has to be from somewhere else. Of course, DC isn't really a state, so does it apply? Another good way to move the debate about statehood.

by SJE on Apr 11, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

oops, I forgot that the VP has to be from somewhere else.

Not sure where you got that idea, but it's incorrect.

by MLD on Apr 11, 2011 12:27 pm • linkreport

MLD, technically SJE is wrong, but he's close. Electors can not vote for two people from the same state as them. So if Williams and Catania ran, electors from DC could vote for Williams for President or Catania for Veep, but not both. It's the reason Cheney pretended to live in Wyoming, otherwise electors from Texas wouldn't be able to vote for him (assuming they'd vote for Bush for President) which in 2000 would have sent the VP race into a contingent election - which Cheney would have likely won anyway. But the 2000 election didn't need more of a mess.

It's in article II "The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not lie an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves."

by David C on Apr 11, 2011 12:38 pm • linkreport

@ DaviddesJardins: But that really could swing the election to President Bachmann. Is that really what he wants?

Nah. That won't happen. MD will end up safely blue thanks to DC suburban and Baltimore voters. In VA it might be closer. If Democrats and Obama are really nervous about that, perhaps they can do some concessions before the election.

Here's the thing about Obama. He does not do superficial stuff. If he does things, he does them structurally and fundamentally. You can see that with health care, DADT, gay marriage, and quite frankly green energy. Defense cutting is on the way as well. Ask any defense contractor.

So the question for DC is how to get him committed to fundamentally change the way DC is ruled. It does not help to have clowns like Barry, Brown (the elder) and Gray behave like nepotistic fools. It does help to set up a serious campaign with serious realistic goals. Statehood is unrealistic. Budget authority might be possible.

by Jasper on Apr 11, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

As this most recent budget battle shows, DC has no leverage, even with our supposed allies in Congress.

We do have three electoral votes, however. I very much like the idea of leveraging those instead of sitting on them. Three votes is unlikely to swing any Presidential election.

by Alex B. on Apr 11, 2011 1:04 pm • linkreport

I thought that Anthony Williams was a great mayor, but he would do us Washington residents a bigger service by challenging E.H. ("Representation Without Taxation" Norton for Congressional delegate. Think of the respect and bridges that Williams could build for D.C. in Congress. This piece from The Mail (below) is spot-on about the damage that Norton continues to do to the cause of enhanced DC rights:

“This is the functional equivalent of bombing innocent civilians. It’s time that the District of Columbia told Congress to go straight to hell,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton during the Congressional debate over the federal budget, It’s this kind of inflammatory rhetoric that makes Delegate Norton so popular in DC elections. It’s counterproductive, of course, as is her strongly and stridently anti-Republican partisanship. If Norton’s goal were to advance self-government for the District of Columbia, to promote statehood for DC, or even just to get a floor vote in the House of Representatives for herself as the District’s delegate, she would try to make personal and political friends on both sides of the aisle in Congress. But she gets rewarded in DC elections by being a bomb thrower, by using extreme and hostile rhetoric, and by alienating support for the District in Congress. Making enemies in Congress builds Eleanor’s support among the DC electorate. It’s a perverse incentive to make it more difficult for DC to adhere any of the goals that statehood and self-governance advocates say they want.

by Bob on Apr 11, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

Civil disobedience is required.

Block streets leading to Congress. Refuse to pay federal taxes for 2012 unless DC gets voting rights in Congress. Throw trash on the grounds of the US congress. The Washington trash party.

by Joe on Apr 11, 2011 6:37 pm • linkreport

"DC needs a high-profile protest move."

So are you like one of those insurance genies, or something?

by Kolohe on Apr 11, 2011 7:44 pm • linkreport

Sing "We Shall Overcome." Sing it again. Sit down. Repeat with Delegate Norton, 'I-am-out-raged!." Feel better? Good. Any closer to DC voting rights? Nope.

by Addie on Apr 11, 2011 10:25 pm • linkreport

I had a similar idea years ago, not about this, but about having a candidate run in the primaries on an urban agenda. I thought of people like John Norquist (I didn't realize he had some baggage) or Joe Riley. Of course, Bloomberg could do it.

Actually I think this is a fine idea.

But I think that Vince Gray could do it too. (And regarding the above commenter's suggestion of Fenty, Fenty can't speak very well.)

I heard him yesterday at the ULI meeting. He was very very good. It reminds me of why I want to support him because he is very smart, knows the issues, and is highly articulate.

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

I think Gray could do it, but he has bigger fish to fry - i.e. running the city. EHN on the other hand, can't do it without giving up her current job (I don't think she can run for both Delegate and President in the same general election)

by David C on Apr 13, 2011 1:26 pm • linkreport

I don't think anyone is allowed to be on the ballot for two different offices at the same time.

If you had a sitting elected official running, it would have to be someone who's not on the ballot in 2012.

by Alex B. on Apr 13, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

If voting rights did not happen with a Democratic President with a total majority on the Hill, it will never happen. The current leadership on this issue has failed.

by Leigh on May 6, 2011 6:31 am • linkreport

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