The District’s Republican Party says it will sue any sitting Democrat on the D.C. Council who opts to run as an independent for one of two at-large seats reserved for minority political parties, promising the latest spirited defense of the set-aside positions that have long been a source of discord among city politicians. “The law was set up for third-party candidates, for nonmajority candidates. It wasn’t set up so Democrats could play games with their identification,” said D.C. GOP Chairman Ron Phillips, pointing to the Republican and Statehood Party candidates who have held the seats in the past. The threat was made after two Democrats — council members Tommy Wells and Yvette M. Alexander — last week openly discussed switching to independent status to pursue the at-large seat being vacated by Republican turned independent David A. Catania in his bid for mayor. Another five independent candidates, all of whom were previously registered as Democrats, also have expressed interest in the seat.
The tactic exploits what critics call a loophole in the Home Rule Act, which was passed by Congress in 1973 and set up the current form of local government. A clause in the act, thought to be a concession to congressional Republicans, states that no more than three of the five at-large council members, including the council chairman, shall be “affiliated with the same political party.”
In a city where more than 75 percent of registered voters identify as Democrats, the council has skewed similarly blue. The 11 Democrats on the 13-member legislative body account for an 84 percent majority.
So with a new slew of thinly disguised Democrats vying for the set-aside seats, members of minority parties are fuming. Statehood Greens, Republicans and Libertarians all have candidates who qualified through primary elections April 1 for the general election in November.