City Democrats Unfairly Tipping Local Elections? 

In endorsing Mayor Dwight C. Jones in his re-election bid, the Richmond City Democratic Committee is violating the statewide party plan, says a former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Paul Goldman, a longtime political consultant and lawyer, cites a section of the Virginia Democratic Party Plan, the group’s governing document, which says that the state party and all lower components “may not formally endorse contested candidates for office prior to their nominations.”

In accordance with the city charter, all city elections are nonpartisan, meaning the party can’t hold primary elections. Because candidates aren’t formally nominated, Goldman argues that the plan doesn’t allow the party to endorse candidates under its current wording. The reasoning, Goldman says, is so the party establishment can’t make its favored candidate look like a better Democrat.

Jim Nachman, former chairman of the Richmond Democratic Committee, says the section only applies to partisan elections, and that Goldman is taking the rule out of context. He notes that the party has endorsed candidates in Richmond for years — including former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, for whom Goldman served as senior policy adviser. Earlier this year, Goldman represented mayoral candidate Michael Ryan in his bid to get on the ballot after the city registrar disqualified him, claiming he didn’t have the required signatures.

“Paul Goldman didn’t mind us endorsing Doug Wilder,” Nachman says. “I don’t know what Paul is talking about.”

But perhaps the bigger question is whether a party endorsement gives candidates an unfair advantage in a locality as strongly Democratic as Richmond, which President Barack Obama won in 2008 with 79 percent of the vote. Both incumbent Charles Samuels and developer Charlie Diradour, for instance, appeared before the committee last week to make their cases for why each should win the Democratic endorsement in the 2nd District race for City Council. Samuels got the nod. The committee is expected to release its full list of endorsements early this week.

Political observer and consultant Bob Holsworth says it’s hard to imagine that the party would want to stay out of local elections.

“From the perspective of the party, it makes eminently good sense what they’re doing,” Holsworth says. “No party’s going to refrain from exercising its influence in a local election.

“Where Goldman has a point is that maybe certain members of the party establishment have more influence than you would in a grass-roots nomination battle. That’s probably true,” he says. “But I’m not sure why the party would stay out of it.”

Editor's note: This story reflects corrections from a version that appeared in print.

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