Three prominent Ward Four Democrats were honored at the Second Annual Ethel Delaney Lee Dinner on Nov. 18, in appreciation of their political and community activism.

Former Democratic National Committeewoman for the District of Columbia, Barbara Lett Simmons, former president of the Ward Four Democrats, George Fenderson and former assistant to President Bill Clinton, John A. Koskimen were saluted by fellow Democrats for their accomplishments.

Simmons, 84, was honored as Woman of the year at this year’s event. Born in Battlecreek, Mi. , Simmons earned a bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University, taught in Detroit, Mi. public school and moved to the District of Columbia with her family in 1962. She was one of the first African American teachers to integrate in the Montgomery County, Md. Public Schools. She served as education coordinator for the Washington, DC Poverty program and worked in the US Department of Education training instructors to teach adult students. Her work became a national training module for 14 states.

In 1973, Simmons was elected to the DC Board of Education where she served until 1986. She never lost her focus of fighting to achieve DC Statehood.

“When I first came here, the first thing I thought about was I was going to give up all my rights as a citizen in a state to living in a colony. I looked around me at nice Americans who were either complacent with their conditions or afraid to speak out. I knew then that I was going to be actively involved in making DC achieve statehood,” said Simmons.

For 49 years, Simmons passionately advocated self-determination and statehood for DC citizens. In 1981, she was elected to serve as a delegate on the DC Statehood Constitutional Convention and worked tirelessly to help write the constitution and get it passed by the citizenry, in 1982. In 2000, Simmons stormed out of the National Democratic Convention rather than cast a vote for president to show other Americans that District residents are people who rights should be respected. “I’m never giving up,” said Simmons.

George W. Fenderson, a quiet doer known for completing tasks, was born in Morehead City, N.C., attended DC public schools and completed coursework at Howard University, the University of the District of Columbia and the US Department of Agriculture. He worked in the federal and District government for over 30 years, specializing in computer technology.

Fenderson has an extensive record of activism in the DC Democratic Party and has served in numerous elected and appointed positions, including president of the Ward 4 Democrats, delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and representing Ward 4 at the DC Democratic State Committee.

“When I first took office as president about 10 people showed up at the meetings. But with hard work, a strong support group of dedicated people, we brought hundreds of residents to actively participate in the Ward 4 Dems,” said Fenderson. He also played key roles in numerous successful political campaigns.

Fenderson’s civic involvement includes serving as chairman of the Fourth District Police Citizens Advisory Council, a member the DC taxicab Commission, chairman of the board of directors of the Washington Black Economic Development Corporation, NAACP, People United for Better Government and WISE-UP.

His belief in life, “Once you commit yourself to a project, you are morally responsible to that endeavor.”

John A. Koskinen, current non-executive chairman of the board of Freddie Mac and former chairman of the board of trustees of Duke University, was honored with the 2011 President’s Award.

From 1994 to 1997, he served as deputy director for management of the US Office of Management and Budget and worked as assistant to President Bill Clinton and chair of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion.

Koskinen has also served as president of the Palmieri Company, which restructures large, troubled operating companies, president of the US Soccer Foundation and director of the AES Corporation, one of the world’s largest global power companies. He was appointed deputy mayor and city administrator of the District under Mayor Anthony Williams for three years, where he developed recommendations for restructuring the District’s public schools.

Out of all his numerous accomplishments, Koskinen remains loyal to the District. “I was most proud to serve Mayor Anthony Williams to send a message to the world that the District of Columbia is a wonderful place to live,” said Koskinen. “My wife and I thought about places to retire but we concluded the District is the only place we want to live.”


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO