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When Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. abruptly terminated his second political comeback in April, D.C. pols and local reporters started putting down deposits for August beach vacations in Rehoboth, Provincetown, and Martha’s Vineyard. The D.C. Council at-large race would now be a snooze, no matter who ended up on the ballot, ward races promised to be only slightly more attention-grabbing, and the mayor’s race was a lock.
Few, to be sure, opted for vacation insurance.
On Monday, green and white balloons bobbed above the heads of people clustered around a brick sign for D.C. General Hospital. Indeed, the Aug. 12 event had all the telltale signs of a Barry rally: the predominantly African-American crowd sporting green-and-white “Voice of the People” T-shirts, an excited press corps, uplifting R&B music booming from speakers, and stalwarts such as Archbishop George Augustus Stallings roaming the grassy plot.
When the man of the hour rose to the podium, he seemed to be reading from a discarded copy of Barry’s 2002 summer stump speech. He blasted the current administration for slashing the city’s summer-jobs program, disrespecting the University of the District of Columbia, and shutting down the city’s public hospital. “The mayor unequivocally stated: ‘I am going to close D.C. General Hospital, and if you don’t like it, you know what you can do,’” the Rev. Willie F. Wilson reminded the call-and-response-oriented crowd. “Well, I don’t like Mayor Williams’ impassionate, insensitive, hands-off, asleep-at-the wheel leadership, and I know what I’m going to do: I’m running for mayor of the District of Columbia…as a Democratic write-in candidate.”
In launching his campaign, the preacher becomes the loudest voice in D.C. politics to address the growing gap between rich and poor in the city.
For a city still Barry-obsessed, it was the next-best thing. Wilson, in fact, is the former mayor’s pastor at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia. And Wilson has not only Hizzoner’s fashion sense, but also his record of race-baiting. In 1986, Wilson lashed out against a Chinese-American store owner who had allegedly mistreated a black customer. In a novel take on the biblical policy of taking an eye for an eye, Wilson said that if the community hadn’t forgiven the merchant, “we would have cut his head off and rolled it down the street.”
Wilson preached unity on Monday. But, in a demagogic tradition reminiscent of Barry, Wilson’s politics ignore the demographic changes that have occurred in D.C. in recent years. The new wave of mostly white D.C. immigrants is not looking for a racial-rhetoric-spewing pastor to make the city more livable. Without another viable candidate to split Williams’ monopoly on this crowd, the numbers just don’t add up in Wilson’s favor.
Wilson also slammed Williams for his refusal to accept full responsibility for “lawless fraud and senseless deception” in the recent petition fiasco. Williams’ silence on how more than 5,000 bogus signatures landed on his nominating petitions convinced the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to keep the incumbent mayor from appearing on the Sept. 10 primary ballot. Last week, the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld that decision, forcing the mayor to launch a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination.
But Williams fell out of favor with the fiery Wilson long before British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared on Williams petitions as a resident of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Four years ago, when Barry exited the mayoralty, Wilson campaigned hard for the city’s chief financial officer and gave him street cred in east-of-the-river communities outside of Ward 7’s tony Hillcrest neighborhood, where Wilson himself lives.
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The relationship disintegrated last year, when Mayor Williams announced the death of inpatient facilities at D.C. General. Wilson ambushed him in a town-hall-style discussion at his church. The mayor was outraged at the slight, and he even stripped the preacher of his low-number license plates, until Wilson allies on the D.C. Council restored the privilege.
It wasn’t the first time Wilson had embraced an agent of change and then changed his mind: In 1990, Wilson got behind mayoral candidate Sharon Pratt Kelly and then shifted gears months later.
When asked about his fellow write-in, Williams profiles like a gracious host, welcoming the competition and relishing the debate opportunities. The mayor’s accommodating stance, however, may have more to do with D.C. political realities than campaign-trail goodwill. Williams’ supporters in white D.C. will run to the polls on Sept. 10 to write “Anthony A. Williams” as long as “Willie Wilson” is the only viable alternative.
Wilson and Williams both have the unenviable task of training voters to write-in their names on the ballot. But whereas the mayor has $1 million on hand to educate his erudite west-of-the-park voters on how to write or stamp his name on the ballot, Wilson will have a much tougher road energizing the “voiceless,” “hopeless,” “disappointed,” and “disgusted” constituents he hopes to mobilize and represent.
“You deserve a leader who knows that it is not enough simply to build neighborhoods, but that we must be neighborly,” Wilson implored on Monday. “I am dead serious about making our city a place where all of our citizens feel they count.”
The nominating petition fiasco has cost the mayor a lot in terms of personal credibility, his vaunted management reputation, and political capital. Now it has another price tag: $250,000.
On Wednesday, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics announced the fine for 5,533 violations of local election law, which includes more than 5,000 forgeries on Williams’ petition sheets. Under D.C. law, the board has discretion to charge up to $200 per violation, and petition challengers urged the board to penalize the mayor to the max, more than $1.1 million. “There were contemplations of higher amounts and lower amounts. I think it was a fair and reasonable amount,” explained board member Stephen Callas, who added that the math involved in calculating the penalty was hardly an “exact science.”
Petition challengers seemed satisfied with the amount, though some expressed concern about the precedent it set. “I’m left with one important question: What has to occur for a [maximum] fine?” asks Mark L. Sibley, who challenged Williams’ petitions along with fellow Republican Shaun Snyder and D.C. government watchdogs Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill.
The official fine is actually $277,700, but the board offered Williams a $27,700 discount for good behavior, meaning that he must implement training procedures to prevent a relapse of faulty petitioning.
The Williams campaign’s recent filing with the Office of Campaign Finance leaves some doubt as to whether that might occur. The expenditure sheets in the filing contradict the testimony of paid Williams campaign helpers involved in the petition fiasco. Payments included $9,298 to Scott Bishop Sr., who headed the scandal-plagued signature-gathering campaign, as well as $4,580 to Scott Bishop Jr. However, Bishop Jr. told Washington City Paper reporters that he received approximately $320 for his efforts. Crystal Bishop, the wife of Bishop Jr., says she was paid about the same amount for her petition work, yet her name is absent from the finance report.
In addition, the campaign reports that it paid others for petition work, who did not sign as petition circulators. On July 1, according to the filing, the Williams campaign paid Jerome Todd $220 and Beverly Wright $260 for “petitions.” Williams campaign spokesperson Traci Otey Blunt says that Todd and Wright hung signs for the Williams campaign.
Williams will save some money on lawyers’ fees, because he will not appeal the board’s ruling. “We believe the fine is excessive, but we’re closing the chapter of that part of the book,” says Blunt.
ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN’
Mayor Williams’ ballot screw-up put his allies at the Ward 8 Democrats endorsement meeting in a bind last weekend. Only candidates who qualified for the Democratic primary ballot received invitations per Ward 8 bylaws. Further skewing the playing field against Williams, the organization had passed a censure resolution months back that prevented the group from endorsing the incumbent.
So when the mayor showed up promptly at noon, he was allowed to greet the crowd but wasn’t allowed to join in the debate.
He left by 12:15, ceding the floor to real mayoral candidates Faith, the Rev. Douglas E. Moore, and Bishop Osie Thorpe. Mayoral hopeful James W. Clark, whose posters around town declare Williams a “stooge for white Ward 3,” skipped the event. Faith promoted her “independent intercultural state,” and Moore dwelled on his homeownership and D.C. bona fides. Thorpe gave LL the most to chew on:
* On lawbreaking: “A crime is a crime if you’re doing it on my nose. Get it off.”
* On criminal justice: “I went to jail because I stood down in front of the courthouse and called the judge a liar….Don’t be afraid to be locked up.”
* On other matters: “If you tell the girls on the corner, ‘I ain’t got no money,’ then fine.”
“There’s no one in this city—that’s done more for this city—than I have,” declared
Thorpe in his closing remarks.
In the first round of voting, Williams seemed fairly popular: He received 35 write-in votes. Moore earned 24, followed by the Rev. Wilson, with 9 write-ins; No Endorsement, with 7 votes; Faith, with 2 votes; and former Ward 8 Dem Arthur H. Jackson Jr., who is running as an independent, with 1 write-in. A Ward 8 Dems endorsement requires 60 percent of ballots cast, or 49 votes in this case.
When Ward 8 Democrats President Philip Pannell announced a runoff of the top two vote-getters, Williams campaign Ward 8 coordinator Robert Yeldell withdrew his candidate from consideration. His strategy went like this: “They weren’t going to endorse us anyway….We showed that we had ample votes in the ward,” he told LL. Ward 8 bylaws allow for only two additional rounds of balloting. If the Williams brain trust had kept him in the running, the Ward 8 Dems would have likely ended up with no endorsement. Instead, the third time was a charm for Moore: He earned the endorsement—mentioned prominently the next day in the Washington Post—with 16 out of 27 votes cast, even though that’s only a 59 percent approval rating by LL’s calculator.
YOU GOTTA HAVE FAITH
After two decades on the campaign trail, Faith still needs some insights on how to generate buzz. At one point during the Ward 8 Dems meeting, the candidate pleaded with her audience: “Doesn’t anybody want to ask me anything? Something?”
LL knew of one question on the minds of many D.C. Democrats: What’s the deal with the candidate’s Tiny Tim-esque companion?
Faith informed LL that her omnipresent, guitar-stroking partner is her husband, Jude Crannitch. A Broadway performer who starred as stripper Mazeppa in both the stage and film versions of Gypsy, the 79-year-old Faith Dane (who legally changed her name to simply Faith) met 49-year-old Crannitch decades ago in Manhattan. “I was rehearsing a scene at the Actors Studio,” recalls Faith. They went to lunch afterward: “He was very impressed with my vegetarian discipline.”
The couple married in 1983. “I haven’t been able to get rid of him,” she adds.
Faith cleared up a couple other misconceptions about herself in the popular culture: She played a trumpet-blowing stripper in Gypsy but was not a stripper by profession, as erroneously mentioned in recent news reports. “I have a lot of churchgoing friends,” Faith told LL. She also says she was an ensemble dancer on The Milton Berle Show.
Though Faith has largely retired from show business, she and Crannitch often perform cabaret at an Adams Morgan nightspot—though the show is currently on hiatus. So right now, Faith brings her act to political groups around the city. For her closing remarks on Saturday, she and Crannitch performed their song “We Are D.C.,” sung to the tune of “We Are the World”:
We are D.C.
We’re getting shafted
With no respect from Congress, no vote—we get killed and drafted….
We are D.C.
We lead the nation
In homelessness, HIV, and elitist gentrification
But there’s a choice we’re making
To end this racist plan
And pull the covers off the Congressional
Ku Klux Klan
The Ward 8 crowd roared with approval. CP
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