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Before a room full of reporters and supporters last week, Mayor Anthony A. Williams unveiled a strategy for handling his petition crisis: One, appeal the July 26 ruling by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to keep him off the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot; and two, stage a write-in campaign in case the appeal falls through.
The mayor, however, didn’t announce what emerged as his legal strategy: Screw the Bishops. That strategy surfaced Tuesday in oral arguments before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
For those who’ve been at Rehoboth all summer, here’s a little background: Scott Bishop Sr. and his son and daughter-in-law, Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop, are the central figures in a ballot controversy that has shaken the mayoralty. With a big assist from the Bishops, the Williams campaign in early July submitted 512 nominating petition pages—comprising 10,102 signatures—to the Board of Elections and Ethics. They needed 2,000 from registered D.C. Democrats to get on the ballot. Two groups formally challenged more than 9,000 of the signatures, alleging widespread election fraud after finding many of the names and signatures on the sheets written in the same hand. Of the 512 pages, 345 had been circulated by the Bishop family.
The Bishops have an extraordinarily complex role in the current legal wranglings.
On the one hand, they signed their names to some bogus petitions. For example, the Williams campaign withdrew 214 pages from consideration; the Bishops’ names appear as circulators on 167 of these petitions.
On the other hand, the Bishops accounted for some valid petition work: Nearly half of the 2,235 signatures certified as valid by D.C. Registrar of Voters Kathy Fairley came from petition pages signed by the Bishops.
So what to do?
The answer for the Williams campaign was obvious: Embrace the work of the Bishops in the case of the valid signatures and leave the bad stuff to the prosecutors.
In oral arguments at the appeals court, Williams attorney Vincent Mark J. Policy argued that the elections board shouldn’t have concerned itself with any of the miscues on the tainted petition sheets. Rather, he suggested, its charge was to fish out 2,000 valid signatures, no matter how they were obtained. “The primary thrust of this process is to determine whether there are 2,000 valid signatures,” Policy argued several times in his 30-minute-plus exchange with Judges Michael W. Farrell, Inez Smith Reid, and Eric T. Washington.
In so insisting, Policy asked the appeals court to ignore D.C. law. According to the D.C. Code, circulators of petitions must personally circulate and witness each signature. The circulator must swear to have fulfilled that requirement in an affidavit at the bottom of each petition. The elections board kicked Williams off the ballot in large part because affidavits on his campaign’s petitions were unreliable.
Though the appeals court exhibited standard judicial demeanor, Judge Washington at one point asked Policy to get real. “Have you ever been involved with circulating petitions, Mr. Policy?” inquired Washington, who once served as chair of D.C.’s Democratic Party. “Do you know how difficult it is to circulate petitions in the District of Columbia and come out with an 80 percent error rate?”
To the end, Policy stood by a flawed petition campaign.
The court’s job on Tuesday was to determine whether the election board’s decision was reasonable. However, Williams opponents saw a larger issue at play. “The question this Court must now decide is whether Mayor Williams may reap the benefit of that wrongdoing, while leaving the wrongdoers to their own fates,” wrote attorney Ronald Drake, who is representing petition challenger Dorothy Brizill, in a brief submitted to the court.
The appeals court on Wednesday upheld the board’s ruling, affirming the mayor’s status as a write-in.
The court ruling, though, doesn’t end deliberations on the actions of the Bishops. Right after the appeals court session on Tuesday, the Board of Elections reconvened at One Judiciary Square to investigate the complaints of Brizill and D.C. Republican Committee Chair Betsy Werronen. Those complaints are separate from the petition challenge, which made top news two weeks ago. Both Brizill and Werronen allege systematic and flagrant abuse of D.C. election law and are asking the board to exercise its authority by referring wrongdoing to the proper agencies.
A big part of the petition probe, of course, is prying testimony from the Bishops, all of whom received subpoenas for this round of questioning. Reprising his performance of two weeks ago, Scott Bishop Sr. again pleaded the Fifth Amendment. The younger Bishops were not seated in the audience at that time.
“Both young people have gone off medication,” attorney David Wilmot, who represents Scott Bishop Sr., told the board.
“We tried all day to locate them. We have no way of contacting them,” Wilmot further argued. “We have no telephone numbers.” Wilmot apparently hadn’t taken a good look at the petition sheets: Both Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop had written their names and phone number on the affidavits.
Plus, Brizill informed board members that she had seen Scott Bishop Jr. outside One Judiciary Square earlier that day. Scott Bishop Jr. later appeared before the board and like his father asserted the Fifth Amendment. Wilmot told the board that Crystal Bishop had severe health concerns and would need the assistance of an ambulance to attend the hearings.
On Wednesday, Crystal Bishop managed to appear; she, too, took the Fifth.
The board referred the following Williams aides to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the D.C. Office of the Corporation Counsel for prosecution: Scott Bishop Sr., Scott Bishop Jr., Williams petition circulator Ann E. Lewis, and Williams campaign Ward 8 coordinator Robert Yeldell.
In the hearing, Yeldell testified that he had encouraged Lewis to violate the terms of a petition affidavit: After he gathered 15 signatures on a petition, he asked Lewis to sign the affidavit.
The Williams campaign sent no one to the elections board to defend the actions of the Bishops, Lewis, and Yeldell.
* When At-Large Councilmember David Catania phoned supporter Mark Sibley two weeks ago, he wasn’t congratulating Sibley on his efforts to uphold the integrity of the city’s balloting process. Sibley, along with fellow Republican Shaun Snyder plus Brizill and her husband, Gary Imhoff, had alleged extensive voter fraud in a comprehensive challenge to Mayor Williams’ nominating petitions.
“He called me up and asked me to resign,” says Sibley, who served as Catania’s treasurer until July 27.
Sibley first volunteered his time for Catania in 1997, when the 29-year-old gay Republican beat Democrat Arrington Dixon in a special election for the at-large seat. Sibley signed up again in 1998, serving as the Catania campaign’s treasurer, and was again tasked with the tedious labor of campaign-finance reports, until his resignation.
According to Snyder, Catania received a phone call from Williams campaign Co-Chair Gwendolyn Hemphill on July 6. That Saturday morning, the beginning of the 10-day period to challenge nominating petitions, Snyder and Sibley had been perusing the mayor’s petitions, flipping through page after page of identical handwriting. Hemphill asked Catania why members of his campaign staff were down at the Board of Elections and Ethics snooping around the mayor’s petitions.
Catania then asked the same question of Snyder, who said he innocently took a peek at the mayor’s petitions in between looking at those of other candidates. Snyder says he resigned on his own, knowing that he would spend a good part of his summer on the petition challenge. Catania later asked the same of Sibley.
“I didn’t want there to be any appearances that [the challenge] was somehow related to my campaign,” explains Catania before proceeding to turn the image problem around: “I was concerned that their relationship with me would somehow color what they were attempting to do.”
“They’ve performed quite a public service,” he adds.
* Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is usually not mistaken for a radical. The most extreme position he staked out this year was fighting tax cuts, but he was joined by five of his colleagues, as well as the mayor. And that’s the kind of crowded company Graham
So LL was quite surprised to see a posting on the U Street electronic mailing list last week from Ward 1 -council-seat hopeful Shelore Williams titled “Extremist Voting by Councilmember Jim Graham.” In a series of e-mails, Williams has highlighted votes by Graham on bills giving textbooks to city schoolchildren and banning single-container sales of beer in Ward 4.
“Is it to stop alcoholism or people who are alcoholics? Does it help with the trash? No. When I walk the streets you see soda bottles and soda cans. I guess next we’ll be stopping people from buying single soda cans,” Williams told LL. “He said he’d run on his record. People must know what his record is.”
Graham claims that record has been distorted. “It’s easy to campaign by computer instead of meeting people out on the streets,” responds Graham, who called LL from his cell phone on a campaign tour of Columbia Heights Monday afternoon. “[The messages] are obviously misleading and unfair and inaccurate. She doesn’t want to be bothered by the facts.”
Shelore Williams hasn’t won over too many voters with her campaign strategy: In subsequent posts, U Streeters have asked her to stop the diatribes against the incumbent. “Those are his supporters,” she says.
* Four men in Metropolitan Police Department windbreakers lingered around the Tenleytown Metro station Monday evening, but they weren’t securing a crime scene: They were loitering in support of Ward 3-council-seat candidate Erik Gaull, who chose the spot to announce his plan for increasing police presence in the ward through the better use of reserve patrol officers.
Gaull opponent Kathy Patterson, by the way, chairs the council’s Committee on the Judiciary, which oversees the police department.
In his remarks Monday, Gaull claimed that the volunteer police officers have been underutilized and ignored by the department and the council. A reservist himself, Gaull busted out a little cop talk to highlight problems in the ward, referring at one point to a group of lawbreakers as the “Tenley Crew.” (At first, LL thought the candidate was referring to neighboring Woodrow Wilson High School’s rowers.) Gaull claims that the pack of youngsters has been responsible for an increase in graffiti and auto thefts in the upper Wisconsin Avenue area.
Gaull later admitted that the Tenley Crew hardly has the criminal cachet of a Simple City or K Street Crew, but crime’s a concern to Ward 3 residents nonetheless; recently, an elderly resident walking near Cathedral and New Mexico Avenues was shot, he reminded the crowd. And the crime spree has hit close to home for the candidate: Gaull also mentioned that two of his friends were held up at gunpoint blocks away, near River Road NW.
* With nearly 200 people streaming in and out of the 10th-floor conference room at One Judiciary Square, the Ward 6 Democrats’ July 31 endorsement meeting promised to be quite a barnburner. Indeed, throughout the evening, there was acrimony and finger-pointing, with plenty of recriminations.
But no endorsements.
The balloting was ruled invalid, reports Wanda Alston, chair of the party organization-and-function committee for the Democratic State Committee. Though 163 Ward 6 Dems signed up to vote that evening, some races had as many as 196 slips of paper in the ballot box.
Although party officials deny any type of ballot-stuffing, the process was flawed from the get-go, says Alston. A mailing from Ward 6 Dems President Mike Patterson did not properly inform Ward 6-ites of the correct ballots: The letter stated that attendees would vote on the school-board races, even though candidates for those races have until Aug. 28 to get on the ballot. The letter also failed to acknowledge fellow Ward 6 Dem Eleanor Holmes Norton, who faces no opposition in her re-election bid for congressional delegate.
Party leaders say they were overwhelmed by supporters who came out for the council race between incumbent Sharon Ambrose and challenger Keith Andrew Perry. “For one thing, we didn’t have enough volunteers, and that was the fault of the Democratic State Committee,” says Alston. “It was a nightmare.”
Patterson agreed with that assessment: “Wanda Alston went to sleep at the wheel and crashed the event.” CP
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