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They say that the ongoing petition crisis frames Mayor Anthony A. Williams as a bad manager. True, but we already knew that: DMV, anyone? They also say that the crisis underscores the lack of bona fide political competition in the city. Again, we knew that: If Kevin Chavous were the most formidable opponent on your horizon, you, too, would tell your sentries to take a break.
And the really earnest folks say that the petition thing constitutes a home-rule crisis. The thinking here is that Williams’ phony petitions have become a national story, providing yet more fodder for skeptics nationwide—especially congressional Republicans out to block our efforts to gain statehood. That’s yet another incontrovertible point.
The impression cast far and wide by the Williams debacle would be maddening if it were a false one. That is, it would be a pity if this orderly, workmanlike polity were somehow slandered by the anomalous misdeeds of its mayor.
But that’s not the case here. The mayor’s petition fiasco goes with D.C. politics just like the red punch and sugar cookies you grab on your way into summertime candidate forums. Far from a stain on the political scene, the 512 petition sheets are its very fabric.
D.C. politics is built on chaos. This town is a city, but it’s not organized like one. There are no hierarchical party structures to channel and groom political talent, no flow of loyalties to keep dissent in check and organize voters, and no bosses. Instead, there is only a large group of political activists whose agendas shift with the heat index.
The mayor himself has learned about this shifting terrain. He has attempted to cultivate community leaders, only to have them spit in his face. He appointed the Rev. Willie Wilson of Anacostia’s Union Temple Baptist Church as a trustee of the University of the District of Columbia. Wilson repaid the favor by denouncing the mayor and his plan for D.C. General Hospital before a crowd at Union Temple. Williams appointed activist Sandra Seegars to the taxicab commission; Seegars was among the first to challenge his nominating petitions this summer.
The chaos moves upward into mayoral politics from its roots in the advisory neighborhood commissions and the Democratic State Committee. Attend a meeting of one of these panels and then try to write a diagram of the power structure. Keep plenty of extra paper on hand.
Before Williams first exposed himself to grass-roots D.C. politics—back when he was a clean-scrubbed appointee as the city’s first chief financial officer—he had a pretty good record. Over the years, however, the weight of our disjointed political culture has proved too much for him to resist. He has finally embraced dysfunction as a governing paradigm.
Think about it: This guy has $1.4 million in the kitty and can’t even get on the primary ballot. Whatever he’s done over the past four years, he’s become a political pipsqueak, skewing closer to an advisory neighborhood commissioner than to a big-city machinist.
And that should help him on the campaign trail. Because even though his enemies will call attention to his miscues, there’s one insult that won’t work anymore: carpetbagger. He’s one of us now. —Erik Wemple
What does the Williams campaign know about the petition fiasco?
By Elissa Silverman
June 22’s campaign kickoff seemed like a mere formality back then. Mayor Anthony A. Williams had another four years in the bag, or so went the conventional wisdom. He’d scared off any legitimate challengers with $1.4 million in campaign funds and impressive Washington Post poll numbers.
It was a day to gloat, eat hot dogs, and collect a few nominating-petition signatures toward the 2,000 necessary to get him on the Democratic ballot. “Over this past year, there has been a lot of speculation about who our opponents would be in this race,” said Williams, who added, with his unique blend of arrogance and self-deprecation, “and, after a few of my mistakes, I was even asked if I was running against myself.”
The mayor didn’t know what an effective anti-Williams campaign he was already spearheading. He had yet to learn of his biggest blunder in office: the alleged forgery of thousands of signatures on his nominating petitions.
Two weeks later, on July 6, Republican pols Shaun Snyder and Mark Sibley flipped through the Williams nominating petitions at the Board of Elections and Ethics office at One Judiciary Square. Snyder and Sibley started noticing a pattern: The handwriting and signatures on many Williams petitions looked remarkably similar, page after page.
A Democratic operative in the room, who overheard the GOP snickers, says a call went out to Re-Elect Williams for Mayor Co-Chair Gwendolyn Hemphill via cell phone. A few days earlier, Hemphill had assisted in delivering the petitions to the board’s offices. In sworn testimony before the elections board last week, Hemphill denied any prior knowledge of petition irregularities. She says she learned of the petition flap after receiving a phone call on July 8 from WRC-TV reporter Tom Sherwood, who broke the story on that evening’s newscast.
The mayor learned of the brewing petition scandal after Sherwood made a similar call that same Monday to the mayor’s office, says Williams spokesperson Tony Bullock. And when Williams invited the press corps back to his campaign headquarters weeks later, on July 17, he was hardly full of pep. “I am deeply troubled, I am angered, I am sickened,” Williams told reporters in an afternoon press conference, where he announced the resignation of “senior campaign adviser” Charles N. Duncan. “This is contrary to everything I’ve worked for in the last four years.”
He added: “Mistakes were made.”
The question remains: Who made them?
Earlier this summer, the Williams campaign headquarters, at 7th Street and New York Avenue NW, hardly buzzed with excitement. The well-endowed re-election effort employed a bare-bones staff: self-titled senior adviser Duncan, who had been hired in February; field coordinator Scott Bishop Sr., who had been hired in early June, according to sources; and an office assistant and a secretary to answer the phones.
The office would perk up a little on Wednesdays, when the campaign’s ward coordinators held their weekly meetings. Ward coordinators—who help organize volunteers, circulate nominating petitions, and get campaign signs planted in yards and front windows—had been crucial to Williams’ 1998 effort but seemed less central to his strategy this go-round: As of the first week of July, the Williams campaign lacked a Ward 1 coordinator altogether.
“They never really had an organization put together,” admits one ward coordinator. “This election was such a done deal that there wasn’t consideration to put together a grass-roots organization. At best, it was a fluff job.”
Last week’s hearings painted an even more chaotic picture: Top campaign officials Duncan and Hemphill, who had both been subpoenaed to appear before the board, contradicted each other, pointed fingers at each other, demurred, and denied responsibility for almost all decisions made. Hemphill, who serves as campaign co-chair with Max Berry, a prominent District attorney, works full-time as chief of staff to the Washington Teachers Union. The city’s teachers were the only union to endorse Williams four years ago.
Berry could not be reached for comment.
Duncan, a political consultant who has worked in races across the country, received $10,000 a month—a sizable sum for not much heavy lifting, if you believe Duncan’s own job description: “I had no check-writing authority; no authority to hire or terminate key campaign personnel; no authority to independently select individuals to serve as ward coordinators; no authority to enter contracts for media, advertising, rental equipment, or real estate; and no authority to enter agreements that would obligate the committee to spend money,” he testified.
That authority rested with the re-election committee and particularly Hemphill, according to Duncan. “I worked very closely with Ms. Hemphill on many logistical matters ranging from budget proposals, expenditure of funds, and the hiring of campaign staff,” Duncan further informed the board. When it came her turn, Hemphill said Duncan had “staffing and management” authority outlined in his contract.
Another gray area between Duncan and Hemphill was the marching orders for Bishop.
Bishop became the Williams campaign’s field coordinator and was eventually charged with the nominating-petitions drive. Although Bishop had worked on many campaigns, he had never dealt extensively with petitions.
When board members queried Hemphill about the campaign’s chain of command, she informed them that Duncan managed Bishop and his activities.
Duncan claimed he shared that responsibility. “Both me and Ms. Hemphill supervised Mr. Bishop,” he testified.
Not very well, apparently: The campaign committee set a goal of collecting 10,000 petition signatures. Bishop ended up exceeding that mark, with 10,102 signatures—but at least 4,240 are faulty, as conceded by the campaign itself. “We do not defend forgeries,” remarked Williams attorney Vincent Mark J. Policy, at one point in the hearings.
Though Williams allies such as Ron Bitondo in Ward 3 and Franklin Wilds in Ward 5 circulated petitions themselves, Bishop didn’t work within the ward networks to get D.C. Democratic voters to sign up. At one ward coordinators’ meeting, according to sources, Bishop announced that the petition drive was on target to exceed 10,000 signatures. Nobody asked too many questions. “People were relieved that it seemed rather efficient,” says one coordinator. “It was more welcome than not.”
Even with the mayor’s 64 percent overall approval rating, the Williams effort had almost no committed volunteers to assist with the nasty work of circulating petitions, according to Duncan. So in lieu of free labor, Bishop employed his children: Bishop’s son, Scott Bishop Jr., and daughter-in-law, Crystal Bishop, account for 345 of the 512 Williams petition pages.
In interviews with the Washington City Paper, Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop have acknowledged that they circulated petitions for the Williams campaign. Scott Bishop Jr. says that he went out a number of times to collect signatures, working the crowd at a seniors’ picnic in Kenilworth Park, the Gay Pride parade in Dupont Circle, and a campaign event held on the Southwest waterfront, as well as stints at Metro stops and Safeways. But it was slow and hard work. “People would say, ‘Mayor Williams, I don’t want him in there another four years,’” recalls Scott Bishop Jr.
Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop ended up stumping at famed D.C. petition stomping grounds, such as the Wisconsin Avenue “social” Safeway in Georgetown.
The couple say they turned their petitions in to Scott Bishop Sr. when they were completed. They do not know how many petitions they circulated altogether, though both say they received about $300 apiece for their efforts. According to the testimony of top campaign staff, paid circulators received $1 per signature.
On July 3, Scott Bishop Jr. and his wife were walking home from the Safeway on 17th Street NW when they ran into his father. Scott Bishop Sr. had an emergency: He needed his son and daughter-in-law to sign the affidavits at the bottom of many petitions, which had already been filled out but were lacking circulators’ signatures. July 3 was the deadline to hand in petitions at the Board of Elections.
They signed away. “We were sitting right there and signing the ones [other people] supposedly circulated,” says Crystal Bishop, pointing to her green-and-black kitchen table. “We dated them as the circulator had dated them.” Both Bishops admit to signing the affidavits without having witnessed the signatures above, though both adamantly deny filling in any names or addresses or writing any signatures that were not their own.
When asked by the City Paper to examine copies of their petitions, Scott Bishop Jr. questioned even his own signature on some affidavits. He remarked that the writing looked more like his father’s.
Both Bishops also report that Scott Bishop Sr. recruited other paid circulators. Two of those circulators named city shelters as addresses: Mark Perez listed Gospel Union Ministries on 5th Street NW as his legal address, and Kevin Sothern wrote down Central Union Mission on R Street NW; he is not currently a registered voter.
Sothern says that a Williams campaign worker—whom he described as a middle-aged black man—came into Central Union Mission one day looking to hire people as circulators. (Sothern does not remember the campaign worker’s name.) He and Perez volunteered. Sothern says he got six signatures after spending two hours pounding the pavement at 7th and G Streets NW.
“Anthony Williams is not as popular as he thinks he is,” Sothern adds.
The Williams campaign submitted four petitions with Sothern’s name at the bottom and nine petitions with Perez’s name. All those petition pages have the same handwriting in the 20 signature slots, with the exception of six on one of Sothern’s pages and a couple on another. All of Sothern and Perez’s petitions were conceded as possible forgeries by the Williams campaign, in the end.
According to the affidavits, the Williams campaign had 22 circulators. Some circulators outside the Bishop family have complained of other shenanigans: Ward 8 resident Ann E. Lewis and Wilds, for example, testified that their signatures had been forged on some affidavits bearing their name. Others, in interviews with the City Paper, have said that names, addresses, and signatures were filled out after they handed their petitions in.
Petition challengers cited these infractions in their submissions to the Board of Elections. In a cursory overview of the petitions, it appears that four or five distinct handwriting styles dominate the allegedly forged petitions. There is another pattern, as well: Many of the questionable addresses are in neighborhoods in Wards 1 and 3, specifically Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Woodley Park.
Top campaign officials say they do not know how the questionable names and addresses ended up on the petitions. Both Duncan and Hemphill testified that the campaign checked the first 4,600 petition signatures submitted—in what Duncan labeled the campaign’s “quality-control” process—against the city’s voter rolls. That made them confident that they had the 2,000 signatures necessary to get Williams on the ballot.
Neither Duncan nor Hemphill specified who was in charge of quality control—an omission seized upon by the board. “Who was responsible for reviewing nominating petitions one last time?” board Chair Benjamin F. Wilson questioned Duncan at one point.
“I do not know,” Duncan responded.
This much, however, is certain: On July 3, Hemphill drove the last 160 of the mayor’s 512 petition pages down to the board’s offices at One Judiciary Square with Scott Bishop Sr. Hemphill accompanied Bishop that day at his request, after he had expressed concerns about parking in the busy downtown area. The campaign later conceded 81 of the 160 pages as fraudulent.
Scott Bishop Sr. asserted the Fifth Amendment in answer to the board’s questions. So did his son. The Bishops’ constitutional defense obscures the answers to the most compelling questions behind the petition fiasco.
Here is just a sampling:
* If Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop didn’t write in the names and addresses of D.C. residents on petitions they signed as circulators, then who did?
* Where did the names and addresses of phantom Williams supporters on the petitions come from? Ward voter rolls? Telephone books?
* Did the forgers work within the campaign office? Were any campaign staffers aware of their work?
* Who wrote in the names of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? The international political figures were not just the brainchild of random pranksters—the names were buried within pages and pages of other alleged forgeries that contained the names and addresses of some real D.C. residents, some of whom actually appear on the voter rolls.
Williams loyalists spin the petition fiasco as a possible act of sabotage. They claim that the Bishops weren’t sophisticated enough to bury the names of Annan et al. in the petitions. But the sabotage theory has one very fatal flaw: The Williams re-election team had ultimate control over which petitions they ended up submitting to the Board of Elections and Ethics. If campaign staff had taken the time to check petitions one last time to be sure they had 2,000 valid signatures, they could have chosen not to submit the bad ones.
Plus, Williams conspiracy theorists say that they left themselves open to saboteurs by leaving petitions at random barbershops and supermarkets. Petition rules, however, state that circulators must personally witness each petition signature. So in the end, the only saboteur was the Williams campaign itself.
Top campaign officials have encouraged reporters to investigate the “sabotage” further. But that’s hard to do when the Williams camp has closed all avenues of inquiry on the signature-gathering process.
The campaign’s stonewalling machine was in high gear last week at the Board of Elections hearings. Early in the proceedings, Crystal Bishop, a critical witness in the episode, appeared in the board’s hearing room. “I was subpoenaed,” she explained. “I ain’t want to go to jail.”
Crystal Bishop sat through the morning proceedings without drawing attention to herself. But when Williams supporters recognized her, they hustled her out before she had the chance to speak.
The Williams witness-protection program went like this: Mayoral supporter and D.C. Democratic State Committee Chair Norman Neverson conferred with confrere Wilds in the hallway. “‘Isn’t that Crystal Bishop?’” Neverson recalls Wilds asking him. Neverson responded that he did not know, he says.
Then Wilds motioned to Bishop, who walked over to them. Crystal Bishop says that Wilds expressed concern that she was appearing at the hearing without legal counsel. “We’d hate for you to speak today and not be represented by a lawyer,” Wilds told her.
Wilds got busy on his cell phone, and soon enough Crystal Bishop was on the line with lawyer David Wilmot, who is representing Scott Bishop Sr. Crystal Bishop had not retained legal counsel herself. “David Wilmot told me to leave the building immediately,” says Crystal Bishop. “So that’s what I did.”
Wilds will not speak about his interaction with Crystal Bishop. “I have no comment,” he says. CP
Politics and Pros
The Bishop family expected a little money and a lot of gratification for their campaign work. They got subpoenas.
By Jason Cherkis
Scott Bishop Sr. was known as the “Poster King.” He had begun working campaigns just before the start of home rule and developed a reputation for blanketing the city in the middle of the night with posters. Workers would call thoroughfares covered by the Poster King “Bishop avenues.”
It was quiet grunt work best left to insomniacs. “Who wants to climb up a pole and ladder putting up posters?” Bishop asks. “I did things no one else wanted to do.”
For 30 years, Bishop drifted from campaign to campaign, from Marion Barry’s first school-board race to John Ray’s mayoral runs to more contemporary contests, including Sharon Ambrose’s first D.C. Council campaign and Jack Evans’ 1998 mayoral primary loss.
After the Evans debacle, Bishop, 54, joined the campaign of Democratic-primary victor Anthony A. Williams. And along the way, staple gun in hand, he became the subject of myth. “Scott was known as the man who could make a ladder do strange things,” says Norm Neverson, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. “He could take a 6-foot ladder and hang posters 30 feet up in the air.”
A professional poster operation is the sine qua non of a winning D.C. campaign. In a town so hemmed in by the suburbs, radio and television advertising are as likely to bombard Virginians as D.C. voters—and broadly disseminated ads are just downright stupid in ward races.
In the spring, Bishop converted his sign expertise into a paid position with the 2002 Williams campaign. Longtime political operative Warren Graves recommended him for the position. “He’s a good guy. He’s trustworthy. He’s honest,” Graves says. “I think people see that. Scott’s agenda was whatever job was given to him.”
Bishop’s charge with the Williams effort was to handle “field operations”—a handy euphemism for walking around crowded intersections with a ladder, staple gun, and stacks of posterboard. After a few weeks with the campaign, he was given the task of heading the nominating-petition drive.
“I never got to do field operations,” Bishop says bitterly. “I got bogged down on the petitions.”
Now Bishop, his son, Scott Bishop Jr., and his son’s wife, Crystal Bishop, are besieged by allegations that the petitions they signed as circulators were filled with fraudulent signatures and bogus names; at least two-thirds of the more than 10,000 signatures gathered by the Williams campaign were tainted. The Bishops have become the main targets of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, which last week held three days of hearings on the case. Scott Bishop Sr.’s alleged mangling of the petition drive has caused the mayor weeks of embarrassment, legal bills, and a forfeit of his easy ride to re-election.
When asked about the Williams campaign, Bishop balks at even acknowledging any such effort. “I can’t say because it never got started,” he asserts. “It never got off the ground.”
The elder Bishop, over the years, has minted quite a few political friendships, often of the vacuous, backslapping kind. The camaraderie that first drew the Poster King to politics was on display last Friday morning at a Board of Elections and Ethics hearing room. Bishop and his son had arrived in response to a subpoena from the board, having been threatened with contempt after failing to show up for two straight days.
Despite the inauspicious circumstances, Bishop and his fellow Democrats treated the moment like a convention-floor party. “The big horse!” Neverson yelped to Bishop, giving him a hug.
More hugs and kisses followed. Williams campaign Co-Chair Gwendolyn Hemphill kissed Bishop’s cheek. Bishop pecked activist Sandra Seegars on the cheek. And WTOP radio commentator Mark Plotkin shouted, “Hey Scotty!” before patting his back and declaring him “the man of the hour.”
Scott Bishop Jr., 33, meanwhile, sat alone, surrounded by several empty seats, staring into space. He had come to the hearing dressed in New Balance sneakers, baggie jeans, a Stephen Davis Redskins jersey, and a gold hoop earring. He didn’t speak at all, just received the occasional whisper from his lawyer warning him to not talk to anyone.
That wasn’t a problem. The younger Bishop had come in the hope of catching some local television celebrities, but he was disappointed. He says he likes sportscaster Jess Atkinson. Instead of talking sports, he slumped farther into his back-row seat.
Bishop Sr. leaned in and whispered to his son: “This is so ridiculous.” But soon the father was off again, talking to his lawyers and old friends, a grin stuck on his face.
As the senior Bishop waited to testify before the board, his son found him in a nearby hallway and asked for a hot dog. The two went outside to a nearby street vendor. Bishop Sr. opened his wallet, and his son pointed to a $10 bill. “Can I have the 10? I want to buy cigarettes,” he said.
While his son purchased a hot dog with the works and a pack of Newports, Bishop Sr. explained his addiction to campaigns. “Just the competition,” he said. “It’s like a football game, and there’s always a finish, an ending to it. I was with a lot of winners.”
Bishop Jr. didn’t share his father’s fascination with Election Night highs. “I’m not interested in political stuff,” Bishop Jr. said.
Late Friday afternoon, both Bishops followed their attorneys’ instructions and refused to answer any questions on the grounds of self-incrimination. (Crystal Bishop, 38, appeared momentarily at the hearings earlier in the week and then returned to the mental-health facility where she was staying.) The tactic backfired on the mayor’s campaign: On Friday evening, the board cited the Bishops’ lack of disclosure in its decision to disqualify all the petition sheets they had signed—and prevent the mayor fro/ appearing on the Democratic-primary ballot.
By the time of the board’s decision, the Bishops had long left One Judiciary Square.
I catch up with Bishop Jr. at 10 p.m., more than six hours after he took the Fifth. He has run out of Newports and is walking west from his apartment, located on the 1400 block of R Street NW. He is talking to himself—mostly curses, loud enough to be heard half a block away.
At the 17th Street 7-Eleven counter, he haggles with the cashier: “How much for those?” he asks, pointing to several different brands. He has only $5 in his pocket. He settles for a box of American Spirits, and we head to a basketball court on P Street.
The younger Bishop says he has had a hard time holding down a job. Last Thursday, he was fired from a security job in downtown Silver Spring. It had lasted only four days.
ýis parents divorced when he was 5 years old. Since then, he has bounced in and out of almost a dozen different households—with his grandfather, his mother, his father, and his various girlfriends. Other resting places have included the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, where he did time as a teenager, and St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he stayed for a while in his ’20s. At first, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but he has since been reclassified as having bipolar disorder. He says he has to take eight medications a day.
Bishop Jr. started this spring working alongside his dad sticking up posters. He says his role was to watch his father’s back, a job description that translated into holding the ladder while his dad did the hanging. When his father told him he could earn some money snaring signatures on nominating petitions, he agreed to help. The money wasn’t bad—$1 per signature. “I am happy to have a job to do,” he says.
Sometimes accompanied by his father, he went to several campaign events: along the waterfront in Southwest, a seniors’ event in Kenilworth Park, the Gay Pride parade in Dupont Circle. Those events gave him more than 100 signatures. Still, he says, he got no training and a lot of rejections. The only event that attracted real Williams supporters was the Gay Pride parade. “It never was easy—just at the parade,” he explains.
After encountering serial rejections on the street, says Bishop Jr., “We were told to go to the white areas, because the black people didn’t like [Williams] that much.” Bishop Jr. and his wife, who had by now joined the effort, branched out to Georgetown, Thomas Circle, the Safeway in Dupont Circle, and other places. The two say that Bishop Sr. had at least three others working for him—including a guy from California staying in a downtown hotel.
When they finished one petition, Bishop Jr. says, his father would pay them the $20 for the 20 signatures. Getting legit signatures became relatively smooth. “It was too easy just to fill out petitions and get a dollar.” Once, he says, he didn’t finish filling out the entire petition and his dad still gave him the $20.
Bishop Jr. says the campaign gave him another way to make money—cash its checks. His father would get large campaign-expenditure checks from Hemphill and then hand them over to his son to cash, letting him keep $60 for each bank trip. He says he made about $240 that way.
Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop started to feel pressure to get more and more signatures at the end of June. He still doesn’t understand why. “[The campaign] had enough signatures—we knew that,” he explains.
He says there were stacks of finished petitions in campaign headquarters. They were piled on a table next to the voter rolls, which were sectioned off alphabetically. He and his wife say that they checked over their own petitions and found only 15 percent of the signatures invalid—meaning the resident provided a wrong home address, or wasn’t a District resident or a registered Democrat. The rest, they say, were checked by campaign volunteers. Among them were dozens of sheets filled with obvious forgeries, petitions done in all the same handwriting. Crystal Bishop notes that Hemphill took at least a cursory glance at the petitions. Hemphill denies reviewing the petitions prior to submission.
Both Scott Bishop Jr. and Crystal Bishop say they don’t know how signatures were forged nor why bad petitions were turned in to the Board of Elections and Ethics. They also noted that some of “their” signatures were not theirs. Bishop Jr. thinks a few petitions with his name on them look as if they were signed by his father.
The urgency of the petition effort hit home at around 2 p.m. on July 3, the filing date for nominating petitions. Bishop Sr. found his son and daughter-in-law on their way home from the 17th Street Safeway.
“I’m glad I caught you,” he told his son. “We need you to sign petitions.” Hundreds of petitions had been filled out without the circulators’ signatures. They would have to sign as the circulators.
Bishop Sr. came to his son’s R Street apartment carrying stacks and stacks of unsigned petitions. All three sat at the kitchen table and signed away, according to Bishop Jr. “He didn’t say nothing,” Bishop Jr. says of his father. Just simple instructions: “We need these petitions so we can have enough.”
Bishop Jr. signed his name so many times, he says, that his hand started to hurt. “But I kept on going,” he says.
He adds that his political career is over. “I want to go and get a computer job,” Bishop Jr. says. “Buy a house, get a car, have children, stuff like that. Just everything.” He says he’s currently taking two courses at Strayer University.
On Saturday, Scott Bishop Jr. sleeps most of the day and then heads out for some cigarettes. On his way back home, he realizes he’s forgotten his keys. Crystal Bishop answers the door. She was released that morning from her crisis bed and took the bus home. (She says she’s a schizophrenic.)
“You’ll have to excuse the apartment,” she says to me. “I just got home and it’s a mess.” Dishes are piled in the sink, and a Pizza Hut box lies on the dining room table. Clothes are everywhere.
Scott Bishop Jr. tells his wife the bad news of the week: He has lost his security job.
“Do you still get paid for the work you did?” she asks. “I knew it was going to happen,” she says to me. “He got a serious problem, much more serious than mine.”
“No, it isn’t,” Bishop Jr. insists.
The couple doesn’t worry too much about the petitions. They say they don’t know who forged the signatures. They insist they were just legit petition-gatherers who ended up making more than $300 each.
The last stress-free time they remember was the day after they signed all those petitions. They celebrated July Fourth with their George Foreman sandwich maker, some R&B tunes on the radio, and some friends.
Since then, Bishop Jr. says, his father has told him to ignore all the “negativity” on the news and not to worry—they’re “in good hands.” “I just wish he be more careful,” Bishop Jr. says of his father. “I wish he watched what he was doing and do things the right way.” CP
The Nadir Campaign
In 1998, Tony Williams won with the help of a dream team of supporters. Where are they now?
By David Morton
Four years ago, there were no petition scandals. Kathleen Donner, a Ward 6 co-coordinator for Anthony Williams’ 1998 campaign, recalls circulating petitions at Eastern Market when drivers on Pennsylvania Avenue would suddenly park their cars and run across traffic just to sign. Back then, nearly everything about the campaign was charmed. By the midsummer of 1998, what had begun as a starry-eyed draft effort was already confident of victory.
Those involved in the 1998 campaign remember a once-in-a-lifetime magic-carpet ride with all sorts of people on board, people such as Max Brown and Peggy Armstrong, who came over from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO); David Howard, the restaurant manager who became volunteer coordinator; veteran activist Marie Drissel; and the political pros from Axelrod and Associates. But when the 2002 sequel crash-landed this week, none of them would be found in the wreckage—none were working on the 2002 campaign.
Some had gone to the private sector. Others were sitting at home. Yet others were in the administration and subject to Hatch Act restrictions. Nearly all refuse to speak on the record. In fact, about the only documentary evidence of the mayor’s political-personnel problem is a suit filed on June 25 in D.C. Superior Court.
Political consultant Tom Lindenfeld, formerly of Axelrod, is suing the mayor and his re-election campaign over a $75,000 unpaid bill. The suit speaks to the very ills that have dragged the mayor into the petition fiasco: scorn toward the professionals needed to run a real campaign.
Of the small group of people who were working on the hapless re-election effort, only campaign Co-Chairs Gwendolyn Hemphill and Max Berry and some key volunteers were veterans of the first go-round.
And now that everything’s a mess, supporters from 1998 are saying that their absence from the campaign wasn’t just a casual oversight. They were shut out. They would have gladly circulated petitions for the mayor, for instance, had anyone in the campaign bothered to ask; there was no need to buy signatures, and certainly no need to forge them.
Somehow, some supporters who weren’t contacted say they would still hit the streets for the mayor. Don Murray, who was Williams’ Ward 7 co-coordinator four years ago, didn’t really expect a call from the campaign this year, since the mayor’s operation was so well-funded. But: “Do I think they could have reached out more and involved more people from last time around? Yes,” Murray says. “Do I think that could be a weakness in the long run? Yes….What he needs his supporters to do now is spread the word that he’s a decent guy.”
Though the Williams devotees all have different reasons for falling off the bandwagon, they tend to agree on one thing: Tony’s forgotten who his real friends are. That’s reflected in whom he’s given top jobs to, who’s working on his re-election, and who isn’t. It also shows up in all the big-name donors who helped pad the re-election campaign with $1.4 million.
The first campaign “was about making this a better city, turning things around,” says activist Philip Pannell, formerly Williams’ Ward 8 campaign coordinator and now one of his most outspoken critics. “That was politics with a purpose. This is politics to get paid. That’s what happens when a campaign is awash with money. It’s complacent, detached. It’s a campaign without soul.”
The 1998 campaign began with a May meeting of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association in Southeast, at which then-CFO Williams was a speaker. Impressed members stopped him in the parking lot and asked him to run for mayor. He demurred.
But a draft campaign led by veteran Ward 1 activist Drissel started collecting petition signatures, mobilizing more than 150 volunteer circulators. Williams quit his job and started campaigning, and a crowd of staffers from the CFO’s office joined him to form one of the organizational nuclei of the campaign. With a loaded stable of volunteers and the help of professional political types such as Lindenfeld, Cheryl Benton, and former Marion Barry hand Warren Graves, who was hired after the primary, Williams skated to victory.
The new Williams administration was peppered with at least a dozen personnel from the campaign, including Brown, who became deputy chief of staff and legal counsel, and Armstrong, who was the mayor’s first communications director. Advance person Jacquelyn Flowers is director of the Office of Local Business Development. Campaign-budget guy Jim Wareck, close to the mayor from Williams’ New Haven days, became a special assistant. Most of those who hopped from the campaign to the administration are still there, with the notable exceptions of Brown, Wareck, and Graves.
Politicians frequently use shoo-in campaigns to promote an agenda for a coming term, and top office staffers often don’t hesitate to take leave from their jobs to lead the effort. But in 2002, no Williams administration officials took any leave for what was an afterthought campaign.
So the operation wound up in the hands of fundraiser extraordinaire Berry and Hemphill, an official of the teacher’s union. Both are unpaid. A couple of the ward campaign coordinators from 1998 are helping out. During the current crisis, Graves was briefly in the spotlight for trying—and failing—to make peace with petition challenger Dorothy Brizill on behalf of the mayor. And that’s it.
“I’m not sure what campaign there is to speak of,” one 1998 worker said last week. “You have a lot of volunteers that I’m hearing either haven’t been asked [to help], or have been shunned so much over the last three years that they haven’t volunteered.”
Some of the workers from 1998 “feel as if they were used and then discarded,” says another. “You don’t do that in politics.”
“I have not heard that,” says campaign spokesperson Ann Walker Marchant, a former Clintonite who has been on the job for only six weeks. “We would be more than happy to have those folks jump in and get involved.”
Rah-rah statements such as Walker Marchant’s bewilder Lindenfeld, a former director of elections for the Democratic National Committee. He says that his treatment by the mayor is either the result of absolute spite or a measure of negligence that amounts to the same thing. At the end of 1999, Lindenfeld says, the mayor hired him for a range of political activities that included speechwriting, strategy on the 2000 school-board initiative, and planning for the mayor’s re-election. Lindenfeld’s salary, $12,500 per month, was to be deferred until the first campaign dollars rolled in. His pay would be disbursed from the pot.
“There’s no doubt that I followed his direction and accomplished on his behalf what he hoped for,” says Lindenfeld. “I filed the papers creating his committee, which triggered his ability to raise money. I worked with him to raise the money that now exists in his account. Whenever he had call time and was making calls, I was in the room dialing the phone and handing it to him and telling him who he was talking to and what he should ask for.”
But after the mayor collected more than $800,000 in donations and pledges at a June 2000 gala fundraising kickoff headlined by Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, the re-election committee still didn’t compensate Lindenfeld. Why? He says he was never given a reason, but he refused to continue consulting for the mayor until he received his due.
The mayor and his aides repeatedly acknowledged the debt for his six months of work, says Lindenfeld. “He offered to settle and pay me, and then simply avoided doing it.” After two years of waiting for payment, the consultant ran out of patience and filed his complaint.
(Walker Marchant says she hadn’t heard about the Lindenfeld lawsuit against the mayor and the campaign until the Washington City Paper inquired about it last week.)
Dr. Abdusalam Omer, Williams’ chief of staff at the time, says that the relationship between Lindenfeld and the mayor was never formalized: “There was no agreement at the beginning of the process. There were later requests to formalize it. I reviewed it. In the end, there was no agreement.
“Having said that—he helped,” says Omer. “He ought to get something. How much I don’t know. I cannot quantify that.”
“He’s not suing this campaign; he doesn’t know who he’s suing,” answered the mayor when asked about the case during his citywide tour this weekend.
By Lindenfeld’s estimation, at least, it was after his departure in mid-2000 that things started falling apart. “It couldn’t be clearer to me that after I left, things atrophied, and there was a lack of a professional political operation that led to activities that are clearly illegal, inappropriate, and embarrassing,” he says.
The mayor has conceded that before now, he deliberately distanced himself from his own campaign. He was trying to create a “fire wall” between government and politics—he’d been burned before.
But in the mayor’s absence, no one was placed fully in charge of day-to-day operations. Only two weeks ago was a campaign manager appointed, and this was in the wake of the resignation of “senior campaign adviser” Charles Duncan. Duncan testified before the Board of Elections and Ethics that he answered to the co-chairs, Hemphill and Berry, on spending decisions.
Many sources say that Diane Simmons Williams, the mayor’s wife, who was treasurer of the first campaign, keeps the inner circle around the mayor tight and that she still makes important spending decisions. Some say she was stingy with campaign funds this time around so the mayor could set up a charitable organization with it after the election.
“I did look at the budget,” Simmons Williams replied when asked about her involvement. “Someone needed to protect my husband’s interests.”
Whatever the case, shunned Williams loyalists echo a refrain heard often over the past years—namely, that the mayor is somehow a victim of wrongheaded hangers-on. “[People] sought to consolidate their power and influence with him by keeping other people who wanted to help him away who would have diluted their power and influence,” says one source. CP
All Along the Watchtower
For two decades, Dorothy Brizill has been on the lookout for ethical lapses and other D.C. government shenanigans.
By Elissa Silverman
Don’t take it personally, Mayor Williams.
You’re probably thinking back to the honeymoon, back four years ago or so, when you were the detail-oriented, Kennedy School of Government-trained management guru that Dorothy Brizill only dreamed about seeing in office here. You romanced her with sweet words like “competence” and “efficiency” and “transparency in government.” You shared the same basic ambition: “Just to dial the phone number of a city office and reach a body on the other end of the line, that’s the most anyone is asking for,” Brizill told the Washington Post in August 1993.
You invented 727-1000.
You assumed that the two of you would be good-government soul mates—but Brizill doesn’t fall head over heels for just any goo-goo reformer.
Brizill’s a stickler—and your sugar turned out not so pure.
As executive director of D.C. Watch, an Internet-based insider’s guide to District government, Brizill serves as D.C.’s shadow inspector general. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the bureaucracy—and determined quest for documents through the Freedom of Information Act—makes her an invaluable source for reporters, whose scoops often come from Brizill’s dogged research.
The point of it all is something that Brizill invented in D.C.—”gotcha” activism. If she can tip off a reporter on the misdeeds of a public official, she’s done her job. If she can file an elections complaint on her own behalf, so much the better. In that very fashion, Brizill has turned into the Williams administration’s most recognizable foe.
Brizill has felled other pseudo-reformers, remember. Former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, that self-proclaimed enemy of corruption, tried to ally with Brizill in her early days. The Kelly administration offered the city’s premier watchdog a job as the mayor’s ethics ombudsman, but Brizill cut off talks after four months of negotiations. In the end, she concluded, the Kelly administration wasn’t serious about dedicating the necessary resources and staff to make the position meaningful.
“Under these conditions, I believe that your plan is intended to create an ombudsman’s office that is guaranteed to fail,” Brizill finally wrote to Kelly staffer David E. Byrd.
It would have been worth hiring an extra staffer and the purchase of a new computer or two. By the end of Kelly’s term, Brizill had exposed two major Kelly-administration no-nos. One Brizill complaint resulted in an investigation into whether the mayor had improperly deployed staff to help with her re-election fundraising. And Brizill’s unmasking of a Kelly campaign contribution from the Saudi Arabian Embassy got the attention of the Federal Election Commission.
Brizill also went through a courting ritual with the Williams administration. The activist pressed candidate Williams on various good-government initiatives, and her familiarity with the bureaucracy’s dysfunction convinced Williams aides that she’d serve the city well with a government salary. Talks broke down, however, before Williams took office.
Brizill didn’t start out dreaming about breakdowns in municipal government. The 55-year-old Queens, N.Y., native has a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and served as a special assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher during the Carter administration.
As a resident of Columbia Heights, though, Brizill started putting her research energies into unearthing the owners of abandoned properties in her neighborhood. In many cases, the owner was the same: the D.C. government. As head of the Columbia Heights Neighborhood Coalition, Brizill broadened her focus to ward and citywide issues. In 1994, the Washington Post endorsed Brizill for the Ward 1 D.C. Council seat over incumbent Frank Smith. She lost.
Brizill focuses much of her unpaid oversight energy on the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics, which includes the city’s Office of Campaign Finance. She’s always been a watcher of petition signatures no matter the office or candidate. Over the years, she has lodged many complaints about top-government officials, including former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., Kelly, and now Williams.
She’s a reliable guest at many of the mayor’s events, including his weekly press conferences. Brizill usually sits in the front row, right near the podium, armed with her yellow legal pad and digital camera. Brizill was also in attendance at the mayor’s school-board-referendum kickoff in June 2000. She spotted many members of the mayor’s staff and reported that fact to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The board reprimanded Williams for the violation.
In the investigation of Williams’ use of nonprofits, Brizill turned into the inspector general of the inspector general, following Charles C. Maddox home to Prince George’s County and tracing his jogging routes to challenge his residency in the city—a requirement for the office. Maddox survived her assault.
But even including the lapses she exposed during years of Barry and Kelly and Barry again, Brizill made her biggest catch last week, when her challenge to Williams nominating petitions convinced the Board of Elections and Ethics to keep him off the ballot. With characteristic diligence, Brizill and husband Gary Imhoff had gone over more than 10,000 signatures line by line, citing various elections-law infractions detailed in the D.C. municipal regulations.
Brizill put her head down and cried after board Chair Benjamin F. Wilson announced the stunning decision. CP
If you thought it was easy to mess up nominating petitions, just try a write-in campaign.
By Chris Shott
Campaigning as a write-in is traditionally a political last resort. When Beverly O’Neill, two-term mayor of Long Beach, Calif., went for a third term this past June, term-limit laws prevented her name from appearing on the ballot. Her supporters persuaded voters to write in her name anyway, and she won, nabbing 46 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, fighting his banishment from the ballots in this fall’s Democratic primary, has announced that he’ll adopt a similar strategy as a fallback if his challenge to the Board of Elections and Ethics’ ruling fails. What does it take to make a write-in bid work?
“It’s a rough road to travel,” says the Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr., whose last-ditch effort to win re-election to the D.C. Council as a write-in candidate in 1984 fell short.
Even when voters try to write in a candidate, they often don’t do it correctly, rendering their votes invalid. That’s why write-in strategists make it their top priority to educate the electorate in the hope of avoiding voter error.
In Long Beach, O’Neill’s supporters went to great lengths to explain to voters the right way to write in.
“We tried to have a couple people at every polling place all throughout Election Day,” says Parke Skelton, president of Los Angeles-based SG&A Campaigns and chief consultant to O’Neill’s re-election bid.
In California, campaigners are prohibited from standing within 100 feet of the entrance to any polling place, so O’Neill’s strategists gave each campaigner a 105-foot piece of yarn to measure out the legal distance. Standing at the end of that line, they passed out instructions, which voters could take in with them. (District law sets the legal distance at 50 feet.)
“That’s the only way you can ensure that everyone who wants to write in at least has the opportunity to figure out how to do it,” Skelton says.
Despite those efforts, some voters still screwed up. In Long Beach, the election board recently replaced its traditional punch-card ballots with a modern optical-scan system, in the wake of the 2000 presidential-election hanging-chad debacle. On the new ballots, voters had to not only pencil in O’Neill’s name but also shade in an oval next to the space where the write-in vote went. Otherwise, their votes didn’t count. Many attempts were botched.
Says Skelton: “We lost probably three [hundred] to four hundred votes because people wrote in the name but didn’t fill in the circle. Or filled in the wrong circle. Or wrote the name in the wrong place on the ballot.”
Others failed to write in the right name. Ballot counters in California are given broad discretion to give voters the benefit of the doubt, but there’s a limit to their leniency. “If it’s clear what the intent was, we got the vote,” Skelton says. “We got Betty O’Neills. We got every possible spelling of O’Neill. We did not get Tatum O’Neal.”
In the end, those few hundred bungled votes didn’t matter. O’Neill still won by a margin of 3,962 votes. In a closer race, however, that many mistakes could prove costly.
Mayor Williams would enjoy many of the same advantages in his write-in bid that O’Neill did.
“You need to have a couple of things going for you,” Skelton says. For starters, he says, it helps if voters already know your name, because campaigners must spend most of their time informing voters how to write in—not telling them who you are. Williams, like O’Neill, has the crucial name recognition that comes with being the incumbent.
Another condition that’s favorable to Williams’ chances is the relatively low profile of the upcoming election.
O’Neill’s write-in bid took place during a municipal election that wasn’t tied to any high-turnout state or national races. Under those circumstances, the few voters who showed up were those who tended to follow municipal politics most closely, Skelton says. “It’s really hard to win a write-in if you’re in a down-ballot race in a high-turnout election,” he explains. “It helps to be the top of the ticket—the marquee race in a low-turnout election.”
On D.C. ballots this fall, the mayoral race will appear second, directly under the vote for District delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the delegate’s lack of voting power, however, the mayor’s race will be the higher-profile contest.
Williams’ write-in bid would face a similar challenge to O’Neill’s in terms of potential voter error. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics requires voters to both “write the name of your candidate in the blank space provided in the contest and punch that voting position,” according to write-in instructions posted on the agency’s Web site.
Still, voter error wasn’t the toughest obstacle to O’Neill’s re-election, and it wouldn’t be in Williams’, either.
Polls showed that even many of O’Neill’s past supporters didn’t intend to vote for her for a third term. “They felt her running was in violation of the term-limit law,” Skelton says. “That cost us a lot more votes than running as a write-in.”
Williams would likely face a similar hurdle, given the fiasco over the authenticity of signatures on his nominating petitions.
“A lot of people resent the petition issue, and they translate that into dishonesty,” says Moore. “This is going to be a powerful weapon in the hands of any opponent.”
Moore would know. Controversy cost him his seat on the D.C. Council 18 years ago, he says. Moore was a well-known, 10-year council veteran, but he lost in the primary after his participation in divisive civil-rights protests in front of area liquor stores galvanized his opponents. He tried to recoup in the general election, sending campaigners to stand outside polling places and pass out fliers explaining the write-in process. It wasn’t enough.
“For his sake,” Moore says of Williams, “I hope it won’t happen to him.” CP
Definitely More Voters
The DMV inspection station: An incumbent’s nightmare, a candidate’s dream
By Joe Dempsey
Common sense holds that delivering shoddy services to your constituents impairs your mayoral re-election campaign. For petition-challenged Mayor Anthony A. Williams, however, a little dysfunction could have gone a long way. Among the Williams administration’s many failings is an inefficient Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which could have become a much-needed ally in a quest for petition signatures. If the mayor’s campaign honchos had wanted to run an efficient petition process, they might have considered preying on the long lines at the DMV inspection station on Half Street SW.
The inspection station solves the petition circulator’s most intractable problems:
* Repeat customers. D.C. residents visit the inspection stations only once every two years—a built-in guard against signature duplication. At the local Safeway, you’re bound to hit the same crowd each weekend.
* D.C. residents. Metro stations, bus stops, shopping centers—wherever you go in D.C., you stand a great chance of running into suburbanites. They don’t help petition drives.
* Distractions. Try getting a signature from a hurried D.C. salaryman on the street. You’ll get every brushoff in the book. Then try approaching a bored motorist waiting in line for inspection. After signing up, he’ll be showing you pictures of his kids.
According to the DMV, the vehicle-inspection station at 1001 Half St. SW processed an average of 816 cars per day in May, or 68 per hour on weekdays. From October 2001 through May 2002, roughly 17,000 vehicles per month came there hoping to pass inspection.
Granted, not everyone in line is a D.C. resident—some city cabdrivers, for example, live in Maryland or Virginia. Moreover, not all D.C. drivers have taken the time to register to vote. Still, an informal Washington City Paper poll conducted on a rainy Friday morning found that 14 of 20 drivers coming to the facility—some 70 percent—were registered voters.
At that rate, in peak times like May, a well-drilled staff of campaign volunteers dispatched to cover the facility could have reached the coveted mayoral 2,000-signature benchmark in just over 42 hours (42 hours, one minute, and one-half second, to be a little more precise). The center is open 12 hours a day on weekdays, so if Williams campaign workers had hit the streets around the facility at 6 a.m. on a Monday, they would have (under ideal conditions) reached the two-grand mark just after 12:01 p.m. on Thursday.
At least one Williams signature-gatherer drew from the DMV well. After learning that D.C. residents formed long lines at the city’s sole inspection site, the Rev. Carlton N. Pressley says, he spent two days in June collecting petition signatures near the facility.
Pressley, who serves as the mayor’s senior adviser for religious affairs but collected signatures as a volunteer, says that the venue offers a captive audience. At the inspection station, you be rest assured, they ain’t going anywhere, he says.
“I guess I regret I didn’t even share that with the campaign,” Pressley says of his strategy. “I truly regret it.”
Candidates with even less political experience than Williams have already caught on. Tony Dominguez is seeking to get on the ballot as an independent for this fall’s at-large D.C. Council race. That goal requires 3,000 signatures, although Dominguez wants to get 4,500, just to be safe. Toward that end, he has become a fixture on the stretch of Half Street SW where cars line up to enter the DMV.
On one outing, Dominguez wears a shirt and tie and carries two petition clipboards. He says he’s been out there most days over the past two weeks—enough exposure to assist with some inspection-station inquiries. He points puzzled drivers in the right direction as they pull up and does what he can to answer drivers’ DMV questions.
He tells seniors about the special lanes the station sets aside for drivers aged 60 and older. He knows that on Code Red heat-advisory days, the station shuts down for a few hours. He recognizes a woman who’s there several times most days, paid to drive taxicabs to inspections.
As he stands beside a driver-side window in a short line of cars extending down Half Street, the woman inside tries to hand him some documents. “No, I don’t work here,” he says with a slight laugh.
Patrons he’s helped sometimes track him down later, Dominguez says, seeking his petition with the words, “Sir, let me sign it.” CP
No News Is Good News
Viewers who tuned in to Channel 16 last week for the latest on the petition scandal came away disappointed. On Thursday morning, for instance, the civic programming included tape of the mayor’s friendly, balloon-backdrop chat with the residents of Robert L. Walker House, an independent-living apartment building for senior citizens. Channel 13, meanwhile, showed a D.C. Council hearing from June 13 on police video surveillance. So how hard is it to broadcast from the Board of Elections and Ethics hearing room? Impossible, according to the city’s Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications (OCTT), which operates the government-access channels. “Unless it’s physically held in city-council chambers, we can’t cover it live,” says OCTT attorney Donald Fishman. The board’s headquarters at Judiciary Square, where the hearings have been held, simply lacks the fiber links necessary to do live feeds. Fishman admits that there’s nothing to prevent OCTT camera crews from taping the proceedings and airing them afterward, which they have not done. No surprise there: Why would an agency under the mayor’s control go out of its way to film such an embarrassing spectacle? The respective beats of the cable channels offer a different excuse. Channel 13 airs council meetings exclusively, whether the panel is in session or not. Other agencies and commissions, such as the elections board, are videotaped for Channel 16 only upon their request. “We’re not a news channel,” Fishman says. —Chris Shott
Why forging thousands of signatures is a job for hacks
By Annys Shin
After probing investigations by the local media and the Board of Elections and Ethics, one question in the petition fiasco remains unanswered: Just what were the petition circulators thinking?
On some petition sheets, all the names are written in identical handwriting styles. On others, the fraudulent circulator appears to have made a half-assed attempt to vary a few of the entries. Taken together, these blunders indicate that the petition effort is transparently the handiwork of hurried hacks.
Serious forgers use computers. They don’t bother trying to mimic every loop and curve of a signature, says Detective Vincent Tucci. A four-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit, Tucci has seen practically every variety of John Hancock posing out there: bad checks, falsified time sheets, charge slips for stolen credit cards.
Expert forgers such as Mark Hoffman, who fooled experts several years ago with his handwritten rendition of an Emily Dickinson poem, are still “somewhat in demand,” says Tucci. But for the most part, technology has taken much of the art out of forgery. These days, everyone from sophisticated Nigeria-based counterfeiting rings to your neighborhood dope dealer can produce convincing copy, says Tucci. All a would-be forger needs is a signature or a copy of one, a scanner, and a top-of-the-line bubble-jet printer.
Tucci admits, though, that computers would not have helped the mayor’s fraudulent petition circulators. The sheer number of forgeries requires an expert “old-fashioned forger into old-school pen-and-ink” or a team of really bad wannabes.
The forgeries on the petitions bring to mind the work of small-time forgers. “Like a crackhead who found a check either after a burglary or who participated in one,” says Tucci, “they try to buy groceries at Safeway or cash it. They’re easily caught.”
“Very few people try and write out the name. Most of the time, they’re not trying to disguise it well,” adds the detective. “It’s a sloppy, chicken-scratch type of thing.”
But proving that someone committed forgery just by examining his handwriting isn’t so easy. Forged signatures are as idiosyncratic as genuine ones; they vary with each iteration. Authorities know that if they sit a forger down and ask him to reproduce his forgery, the result isn’t going to perfectly match his previous samples, says Tucci. And even when handwriting experts are brought in, they often can’t make a definitive determination.
“It’s hard to rely solely on handwriting-expert testimony, because it’s an imprecise art,” says Randall Eliason, former chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Public Corruption Government Fraud section, who now teaches a course on white-collar crime at George Washington University. “There’s a joke among prosecutors that if you send off something to a handwriting expert, it comes back ‘inconclusive.’” The clincher in forgery cases, says Eliason, is often the same as in other criminal cases: eyewitness testimony.
Forgers in D.C. can get some serious time if the forged document is “[a] public record, or instrument filed in a public office or with a public servant,” or “[a] written instrument officially issued or created by a public office, public servant, or government instrumentality.” Violators can face up to a $10,000 fine or up to 10 years in the clink, or both.
Of course, the mayor isn’t likely to be trading in his bow tie for an orange jumpsuit. As far as we know, he didn’t forge any signatures or falsely sign as a petition circulator. Eliason notes that the details of the current signature snafu don’t fit those of a typical forgery case. Nominating petitions rarely do.
Five years ago, Eliason prosecuted former Ward 8 Councilmember Eydie Whittington for petition irregularities. Whittington’s undoing was a May 1996 stop at Knox Village, a retirement home in Southeast. During the visit, Derek Gadsden, one of Whittington’s aides, collected signatures from residents to place Whittington on the Democratic primary ballot. Whittington vouched for the autographs, signing the petition as its circulator.
Several of the residents later denied signing the petition. A D.C. Superior Court judge convicted Whittington of one misdemeanor count of making a false statement. In January 1998, she was sentenced to six months of supervised probation and 120 hours of community service. By then, she had already lost her council seat to Sandy Allen.
The major difference between Whittington’s situation and Williams’ may be one of degree. The total number of Whittington’s contested endorsements? 10. CP
On Page 173 of the mayor’s nominating petitions is the signature of an unlikely Williams supporter: United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. There are at least three reasons why the signature is a sham: “He’s Ghanaian, he is not a resident of D.C., and he doesn’t vote in New York City, either,” says U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq. “I can’t imagine that any signature that were to turn up on such a document could be valid.” On June 23, the date that Annan supposedly lent his support to the mayor by signing one of the petitions, he was in New York, having just returned from a weekend speaking engagement in Chicago. The petition lists Annan’s address as 1410 Gainville Road SE, but Haq is unaware that Annan owns any property in town. “He lives on Sutton Place in Manhattan,” Haq says, adding that U.N. employees are barred from commenting on local politics and suspects that Annan has never met Mayor Williams. “He could have, but I’m not aware that he has met him. Normally he is in Washington to meet with officials at the White House or Congress.”
Melodie Walker, 29, says she was vacationing in Antigua on the date that she supposedly signed one of the mayor’s nominating petitions. “I was out of town, but it doesn’t surprise me,” the Columbia Heights resident says, adding that Mayor Williams still has her support. “I would’ve voted for him anyway—I still would. He’s at fault only because he wasn’t watching what was going on more carefully.”
“I don’t know how they got my name—I never signed any paper,” says Bettina Foggiano, 69, who has lived in the West End since 1967. But she is a citizen of Switzerland. “Now you have evidence!”
“My name is on it? I have no recollection of signing anything,” says Richard Tucker, 64, of Kalorama. “I’ve been out of town, so I haven’t read much about it, but it sounds like a mess,” he says. “I could have suffered some sort of monumental lapse in memory, but I’m fairly certain that I didn’t sign anything.”
Martha Beverly’s name appears on the petition, but it’s highly unlikely that she signed it herself. “Martha Beverly has been dead for more than 10 years,” says Geraldine Barrows, a home attendant who now cares for Beverly’s sister in the Northwest home that the sisters once shared. “I don’t see how she could’ve signed it.”