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Four years ago, Anthony A. Williams supporter Marie Drissel masterminded the petition effort to put the city’s chief financial officer (CFO) on the ballot for mayor. Candidates for citywide office need to assemble 2,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. In this world of deep-pocketed campaigns, some pay mercenaries to boost signature totals in an effort to ward off petition challenges from opponents.
Drissel, however, argued that paid petitioning opened up the campaign to costly mistakes, errors, and omissions that might keep Williams from getting on the ballot. Paying circulators a per-head fee would offer them an incentive to record as many signatures as possible, by any means necessary—and would betray the Williams campaign’s grass-roots image. In the end, Drissel’s all-volunteer effort by 150 circulators netted more than 9,000 signatures.
The Re-Elect Williams for Mayor campaign took a distinctly different approach to the petition process this year, spending upward of $6,000 on petition-gathering. The campaign delivered 512 pages of nominating petitions to the Board of Elections and Ethics on July 3, totaling nearly 10,000 signatures—an impressive showing of support for the incumbent.
As local politicos flipped through the mayor’s pages Saturday, they began noticing a pattern: On the sheet marked 36 of 160, for example, all the capital A’s had the same gap between the top and bottom, which made them look more like cursive C’s. The Y’s sported a similar droopy loop that made them resemble J’s, and the R’s all had a distinctive upper-case typewritten style instead of the familiar hump most of us learned in elementary school.
The whispers in the office grew louder: Many of the signatures on the petitions looked the same. D.C.’s Republican Party announced on Tuesday that it will officially challenge the shaky signatures.
One of the names that may well surface in the Republican challenge belongs to David Gates, who lives on 4th Street SW. His name appears as No. 16 of 20 petition signers on Page 36. LL called Gates on Monday to confirm that he had signed the Williams petition on July 1, as noted on the page. “That’s impossible. I wasn’t in the country,” remarked Gates, whose printed name and address, as well as his signature, appear on a petition circulated by Scott Bishop Jr. “I was still in Poland at the time.”
When LL called Adams Morgan resident Anthony Cook, he remembered signing petitions for Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and challengers Dee Hunter and Hector Rodriguez at the Mount Pleasant festival in June. LL informed Cook that he had apparently signed a Williams petition on Tuesday, July 2. “Is it signed Anthony P. Cook?” he asked LL. “I sign all my documents with my middle initial.”
No middle initial appears in the signature.
The writing patterns weren’t the only similarity: 344 of the 512 pages had been circulated by the Bishop clan—Scott Bishop Sr., his son, Scott Bishop Jr., and Scott Bishop Jr.’s wife, Crystal Bishop. Scott Bishop Sr., who is currently on a leave of absence from the city’s Emergency Management Agency to work for Williams’ re-election bid, paid his son and daughter-in-law $1 per signature.
“We are not happy that we put faith and trust in people, and they got allegedly fraudulent signatures,” says Gwendolyn Hemphill, co-chair of the mayor’s re-election effort. “There was no reason for that to be done.”
The elder Bishop is a veteran of Williams’ successful mayoral bid in 1998 and a longtime fixture on the local political circuit. “I’ve known Scott for 25 years or more,” says D.C. Democratic State Committee Chair Norman C. Neverson. “Scott Bishop and I were part of the John Ray family in the 1980s.” Bishop moved on to work for other family members, including former Ray staffer and Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose.
“Scott has been a real loyal, true friend of ours,” says Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. Bishop and his son worked on Evans’ bid for mayor in 1998. After that failed venture, they both jumped ship for the Williams camp. All Bishops were unavailable for comment.
Whatever the outcome of the Republican petition challenge, the obvious mistakes in the nominating sheets constitute yet another reminder that Williams left his vaunted managerial acumen back in the CFO’s office. There was a time when goofs like this one were written off as political naivete. After he resigned as the city’s Chief Financial Officer to run for mayor, for example, Williams served as a consultant to NationsBank and Arthur Andersen. He failed to report the contracts during the campaign.
Williams received two other rebukes for campaign-finance violations, including a 514-page report from D.C. Inspector General Charles C. Maddox on his fundraising practices.
Maddox’s findings portrayed a mayor who had lost touch with the workings of his administration. After receiving dictates from Williams, eager underlings did whatever was necessary to raise money for all kinds of civic projects. In doing so, Maddox alleged, the aides pushed ethical boundaries.
The profile of a detached and clueless chief executive again surfaces in the emerging petition mess. The mayor has entrusted campaign management to a faithful circle of advisers headed by campaign Co-Chairs Hemphill and Max Berry. That bureaucratic layer will allow Williams to distance himself from the nitty-gritty of the petition fiasco; the formerly hands-on manager has used such a dodge too frequently in his
four years atop the D.C. government.
With no big-name challengers in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, Williams is virtually assured of re-election in this predominantly Democratic city. In fact, the only thing that can sink him is—well, failure to get on the ballot.
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
With the heat index estimated at 110 degrees, LL settled into a shady viewing area for the 36th annual July 4th Palisades Parade, a couple of blocks from the procession’s starting point, at the juncture of MacArthur Boulevard NW and Whitehaven Parkway. That’s where uniformed Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. GG Neill helpfully passed out paper fans to overheated passers-by.
Neill, who also serves as chair of D.C.’s Fraternal Order of Police, wasn’t doing outreach as Officer Friendly; he was on detail as a political operative for Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who has received the endorsement of his organization. Adorned with an American flag, the paper-and-wood fans Neill distributed read, “I’m a Kathy fan…Happy July 4th….www.reelectkathy.org.”
Neill’s chilling effect grabbed the attention of a hot-under-the-collar Erik Gaull, who is challenging Patterson for the Ward 3 seat in this September’s Democratic primary. Gaull insisted that politicking in police uniform violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from campaigning while on the clock. Neill says that he stopped by the Palisades parade on his lunch break, landed in front of boxes of Patterson fans, and innocently started handing them out to kids eager for some homemade air conditioning. “Gaull came up to me and said, ‘You shouldn’t be doing that,’” Neill told LL on Monday. “And I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’
“I didn’t think about it,” Neill added. “It was an error in my judgment….I really just wanted the kids to have fans.” A few moments later, Patterson and her entourage grabbed the fans and headed down MacArthur Boulevard in a historic red fire engine courtesy of another union, D.C. Firefighters Association Local 36, which has also given Patterson its stamp of approval.
Patterson operatives suggest that Gaull, who serves as a police reserve officer as well as Palisades Citizens Association president, isn’t always a stickler for the rules. “I find it a little hypocritical of Erik to complain [about Neill] when he had already planned to set up a table at the Palisades Rec Center to pass out his campaign literature—in violation of city law,” responds Patterson Chief of Staff Penny Pagano. Pagano says that Palisades Citizens Association First Vice President Patrick Shaughness’ announced at the post-parade picnic that candidates were prohibited from distributing campaign literature at the city rec center.
LL always thought the First Amendment permitted free speech on public grounds.
* In his Sisyphean campaign to unseat Williams, the Rev. Douglas E. Moore hopes to tap constituencies at odds with the mayor’s agenda. On Monday, Moore held a forum for D.C. taxicab drivers, most of whom oppose the mayor’s effort to introduce meters and medallions into the industry. Moore’s hacker strategy has two flaws: A majority of D.C. cabbies do not live in the District, and many of those who do are not U.S. citizens and therefore are ineligible to vote. No surprise, then, that only five drivers showed up at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library auditorium to confab with the candidate.
Moore did manage to differentiate himself from Williams on many issues, including police and public safety: “My grandfather never had police brutality, because he had a shotgun and a pistol,” he informed the intimate crowd at one point in the afternoon.
* D.C. Democratic State Committee meetings often devolve into comedy skits, with Neverson playing the lead role. Neverson’s act has caught the eye of local talent scouts: Neverson and family star in a local television advertisement for Mortgage Store USA, an area lender. In the 30-second spot, Neverson brags about the primo refinancing he received on his Sudbury Place NW house. The ad identifies Neverson as chair of D.C.’s Democratic party.
“The commercial came about because people who know Norm Neverson and listen to Norm Neverson were endeared to the way Norm Neverson conveys an idea, and they wanted someone who could convey an idea about home refinancing to the marketplace,” Neverson explains.
* The Democratic State Committee created ex-officio slots to encourage diversity within the political organization. But ballots for the July 11 vote on ex-officio members lack the names of familiar leaders from the city’s gay and Latino communities.
In one case, Ward 8 Democrat Philip Pannell successfully challenged the nominating petitions of Kurt Vorndran, who is president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. In May, the primarily gay and lesbian Stein Club failed to endorse Pannell, who is gay and an active member of the club, for chair of the state committee.
Vorndran decided not to appeal the decision to remove his name from the ballot. “I don’t think an internal fight within our community benefits anyone,” he says.
A challenge by Matthew Marcou knocked prominent Ward 1 Latino activist Rodriguez off the ex-officio ballot—a move that appears to stem from ward political rivalries. Rodriguez, who is currently the only Latino state-committee member, announced that he would challenge Ward 1 Councilmember Graham in this year’s Democratic primary. Marcou, meanwhile, is a former Graham staffer.
Marcou denies that his prior work for Graham had any bearing on his challenge, saying he took the action because “I understand that you need 10 valid signatures in each ward, and Rodriguez didn’t have them.” Marcou told LL that he was interested in the ex-officio balloting “because I am Democrat.” CP
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