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Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ supporters have been watching too many episodes of The Sopranos. According to sources, the wannabe muscle men attached to the Williams re-election machine have tried mightily to snuff out the candidacy of Willie Flowers, who is opposing Ward 4 Democratic Committee Chair Norman Neverson. Neverson is the bullhorn of the local party best known for his loud and enthusiastic bellowing of candidates’ names at political rallies. (Who could forget his inimitable “John Ray!” chant?)
At first glance, the elections for officers of various obscure Democratic ward organizations might seem insignificant. But when viewed through the lens of the 1998 mayoral campaign, they acquire a new importance. That was the year when the Ward 8 Democrats denied Mayor-in-Wanting Kevin Chavous their endorsement. Chavous had been anointed the odds-on mayoral favorite among the three D.C. councilmembers who were candidates along with Williams, who was then the city’s chief financial officer and a political rookie.
But as a result of stellar organizing by the CFO’s Ward 8 coordinator, Philip Pannell, Williams tied Chavous in the first round of endorsement voting. In the second round, Chavous still couldn’t muster the 60 percent support that was needed to clinch the nodand the pocket change that came with it. Williams’ ability to block Chavous in his own back yard surprised many pundits, providing the CFO with an early victory and important credibility. Understanding how critical that Democratic ward group support was the last time around, Williams and his team are now attempting to lock up the officers in Wards 2, 4, 5, and 6.
Initially, the attempts of the Williams camp to squash Flowers’ budding campaign for Ward 4 chair seemed like a joke. Then the calls got more specific, targeting family members of Flowers’ supporters. (Talk about “We know where you live” tactics.) Sources say Neverson even called the son of now-deceased operative Richard Smith, arguing that to support Flowers would be to go against the elder Smith’s wishes. LL doesn’t know what Neverson has to say about any of this; he didn’t return several calls.
The drama escalated a week ago, when Flowers was explicitly asked to get out of the race. According to sources who spoke with LL on condition of anonymity, former Ward 7 Councilmember H.R. Crawford called Flowers following a strategy meeting with Williams campaign operatives. Reportedly, Flowers was roundly trashed at the meeting as participants discussed the best method for ensuring his defeat.
Crawford called Flowers, according to one source, and “asked Willie what did he wantwhat would it take to make him go away?”
Flowers declines to discuss the details of his conversation with Crawford. He does say, however, that members of his “People First” slate, which includes Diane Miller, Dwayne Revis, Gerri Simmons, Richard Smith II, Gayle Davis, and Dwayne Houston, have received “calls from different individuals designed to get [the candidates] to drop out of the race.”
“But we are pushing forward,” adds Flowers, “because we have the right message and the right vision for Ward 4.”
Crawford is a little more forthcoming about his conversation. He says he merely called to ask, “‘Willie, what are you doing and why? And what is your objective?’
“I like Willie, and, at some point, I think he should run for an elected office,” continues Crawford, who doesn’t seem to know that Flowers was recently elected to a second term as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 4.
“This move [running for Ward 4 Democratic chair], I don’t understand it. Why do it? [Being chair] and $2 can get you a Michelob,” Crawford adds.
Sources say the mayor and his people are not concerned about a potential Flowers victory because Williams is a particularly strong supporter of Neverson. After all, Neverson lost ground with the mayor when he thrice stepped out on the wrong side of important issues: Neverson did not support the push for the newly constituted school board; he campaigned for the Rev. Robert Childs and not the mayor’s choice, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, for school board president; and in last year’s Ward 4 council elections, Neverson supported Adrian Fenty, rather than the mayor’s candidate, Charlene Drew Jarvis.
What seems to have pushed the mayor into Neverson’s camp is that Flowers is being supported by Barbara Lett Simmons, who has launched an effort to draft former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater as a mayoral candidate in 2002. Williams’ troops fear that should Flowers win, it would give Simmons a stronger foothold in the Democratic organization in a ward that will be key to the mayor’s re-election.
But Ward 4 isn’t the only place the mayor needs to watch. Charles White is mounting an impressive campaign in Ward 6 for president of that area’s Democratic organization, heading a slate that includes four other Williams foes. The slate’s supporters include individuals like Larry Gray, who fought the mayor’s school-reform efforts and ran against Cafritz for school board president.
“These are the folks who are anti-everything,” says one Ward 6 source.
“They put you in office, give you one year, and then they are ready to kick you out.”
In 1998, White so disliked Williams that he supported Republican At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz for mayor instead. That move cost White his leadership position in the party organization. Sources say Williams hopes to counter White with newcomer Michael Patterson, who is described as an “unabashed” mayoral supporter. Patterson, according to his campaign literature, was appointed to the District’s Board of Appeals and Review by Williams, and in the past year he served as interim treasurer of the Ward 6 Democratic organization.
Patterson says he’s encountered some antagonism in recent weeks over his challenge to White, but mostly, he says, that resistance has to do with his new-kid-on-the-block status. “Some people think I haven’t paid my dues,” Patterson says. “But I was in school and, before that, I was in the Army. I have always had an interest in politics.” He insists that his run was not instigated or influenced by anyone in the mayor’s camp. “Serving as interim treasurer has put the bug in me,” he says.
Bug or not, Ward 6 sources consider Patterson a long shot. They predict that when the organization holds its meeting June 2, White will walk away with the presidency.
Crawford, meanwhile, dismisses all contentions that Williams is worried about a challenge from Slater or the shenanigans within the Democratic ward organizations. He says the mayor isn’t in jeopardy. “He would have to make a major blunder, and that’s not gonna happen.” Jonetta Rose Barras
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