Qualifying as a candidate for the District’s advisory neighborhood commissions (ANC) is a pretty simple job. You need to be a registered voter, maintain a residence in the neighborhood you represent, and circulate a candidacy petition. “You only need 25 signatures,” says former Chevy Chase ANC Commissioner Lizzy O’Hara. “You can go around the block on a Sunday afternoon and get them. It’s not that difficult.”
But it must not have appeared like a cakewalk to University Heights ANC Commissioner Catherine Hammonds, who has been accused of forging signatures on her nominating petition. While ANC petition forgery doesn’t quite compare to scandals like the Hitler diaries or JFK letters, it turns a lot of heads downtown. Ken McGhie, general counsel for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, reviewed the complaint on April 1 and forwarded it to the board for action.
Last year, charges of petition forgery against former Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Eydie Whittington ended in a misdemeanor conviction and probation. “It is a serious criminal charge,” says McGhie. Before the allegations can be passed on to the U.S. Attorney’s office, however, the three-member board must review the case and call in Hammonds to testify at a hearing.
Washington City Paper asked local handwriting expert Katherine Koppenhaver to review the petition. She initially suggested that Hammonds’ petition resulted from what forgery specialists dub a “kitchen party,” in which “a few people sit around signing [the petitions].” But “the more I studied the documents, the more I realized that they were done by one person,” suggests Koppenhaver, who works at Forensic Document Examiners in Joppa, Md. Koppenhaver believes that at least 24 of the 25 John Hancocks were the work of one person, whose notarized signature appears at the bottom of the form: Hammonds. “It was not difficult to determine that the signatures were not genuine,” she says.
An activist familiar with the case jokes, “People in Catherine Hammonds’ district apparently like her so much they’ve even adopted her handwriting.”