City Paper is not for tourists
Ed Hanlon is on the verge of back-to-back victories.
Last month, Hanlon notched a win in one of his latest battles against advisory neighborhood commissioners on his own ANC, 2B, which covers part of Dupont Circle. The scrap stems from Hanlon’s efforts to get his hands on emails between commissioners Randy Downs and Daniel Warwick, both of whom served as the ANC’s liaisons with the D.C. Department of Transportation regarding the hotly contested 17th Street bike lane.
ANC 2B passed a resolution during its July 8 meeting approving DDOT’s plans for the bike lane, which has been in the works since at least 2017. Hanlon, who was the lone dissenting vote, appears to have been caught off guard that the project was moving forward and ahead of the meeting demanded access to emails between his fellow commissioners and DDOT. For good measure, Hanlon clarified that he was seeking correspondences that occurred over government and personal email accounts, those sent by snail mail, and messages sent over Snapchat.
Downs, who is in the middle of an independent run for the Ward 2 Council seat, and Warwick, who chairs ANC 2B, refused Hanlon’s demands and told him to file a Freedom of Information Act request.
In turn, Hanlon said he was entitled to the emails and Snaps under the ANC Act, which gives all commissioners “equal access” to the commission’s records. He sought the opinion of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, which initially told him in June that Downs and Warwick did not have to share emails sent from personal email addresses and that Hanlon’s interpretation of the rules governing ANC emails would produce “unnecessarily absurd results.”
Relentless in his pursuit, Hanlon asked the OAG to reconsider. At the beginning of July, OAG reversed its original opinion, writing that emails from commissioners sent on behalf of the ANC “belong to the ANC.” Warwick and Downs say they spent the better part of their Fourth of July holiday compiling emails in order to comply with OAG’s decision and Hanlon’s demand for a quick turnaround. (Hanlon did write in emails that he was willing to compromise on a timeframe.)
Although the bike lane will move forward, mark one for Hanlon in the win column.
Hanlon’s current battle has been percolating for about a year and has consumed the energy and attention of two D.C. government agencies. If Hanlon wins, it would mean two of his fellow ANC 2B commissioners are on the hook for a $4,000 fine from the Office of Campaign Finance. It could also mean the end of government-run Twitter accounts as we know them.
Last December, OCF sustained a complaint from Hanlon over the use of ANC 2B’s Twitter account. Hanlon alleged that ANC 2B commissioners were using the account to illegally support Patrick Kennedy’s Ward 2 Council campaign.
Warwick and Aaron Landry, who represents single member district 2B04, appealed OCF’s decision to the Board of Elections, which has yet to make a final decision. During the hearing on Aug. 5, Landry and Warwick provided several examples of government-run Twitter accounts posting content similar to that which OCF says violates the law.
Hanlon did not respond to LL’s requests for comment.
During the BOE hearing, the director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, Gottlieb Simon, told the board that if OCF’s order is upheld, “I have come to the conclusion that it will be necessary for me to advise commissioners to delete accounts if they have them and to refrain from establishing new accounts, as there would be considerable liability in their continued operation.”
In September 2019, Hanlon accused his fellow commissioners of breaking the law that says government resources cannot be used to support a candidate for public office. The offensive behavior, according to Hanlon’s complaint, is a retweet from ANC 2B’s official account of one of Landry’s tweets.
“I love the 17th Street Festival,” Landry tweeted last August, along with a picture he took while standing outside ANC 2B’s booth. Landry tagged Kennedy, who was campaigning for the Ward 2 Council seat at the time, in the photo. The photo tag linked to Kennedy’s personal Twitter account, which at the time described him as a Ward 2 Council candidate and featured a link to his campaign website. In Hanlon’s view, the retweet equated to support for Kennedy’s campaign.
In December, OCF general counsel William SanFord agreed with Hanlon and slapped six of the eight ANC 2B commissioners with a $4,000 fine, despite the fact that none of them actually sent the retweet, and only two of them had access to the account. The ANC’s unelected executive director, Peter Sacco, sent the retweet but is not mentioned in the order.
All but two of the six commissioners were later absolved, but Landry and Warwick are still on the hook for the fine. Warwick and Landry filed motions for reconsideration and appealed OCF’s order to the BOE. SanFord denied the motions, and the two are awaiting a final decision from the BOE.
At the same time, Hanlon continued to file complaints about his and other ANC’s Twitter accounts. As they rolled in, OCF staff would notify Landry, who recorded the conversations. In one call that he shared with LL, OCF attorney advisor Austin Franklin says Hanlon claimed that ANC 2B violated the law by following Kennedy.
“Can you just unfollow him, please?” Franklin asked.
“Excuse me?” Landry replied, asking whether OCF could provide any official guidance. “I’m a little shocked that this is even being taken seriously. This is really ridiculous.”
Franklin did not give a legal justification for why the ANC 2B account should unfollow Kennedy and asked again if Landry was willing to bend to Hanlon’s demands.
“It’s one thing to get harassed by this guy,” Landry said. “I get harassed by him all the time, but to use the Office of Campaign Finance as a tool for his harassment, that’s where I think a line is drawn.”
Later in the same call, SanFord, the OCF general counsel responsible for evaluating Hanlon’s complaints, came on the line. He questioned Landry about an unrelated tweet in which Landry expressed his frustration that Jack Evans was allowed to participate in the public campaign financing program despite his outstanding ethics fines.
Landry’s insinuation that SanFord was solely responsible for allowing Evans to draw public dollars for his Ward 2 campaign troubled him.
“I thought you and I had discussed matters involving what’s before the Office of Campaign Finance as gentlemen, and I expect us to do that,” SanFord said on the call. “I don’t know why you felt it was necessary to post that information regarding me personally.”
At the time, SanFord had not ruled on Landry’s motion for reconsideration, and he assured Landry that the critical tweet would not factor into his decision. During another conversation, Landry says SanFord encouraged him to delete the retweet at the heart of Hanlon’s original complaint in order to avoid any potential negative consequences for Kennedy.
“I felt … that it was super inappropriate for a government agency that had jurisdiction over this to encourage me not to challenge an outcome that I understood to be wrong,” Landry says.
SanFord declined to comment because the complaint is still pending before the BOE.
Hanlon also submitted a complaint alleging the ANC 2A Twitter account was illegally promoting Kennedy’s campaign by following his personal account as well as the accounts of those who supported him. ANC 2A, which Kennedy chairs, had already purged its tweets, retweets, and “likes,” Kennedy told OCF when they contacted him regarding the complaint. He promised to unfollow all users from the ANC 2A account to avoid more headaches.
During the hearing in front of the BOE on August 5, Warwick and Landry pointed out several examples of government-run accounts tweeting similar content.
The Office of Planning retweeted Kennedy’s October 2019 tweet about his amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, for example. And the BOE retweeted a tweet from Ward 7 ANC candidate Keith Hasan-Towery, whose bio contains a link to his campaign website, about registering seniors to vote.
LL notes that the examples Landry and Warwick provided don’t show a candidate actively campaigning like Kennedy was in Hanlon’s original complaint. But the violation, according to OCF, is that the tagged photo of Kennedy linked to his own account with another link to his campaign website.
“Of all the candidates that ran for that particular seat, only Patrick Kennedy is prominently featured,” SanFord argued during the BOE hearing. “Only his Twitter page was linked to the ANC 2B Twitter account, and that is because Landry and Warwick and others were supporting Patrick Kennedy’s campaign. They have every right to do that. But what they do not have a right to do is to use government resources to facilitate a candidate or candidates of their choices.”
While SanFord did not find whether the violation was intentional, Hanlon, who supported a different candidate for the Ward 2 Council seat, was not willing to make such a concession. “This was not a mistake, this was deliberate,” he told the BOE.
Landry and Warwick argued that OCF’s interpretation would mean that the scores of D.C. government-run Twitter accounts would be in violation of campaign law.
Asked whether he agrees with Landry’s previous assessment of Hanlon’s complaints as politically motivated, Warwick declines to speculate.
“I know the complainant doesn’t like me,” he says. “But this is entirely about OCF and their inability to understand social media and provide laws or even provide any sort of guidance that would allow the use of social media by governmental entities including ANCs. ‘Delete your account’ isn’t what the government should say to the government that wants to connect with neighbors and constituents.”
Landry is one of four ANC 2B commissioners not running for re-election this November. Downs is running for the Council seat, and the other two commissioners, Kari Cunningham and Beverly Schwartz, did not respond to LL’s emails.
But Landry says his decision to step away is due in large part to the antagonistic role Hanlon has played on the commission.
“For me, and at this time in my life right now and dealing with all the harassment that I’ve gone through with Ed Hanlon, it was like, enough,” he says.
Warwick is running again, “against my better judgement.”
“To be honest, if I was smarter and cared more about my own personal sanity, I probably wouldn’t be running as well,” he says. “But I am hopeful that Commissioner Hanlon won’t be a commissioner next year, and we can start to rebuild the commission and do productive things.”