- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Courage is a commodity sorely lacking in our times.
Far too many folks are unwilling to speak truth. To challenge "the establishment" to use a dated '60s term is to suffer a self-inflicted wound. But this self-censoring fear is crippling this nation and the democratic institutions we hold dear.
And we wonder why we end up with mind-boggling ethical scandals involving corporate executives and elected officials.
Someone must speak up. Someone must stand up. The rules must apply to the wealthy as well as to the weak.
Say what you will about the D.C. residents who challenged the scandalous elections petitions submitted by D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' re-election campaign, but what they did was nothing short of heroic.
Say what you will about the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruling to prevent the mayor's name from appearing on the Democratic primary ballot, but its unprecedented action in this unprecedented case took rare and raw courage.
Pull up a lounger and slather on the suntan lotion. We haven't heard the last of this sickening summertime situation becoming known as "Florida II."
Will the will of the D.C. electorate be decided by the courts or the voters? The lawyers are going to milk the mayor's case until the cows come home. Each has his own client to save and each has his own agenda to argue. Lost in the legaleese will be the issue of integrity.
Who will shout out that what has happened with the mayor's nominating petitions was wrong, if not illegal, and should never be tolerated again? Who have raised their voices to condemn the Williams campaign's acts? Who will ensure that the ethical standards of the elections process of the nation's capital will be honored?
Elections board members Benjamin F. Wilson, Stephen G. Callas and Jonda R. McFarlane, that's who.
The three-member panel, all appointees or re-appointees of the mayor, could have hidden behind the registrar's ruling that 2,235 signatures of more than 10,000 petition signatures submitted by the mayor were valid. But they refused to shrink from their duty.
The soft-spoken, diplomatic Mrs. McFarlane was eloquent as she read a prepared statement saying that "our democratic process has been polluted."
"There comes a time when the small victories of winning or losing a few rounds are not sufficient to offset the wounds the citizens of this city have sustained," she said.
Mrs. McFarlane said community activist Dorothy Brizill "has focused our attention on the importance of taking the election process seriously. It has been a worthy undertaking. She and her colleagues can rest assured that this situation will not occur again, at least in this century."
Then Mrs. McFarlane gave the charge: "Someone has to care enough for the citizens of this city to act in a statesmanlike manner. Who will it be?"
Certainly, not this insolent incumbent, who has made a mockery of the process, then trampled it by claiming he is fighting for the rights of the same voters he has dishonored.
Mr. Williams ought to be ashamed to call the board's actions "lawless." He should look in the rear-view mirror.
As one city lawyer said, "It doesn't look good for the mayor to attack the people he put in place to uphold this city's ethics."
Ethics which, by the way, he has repeatedly flouted. For his part, a shaken Mr. Callas said he "could not endorse" the registrar's finding, given the testimony that was presented.
From where I sat, that testimony indicated that no one in authority in the Williams campaign had trained petitions gatherers (some of whom I have since learned were homeless folks paid to collect signatures) or properly checked the petitions (some of which were left unattended at churches, barbershops and stores).
While I expressed initial reservations about the way Mr. Wilson allowed the loose and sometimes loud three-day petition hearings to proceed, a very different impression of this lawyer from Mississippi showed through as he rose from his seat to give a somber soliloquy about his decision in this difficult case.
"We must change tactics or lose the game," he said, adding that the board "will not go along to get along."
"The elections board did not start this battle, but the fire was given to us to put out," he said. "One must come up with new solutions to new problems; we must never forget the old rules: To play fair, to play honest, to play by the rules and to protect the integrity of the process."
To be sure, the board backed up its emotional statements with a 17-page memorandum that set forth the legal precedents for the ruling.
Most D.C. residents would prefer that Mr. Williams abandon this appeal of the board's decision. And when the U.S. Court of Appeals meets Tuesday, we will surely hear an even bigger tale, and a determination will be made whether the elections board was within its bounds when it ruled against the mayor.
Many say the court tends to rule in favor of city agencies, but as we've seen, anything can happen with this mayor. "If we do not speak up in this situation, then a terrible tragedy will have occurred," Mr. Wilson said.
His thoughtful comments were interrupted by staff and audience applause. Why? Because it is not an everyday occurrence in Spin City that you get to hear someone tell the truth, no matter how unpopular it is.

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