- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

NEW YORK CITY. — During a recent historic gathering of black journalists at U.N. headquarters, my learned colleagues peppered U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan with queries about weighty and worldly issues, while I took a different tack.

I asked this distinguished diplomat when he had signed the lawless nominating petitions submitted by the District's dogged mayor, Anthony A. Williams.

Relieved by the lightheartedness of my inquiry, Mr. Annan chuckled and said, "Ah, we laughed when we heard about that."

Then he proceeded to inform us that not only is he neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but he also can't vote in this country because he is not a U.S. citizen.

Well, neither can the residents of the District of Columbia, and they are U.S. citizens, I pointed out.

This brought me to the more serious subject of voting or, rather, the lack of it in the District. To be more precise, I took this opportunity to ask Mr. Annan whether he was aware that more than 550,000 residents, who call the capital of the free world home, have no vote in the main legislative body of their nation.

What, if anything, could the United Nations, which hails self-determination as one of its guiding principles, do about this situation?

I noted with some surprise that during our guided U.N. tour, we stopped in front of a huge world map that indicates the number of countries that have gained independence since the inception of the United Nations. A handful of countries that are not self-governing are colored in red ink.

In keeping with the jovial spirit of the moment, the secretary-general said, "They are welcome to petition the U.N. [about their status] if they can get it through [Sen.] Jesse Helms." (Mr. Helms is the North Carolina Republican who has helped block U.S. funding for the United Nations.)

The District's lack of voting congressional representation is clearly not a fight that Mr. Annan preoccupied with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the AIDS pandemic and the World Court had given much thought. Through his spokesman, however, I was later offered a generic diplomatic statement about self-determination that I can barely decipher from my scribbled notes.

I've been mindful of my encounter with Mr. Annan as the Sept. 10 primaries in the District and the Maryland suburbs quickly approach.

In the District, where there are scant occasions to exercise franchise, voters should capitalize on every opportunity to cast a well-informed, thoughtful ballot whether they punch, push or scribble in names.

All jokes aside, nothing or no one can be taken for granted.

Despite what the polls and pundits are predicting, the electoral prizes are still up for grabs. The old principles seem no longer to apply.

Once upon a time, for instance, if a politician broke the law or ignored his constituents, he would have been run out of town. Now, such sins are glossed over.

Indeed, the upcoming D.C. primary is nothing if not a muddled mess.

But it would be a sin and a shame if folks sit this one out because they are turned off by the shenanigans, as I've heard some say they intend to do.

Now is more important than ever.

Equally disheartening is the number of folks who would make a further mockery of this complex election season by preparing to write in names such as those of Mr. Annan, Martha Stewart, Billy Joel and others whose forged signatures made their way onto Mr. Williams' petitions.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, speaking about another election, once said, "Folks will only go to the polls if you make them mad or scare them."

Given the upheaval of the summer, where laws were broken and unorthodox campaigns were created, D.C. residents have plenty to be mad and scared about.

It appears that blacks seem plenty mad at the write-in candidacy of Teflon Tony, while whites seem plenty scared about the write-in candidacy of the Rev. Willie F. Wilson.

At the inane D.C. Democratic State Committee meeting last week, which was run more like a campaign meeting for the insolent mayor, one angry lifelong party member whispered, "I'm not supporting anyone who didn't go through the process the right way to get on the ballot."

Count that as one vote for the Rev. Douglas Moore, a businessman considered the leading candidate and whose name appears on the Democratic primary ballot.

Some city residents are seething at the suggestion, offered by former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer in support of the Bow Tie Bandit, that they will incur the wrath of their congressional overseers yet again if they do not return Mr. Williams to office.

See what I mean, Mr. Annan. So much for home rule and self-determination in the capital of the free world.

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