- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2002

The Rev. Willie F. Wilson, the outspoken pastor who galvanized support for former D.C. Mayor Marion S. Barry, will start his own write-in campaign for the Democratic mayoral primary in opposition to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, whom he once backed.

In a brief interview on WTOP Radio yesterday, the pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast said he will formally announce his decision in front of D.C. General Hospital on Monday. Mr. Wilson parted ways with Mr. Williams last year when the mayor closed the hospital.

"A month away from the primary, anyone would be hard-pressed to become a viable candidate," said Philip Pannell, Democratic leader of Ward 8, where Mr. Wilson's church is located. "But anything that will bring more Democrats to the polls is a good thing."

Mr. Wilson's decision came a day after the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld a Board of Elections and Ethics ruling that denies Mr. Williams access to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot and forces the mayor to campaign as a write-in candidate.

The elections board said it will announce Wednesday how much it will fine the Williams campaign for submitting 6,500 forged signatures on the mayor's nominating petitions, which prompted the panel's ruling last month.

The board can fine as much as $200 for each case of fraud. If the board considers each forgery as a separate count, the fine could total as much as $1.3 million and essentially wipe out the mayor's $1.4 million re-election campaign war chest.

Mr. Williams yesterday said any fines should be levied within reason. "I've been knocked off the ballot so, I mean, that ought to be taken into consideration. But I'm focusing on the campaign," he said.

Asked if he intends to pay for the fines with money he has collected from supporters or with personal funds, Mr. Williams said: "You know, we just want to bring this to a close as quickly as we can. But I've got to look more at the details for that."

Meanwhile, Johnny Barnes, chief of the D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he is mounting his own independent candidacy and is working to get 3,000 nominating-petition signatures by Aug. 29 to run in the Nov. 5 general election.

"The petitions are being circulated now and legitimate signatures are being collected," Mr. Barnes said, taking a jab at Mr. Williams' petition scandal.

Mr. Barnes said he will make a final decision on his candidacy later this month.

Any candidate trying to enter the race now "will have a tough road because the turnaround is too quick to put on a strong campaign," said D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, explaining why he himself is not running for mayor.

Mr. Chavous, a Ward 7 Democrat who has squared off against Mr. Williams over education and the closing of D.C. General, waxed philosophic about the mayor's situation, saying the focus is now on the "strength of [his] grass-roots write-in campaign."

"One of the good things about this signature fiasco is that the mayor is forced to reconnect with the voters," Mr. Chavous said.

Those voters who were drawn to Mr. Williams by Mr. Wilson's oratorical skills now will have to choose between the two in a write-in showdown.

Long active in city politics, Mr. Wilson has been pastor at Union Temple since 1978 and is the founder of the annual black cultural festival Unifest, an institution in Southeast for the last 20 years.

In 1999, Mr. Williams appointed Mr. Wilson to the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia.

"Reverend Wilson will bring a new dimension of excitement and he will bring people together," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lawrence T. Guyot Jr.

But D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, cited Mr. Wilson's "divisive rhetoric" when she voted against his board-of-trustee appointment.

"If we didn't forgive him, we would have cut his head off and rolled it down the street," Mr. Wilson once said of a Korean grocer in Southeast who did not get on well with his black customers.

Mr. Wilson was accused by several council members and community activists of trying to incite violence against the store owner.

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