- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, an incumbent with a well-funded campaign chest and no serious challenger, may have to seek re-election as a write-in candidate because of invalid signatures on his campaign forms a prospect fueling speculation that he will bow out of the election.
Since late last week, Williams' campaign officials have privately worried that only 1,400 to 1,700 of the 10,000 signatures collected to put the mayor's name on the ballot for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary may be accepted by the D.C. Board of Elections.
City activists Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff have reviewed more than 512 pages of signatures submitted by the mayor and found only 1,250 legally acceptable signatures. The mayor needs 2,000.
Ms. Brizill and Mr. Imhoff said they plan to file a formal challenge today. Mayoral candidate Doug Moore also has filed a complaint with the board about signatures for the mayor.
The board has until July 30 to make a ruling on the validity of the signatures.
"This is election fraud on a scale we have never seen in D.C.," said Mr. Imhoff, who with Ms. Brizill runs a city watchdog organization, DC Watch. "It was systematic and organized fraud not the [misbehavior] of one or two campaign workers."
If the D.C. Board of Elections rules against the mayor, he could collect another 2,000 signatures by the end of August to earn a spot on the ballot as an independent or he could run his campaign as a write-in candidate. Write-in candidates generally face uphill battles, but most are not popular incumbents with $1.4 in their campaign coffers.
Sources close to the administration and the campaign told The Washington Times yesterday that the mayor, who was out of town this weekend, was upset to learn of the discrepancies and has said that running a re-election campaign on another ticket would be so embarrassing that he would consider withdrawing.
But others close to the mayor called the idea that Mr. Williams would withdraw "absurd."
"It isn't even appropriate to begin discussing that," one source said.
Campaign officials also insist that when the signatures are reviewed, the mayor will have 2,000 or more.
"We are confident we have enough signatures," said campaign spokeswoman Ann Walker Marchant. "There has been no discussion on the mayor withdrawing because we are confident we have the required number. And at this point, we have made no staffing changes in the campaign."
She added that the campaign is conducting an extensive review of the petitions to be concluded "soon," and officials will pursue appropriate disciplinary action against individuals engaging in electoral misconduct.
The flap over the signatures started last week after D.C. Republicans challenged thousands of signatures as duplicates or forgeries. The mayor apologized and promised to take action. Sources say several campaign workers have been fired.
Sources also said senior adviser Charles N. Duncan has left the campaign. But Mr. Duncan, reached at his home in North Carolina, said he was still on the job.
"I am still with the campaign," he said. "We are doing an assessment of the signatures and should have a statement on the matter in the next day or so."
He declined further comment.
Sources close to the administration also said the mayor's top supporters have been pressuring city Republicans to back off the challenge.
Even though no Republican candidate is running in November's mayoral election, it is common practice in city politics to check the other party's petitions.
The discrepancies came to light after campaign workers for Mr. Williams dropped off his petitions at the board and a Republican committee member noticed the signatures on many of the petitions looked similar, despite varying addresses.
Further analysis has shown other problems with the petitions: signatures that were obviously written by the same hand; duplicates of signatures; signatures from non-D.C. residents, such as AOL founder James V. Kimsey; and signatures with invalid dates.
The signature scandal is the latest campaign misstep for Mr. Williams. Two weeks ago, his campaign was fined $2,500 plus repair costs for driving tent stakes into the pavement of New York Avenue without a permit.
The mayor has been peppered at public appearances by questions about the integrity of his appointees, especially outgoing Fire Chief Ronnie Few, who has been accused by a Georgia grand jury of fraud and mismanagement at his former department in Augusta.
The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is still reviewing accusations of illegal fund-raising by top mayoral staffers after the D.C. inspector general reported in March that Mr. Williams had raised $1.4 million to fund parties and events throughout the city some of which never materialized by setting up phony nonprofit groups.
The inspector general ruled that was unlikely the mayor was unaware of the fund-raising practices.

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