- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office yesterday quashed speculation that he is considering dropping out or running on another ticket, saying that an internal campaign review of petitions has found "more than a sufficient number" of valid signatures to allow him to remain on the ballot as a Democrat.
"It is absolutely balderdash," Williams spokesman Tony Bullock said. "The bottom line is, the campaign is confident that there is more than enough signatures. We won't even go there."
Mr. Bullock and the mayor's campaign staff refused to comment on what the mayor will do if the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics invalidates more than 8,000 of the 10,000 signatures collected. The mayor needs 2,000 valid signatures to remain on the Democratic ticket.
If he fails to receive that number, he will have to collect 3,000 signatures by Aug. 28 to run as an independent in the Nov. 5 general election or as a write-in candidate in the Sept. 10 Democratic primary.
So far, the campaign estimates it has about 3,500 valid signatures.
But three separate groups are disputing that the mayor's campaign has even collected 1,000 acceptable signatures. Yesterday, the D.C. Republican Committee and city watchdog group DCWatch formally challenged the signatures in filings, and both called for Mr. Williams to voluntarily withdraw his candidacy. On Sunday, the campaign of mayoral candidate Doug Moore also challenged the validity of the signatures.
"If he defends this fraud and supports these forgeries and engages in a prolonged fight before the board of elections, it will be an embarrassment to him and to the city of Washington," said Dorothy Brizill, executive director of DCWatch. "His best course is to admit the wrongdoing of his campaign and to withdraw his request to be placed on the Democratic ballot."
Ms. Brizill carried in a box of petitions and supporting documentation that she said showed that only 800 to 1,000 signatures were valid. DCWatch is filing a complaint and a challenge to the campaign.
The complaint process entails the mayor's campaign being served with charges and given an opportunity to respond before a hearing is conducted. But complaints are not a "ballot access" issue and therefore do not kick a candidate off the ballot, according to Kenneth McGhie, counsel for the board of elections. If the board upholds the complaint, it will make a referral to the U.S. attorney, and criminal charges could be filed.
Challenges, which require the filers to make their case, are a "fast track" process and can result in a candidate being forced to withdraw from a ballot. Under a challenge, the registrar of voters makes a preliminary finding on the validity of the challenge. The challenge can eventually go before the full board of elections for a final ruling, which can be appealed in the courts.
The board of elections is expected to have an initial determination as early as Monday and has until July 31 to make a final determination.
Mr. Bullock said the D.C. Republican Committee did not file the more onerous challenge because it does not have "what is necessary to prevail."
Sources close to the Williams administration said the committee did not file a challenge because the mayor's top supporters and administration officials pressured city Republicans to back off and even contacted the White House for help.
The issue erupted more than a week ago after a Republican committee member spotted thousands of signatures on Mr. Williams campaign petitions that were either duplicates or appeared to be written by the same hand.
A further look found signatures with unqualified dates, unqualified residents, and the names of celebrities and politicians, such as deceased British actor Dudley Moore, "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, homemaking maven Martha Stewart, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"This went on and on and on," D.C. Republican chairman Betsy Werronen said. "It was a systematic and flagrant abuse of D.C. law."
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.
Officials in and familiar with the campaign attribute the signature "mess" to disarray and unprofessionalism of the campaign, which they say has no official manager, and a mayor uninterested in details.
"This isn't the previous campaign," said one resident involved with the prior campaign. "They are trying to do it on the cheap, spending only $6,000 on signature collection and paying only half the regional rate. There are few professionals running this show."
One professional, senior campaign adviser Charles N. Duncan, who successfully ran the campaign of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, left the campaign last week, sources in the campaign said. But Mr. Duncan, reached at his home in North Carolina, said he was still on the job.
Yesterday, Mr. Bullock said he didn't know whether Mr. Duncan whom he identified as the campaign manager was still on the job. He said he didn't think Mr. Duncan knew about the problems with the petitions, but as campaign manager, he should have known. He also attributed the problems to an inexperienced campaign staff and to a half-complete campaign organization.
"They couldn't have [messed up] more," he said."But there was a decision made not to staff up the campaign early on. It was obviously not a good strategy. We got caught here for sloppiness, but not unethical conduct on the part of the mayor. This is only a bump in the road and isn't going to derail the course."

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