- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Yesterday was the deadline for filing challenges to candidates running in the September primaries. Ordinarily, the date, which falls each election year, comes and goes without notice. After all, nominating petitions are a technical procedure usually ignored by most voters and tended to mostly by candidates' supporters and the opposition, whether that opposition is in another organized camp or merely sitting on the sidelines hoping to stir up trouble. The campaign to re-elect Mayor Tony Williams faces both types of opposition, and the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics should be mindful of that as it proceeds.

The deadline for submitting nominating petitions was July 3, and the Williams campaign met that deadline, turning in an estimated 10,000 signatures. The D.C. Republican Party, after noticing obvious discrepancies, however, announced it was challenging the petitions and for all the right reasons. Some of the signatures were written by the same person, and some are dated June 31. Of course, any adult worth his grammar-school ABC lessons knows that June hath but 30 days.

"I'm nauseated, disgusted, distressed, by a lot of what happened here," the mayor said last week. "People should be dismissed, and people should be held accountable." That sounds precisely like the mayor who trounced his well-known opponents in the Democratic primary and the general election in 1998. That sounds like the mayoral candidate this newspaper endorsed because he stood for accountability almost above all else.

Still, actions speak louder than campaign words. The mayor must ensure that those responsible for blatantly sabotaging his campaign and yes, there is discourse that the petition signatures were frauds of the first order are dismissed and that his campaign staffers fully cooperate with investigators. That is the only way to restore credibility to his campaign and integrity to the election process.

Similarly, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics must certify that all challenges received by yesterday's deadline are indeed legitimate challenges, and not political sour grapes. The question the board must answer is profound and certainly unprecedented: How does the board certify signatures?

The challenges also place Mr. Williams whose million-dollar-plus war chest scared off Democratic as well as Republican challengers at a crossroads. If not on the ballot, Mr. Williams could run as a write-in candidate or mount a campaign as an independent. But that is not what the public wants or expects this election year.

That he has no considerable opponents this second time around is a testament to his popularity and the fact that, while neither the public at large nor this editorial page can ignore his flaws, the Williams administration has restored confidence in the people who live, work and visit the nation's capital. Nonetheless, if the board rules that Mr. Williams does not have the requisite 2,000 signatures to appear on the ballot for the September Democratic primary, the public will have the final say even if that means challenging the board in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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