- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

When Anthony A. Williams was coronated mayor of the District, few people were more pleased about his election than D.C. watchdog Dorothy Brizill. She was literally jumping for joy at his inauguration ceremony.

Now those shouts are scowls, and the stern political-process watcher is just jumping all over Mr. Williams. Hell, as they say, hath no fury.

Not necessarily a woman scorned, but Ms. Brizill is definitely a woman "terribly disappointed." Her husband, Gary Imhoff, shares the sentiment. Together, the pair who founded a meager but mighty organization, D.C. Watch, filed a challenge with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, charging the incumbent mayor's campaign petitions were riddled with "massive voter fraud."

This time, along with other challengers, D.C. Watch set off a firestorm that even Teflon Tony has been hard-pressed to douse.

"Regardless of what happens, I don't think anyone will ever look at [Mr. Williams] again in the same way," she said. "All these hits have an accumulative affect.

"This is election fraud just as bad as stuffing a ballot box," said Mr. Imhoff, who added that even in the years former Mayor Marion Barry reigned, "you never had people do something so blatant." No shuckin' and jivin,' as Teflon Tony is wont to do, but here is "a credible candidate" who can't even tell the press whether he signed his own petition. Go figure.

The unprintable words I've heard folks utter in the past few days about Mr. Williams, known formerly as "Mr. Squeaky Clean," would set your heart ablaze.

But what on Earth, you might ask, so drastically changed the head cheerleader's tune?

"I knew six months into Tony's administration that it was evident there were problems," Ms. Brizill said. "And I haven't liked the way he treated people, whether I agree with him or not."

From the mayor's actions on D.C. General to Columbia Heights development to his ethical lapses, Ms. Brizill said, "I believe there is a fundamental flaw within the man, and despite his reputation, he is not a good manager and he has terrible judgment in terms of the people he hires, and he does it repeatedly."

Mr. Imhoff said of Mr. Williams, "He campaigned as Hyde, but he governs as Jekyll." For his part, Mr. Imhoff said you have to separate the couple's initial "hopeful" support for this reform mayor whom they viewed as "a breath of fresh air" from their filing of the complaint. They would have proceeded in this manner had any candidate raised such suspicion because "this kind of election fraud has to be exposed."

At the same time, he said, "My opinion of Tony has shifted dramatically in case after case; in situation after situation, he has made the wrong decisions, chosen the wrong priorities and, most of all, ignored the people of Washington." For two decades, the good-government crusaders have rightfully earned dubious reputations, quite frankly, for being a thorn in many a local politician's side. "If it's any two people you don't want poking around in your business, it's Dorothy and Gary," said one longtime District politico.

Too bad for Tony. For a week, the sleuthing duo sequestered themselves inside their Columbia Heights home and went through the mayor's puzzling petitions with a fine-tooth comb page by page. First, they threw out what appeared to be obvious forgeries.

Then they looked for those that showed a troubling pattern.

They worked their way through those that were incomplete, and finally, they cross-referenced names using the city's voter-registration database.

By D.C. Watch's best count, only 844 signatures were left to go unchallenged.

That's a far cry from the 2,000 the mayor needs to remain on the September Democratic primary ballot, should this challenge be upheld.

"What makes any excuse so hard to believe is that you only have to have someone look at [the signatures] to see they're fakes. It doesn't require a handwriting expert," Mr. Imhoff said.

In addition, he voiced his concern that Scott Bishop Sr., whom he knows well and who was in charge of collecting petitions for the campaign, will be made a scapegoat. "Scott didn't do it at home and bring in a sealed package," Mr. Imhoff said. "It had to be someone higher up than Scott who knew what was going on."

The elections board will hold a hearing next week on the challenges and lesser complaints, including one filed by the D.C. Republican Party.

Excuse my cynicism, but isn't this the same board that was appointed by the mayor?

Mr. Imhoff warns that the board must either find a technicality to throw out the D.C. Watch challenge, or it must blatantly bend the rules to allow the mayor's petitions to stand. The board therefore, must be as meticulous as this pair to restore the electorate's faith in the political process.

What bothers so many, including Mr. Imhoff and Ms. Brizill, is that some critics scoff at the importance of the entire petition process.

"You have to do things right and play by the rules. If an A student and a D student are in a competition and the A student cheats, you throw out his test. You don't say, 'Let's let him win because he's a good student,'" Mr. Imhoff said.

"The bigger mystery is why doesn't [Mr. Williams] have a real campaign?" said Ms. Brizill.

This "petition mess," as she calls it, is not the first time Ms. Brizill has filed a complaint with the board of elections against the mayor. The last time was for his use of government employees to campaign for a hybrid school board. "I do not file frivolous complaints. I file substantive complaints, and virtually every one of them has been upheld," said Ms. Brizill, who indeed has filed formal complaints against others, including former mayors Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt Kelly.

"I continue to be depressed about the state of politics in the District in that we don't bring people along, and that is why we find ourselves at this time and place," Ms. Brizill said.

And, that my friends, ain't nothing but the truth.

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