- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

Mayor Tony Williams is in the throes of a reelection scandal, and somebody needs to tell him to stop sweating the small stuff because, while it's interesting to watch the turn of events that could destroy a lesser politician, salvaging his campaign is possible. And, a victory in the November general elections is within reach, too. After all, the votes that really and truly matter are the ones that will be cast in November.

Ironically, that very fact is precisely why everyone is so jittery.

See, in this Democratic stronghold, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 10 to one, winning Democratic primaries is tantamount to winning the general elections. So the fact that a ruling by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics might render Mr. Williams' Democratic candidacy ineligible for the September races has put the mayor, who also is the titular head of the D.C. Democratic Party, smack in the middle of a political and non-traditional conundrum.

Does he:

A) Take his $1.4 million war chest and run as an independent?

B) Shift gears and launch a write-in campaign?

C) Continue sweating it out, hoping that the elections board rules in his favor?

A write-in campaign is too risky. After all, if Mickey Mouse managed to finagle his name onto Mr. Williams' nominating petition, he can rest assured that the names of Minnie and others in 'toonland will show up to do their civic duty at the polls.

Waiting for the board to rule in his favor has political downsides as well. "We're confident that we have the necessary 2,000" signatures to get on the Democratic-primary ballot, campaign spokeswoman Ann Walker Marchant has said. But what if "we" don't? The facts of this particular matter are Tony Williams is mayor, and Tony Williams not Ms. Marchant is the candidate. No offense to Ms. Marchant, but, at this juncture, Mr. Williams needs a campaign strategy to beat the odds, not a mere mouthpiece.

To his credit, Mr. Williams has relieved his campaign chairman, Charles N. Duncan, of his responsibilities, and continues to pay Scott Bishop Sr., the campaign employee who oversaw the petition process. That is very clever, considering Mr. Bishop's family was responsible for the majority of the 10,240 "signatures" that are now under investigation. He needs the Bishop gang on his side for now. Mr. Williams also has hired a lawyer, Mark Policy, to defend his petitions. Mr. Williams also said he will continue a campaign, whatever comes his way. Another smart move.

Still, none of that addresses the initial problem that has Mr. Williams, a heretofore shoo-in incumbent with a winning bankroll and no substantial opponent, treading unchartered political waters. So, to give him a much-needed helping hand, I'll grant him a few not-so-subtle hints.

The mayor's campaign was sabotaged by people, including folks who aren't even registered D.C. voters, who resent his 1998 victory and loathe his administration. Some of these are black folks who say he is turning their city white. Some of these are white folks who say he isn't doing enough to help black folks. Many of them would like nothing better than to make a mockery of his campaign and it appears as though they might succeed.

They might succeed if the mayor forgets who elected him and why. They might succeed if the mayor caves, as he did in the infancy of his administration, when segments of this city rallied against him in the niggardly incident. Remember that? That scandal involved a white Williams aide being accused of using the "n" word in the presence of black Williams aides. That scandal proved to be a scandal only because Mr. Williams mishandled it. He mishandled it because he deferred his political responsibilities to folks in his employ.

In short, Tony Williams must remember that, in that sea of Democrats he joined in the 1998, he stood out because he appealed to the constituencies that really and truly matter when the votes are counted. He stood out as the only no-nonsense manager in the pack. None of the other Democrats could claim as much.

Also, Tony Williams launched his Democratic candidacy after all the others. That's something incumbents and independents often do.

In that sense, Tony Williams ran counter to D.C. tradition and as a true independent. More importantly, he won.


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