- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson said yesterday that the board cannot find 2,000 valid signatures in its preliminary examination of more than 10,000 names submitted to put Mayor Anthony A. Williams on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot.
"We do not at this point have 2,000 valid signatures [for Mr. Williams], based on our examinations," he said, referring to the minimum number required for the mayor to make the Democratic ballot. "There are many forgeries. Quite frankly, more than one would expect."
Dorothy Brizill, a community activist who heads D.C. Watch, one of the groups that filed challenges to the validity of the mayor's petitions with the elections board, said yesterday that she and her colleagues have examined the petitions, and by their count, the mayor's campaign collected only 884 valid signatures.
The D.C. Watch challenge was upheld by the board, which began a series of hearings yesterday that could culminate in the mayor being kept off the Democratic ballot.
Mr. Williams, at his press briefing yesterday, told members of the Washington press corps that he is still confident he has the necessary number of signatures. But if the early indications at the elections board hearings hold true, the incumbent mayor may have to seek re-election as a write-in Democrat or as an independent.
"I fully admit the mistakes we made," he said. "It is a sorry, pathetic sight. But I will not stand here in endless self-flagellation. We still have strong support. We will build a strong, vigorous campaign and be out there pushing our message. We will be stronger than ever."
"People didn't elect me to be Hamlet," he said.
Hundreds more of the mayor's petition signatures were apparently invalidated yesterday when Mr. Williams' legal team conceded that 17 pages collected by circulator Franklin Wilds were forged.
Vincent Mark Policy and Doug Patton Mr. Williams' lawyers had already admitted last week that 213 pages, or 4,260 signatures, were forged, leaving only 5,980 for the board to review. With the admission of more forgeries, the board slowly winnowed the list of signatures to be examined down to about 5,640.
The mayor scored one victory when the board dismissed another challenge to the petitions filed by Sandra Seegars that failed to meet board standards.
Uncertainty about the petitions has turned what once looked like an easy re-election for Mr. Williams into a free-for-all, observers say, with previously unknown candidates scrambling for an edge in the primary.
A number of petitions submitted by Mr. William's faith advisor, the Rev. Carlton Pressley, were also called into question by Ms. Brizill in the hearing.
But the issue was later tabled until the board can ascertain the constitutionality of nonregistered voters circulating nominating petitions.
Mr. Policy, citing the Buckley v. American Constitutional Law Foundation Inc. Supreme Court ruling, challenged the rule.
But Ken McGhie, general counsel for the board, said the Buckley ruling dealt only with petitions for initiatives and referendums, not nomination, leaving the question open.
Mr. Pressley was not a registered voter in the District until June 28, but by that time he had already collected 60 signatures, said D.C. Registrar of Voters Kathy Fairley.
The D.C. Council voted 10-2 to keep the rule for nominating petitions against the recommendation of the board.
"I voted with the majority because we wanted to make sure that petition circulators were from the District to ensure the integrity of the process," said council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat.
Mr. McGhie will file for a declaratory judgment in the U.S. District Court of Appeals next week to get a final ruling. Mr. Policy later said he will challenge the rule only if the 60 signatures make or break the mayor's chances of getting on the ballot.
Mr. Williams' credibility took a hit when former senior campaign advisor Charles Duncan yesterday testified that he never performed the duties of campaign manager despite statements to the contrary made by officials in Mr. Williams' administration, which Mr. Duncan said led to his resignation.
"As far as any significant decisions for the campaign I was required to seek the approval of [Gwen Hemphill and Max Berry] the committee co-chairpersons," Mr. Duncan said.
He said he never wanted to be the campaign manager and said he had that explicitly written that into his $10,000-a-month contract.
Mr. Duncan was blamed for hiring Scott Bishop Sr., who is believed responsible for more than 600 phony signatures, to be the campaign field coordinator for petitions.
He said he only recommended the hire.
Jabeen Bhatti and Adrienne Washington contributed to this report.

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