- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams told reporters Wednesday that D.C. residents "did not elect him to be Hamlet."

Maybe not, but something is very rotten in the state of Denmark. And the plot sickens.

Only one word can adequately describe the deepening debacle Teflon Tony's re-election campaign has forced upon embarrassed city residents disgusting.

Sitting through hours of tedious testimony at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Wednesday was nothing short of watching a comedy of errors. Errors would be a kind description of the way in which it appears the Williams campaign cut corners in a last-minute effort to gather signatures on the mayor's nominating petitions.

As for the administrative hearing at the elections board's office in One Judiciary Square, the depiction of a "kangaroo court" comes easily to mind.

If this nominating-petition scandal weren't so serious, you could find the Three Stooges theatrics laughable.

It was, as Mr. Williams acknowledges, "a sorry, pathetic sight," even as he tries to distance himself from the proceedings and put the best face on his self-destructing support.

Let us not forget, Mr. Williams never even voted in a D.C. election before he cast a ballot for himself as mayor. And his politically incorrect challenge to the city's well-known elections laws comes when they no longer work in his favor.

But don't worry about Teflon Tony. He may still weather this storm. He may have to begin a write-in campaign for the Democratic ballot. Or he may choose to leave the city's majority party and run as an independent. After all, the "boyz in the hood" are calling him "a Republicrat."

A caution D.C. residents cannot afford to lose sight of what is most important in the midst of this "Saturday Night Live" skit. It is not the man. It is the voters.

For it is not Anthony Williams' future that's at stake here, it's the future of the elections process in a disenfranchised city already suffering from precious few voting rights.

Does this city want politicians who will get elected "no matter how I do it," as this mayor has stated and shown? Or does it want credible candidates who will play by the rules until they are amended by the voters, not by the courts no matter what it costs them?

Does this city want to go down in election annals like Florida after the 2000 presidential election? Or will the rights of its electorate be upheld without political pressure and prejudice? Who will come forward to protect them?

Judging from the information being revealed in the election board's hearing room, far too many folks involved in creating and cleaning up the mayor's petition mess could not care less about the sanctity of the vote.

For those who do care, such as D.C. watchdogs Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff where are the civic organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, or D.C. Vote, who should be rising to aid in this heroic citizens' challenge? Where are the pro bono lawyers?

On Wednesday, elections board Chairman Ben Wilson made it clear that the hearing was his domain, as he uttered unsolicited off-the-cuff remarks that were entertaining, but sometimes inappropriate.

The biggest worry with the way Mr. Wilson ran the hearings is that it may cost the citizen challengers when the proceedings are appealed.

In the gallery, angry spectators made no bones about their sentiments favoring the challengers. A few folks were allowed to make unscheduled statements in support of the challengers. Others simply shouted out their support from their seats.

Most surprising were the large number of Democratic Party members who were vocal and biting in their criticism of Mr. Williams.

On one side of the large table sat the mayor's condescending attorney, Vincent Mark Policy, who demonstrated disdain for the elections process and its protectors. His only apparent purpose was to make frequent objections to lay the groundwork for the court appeal the mayor intends to pursue should the board rule he does not have the necessary 2,000 valid signatures to be placed on the Democratic primary ballot.

At one point, when he made a snide remark about Mr. Wilson, the spectators booed Mr. Policy.

A local lawyer who observed the proceedings said, "The mayor doesn't get it. [A white, high-powered lawyer] is not the face he should be putting forth to defend himself in front of a roomful of community activists."

On the other side of the table sat the community activists Ms. Brizill, Mr. Imhoff and Shaun Snyder, a law student and Republican. Though giving it a yeoman's effort, they were unassisted in their challenge by any certified legal counsel.

At one point, Mr. Wilson needed to explain to Ms. Brizill how to query witnesses and what it means to seek an "expedited declarative judgment" in D.C. Superior Court.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wilson made the troubling ruling that it is the election board's duty to seek a court ruling to keep city taxpayers from facing huge legal bills as a result of this case bought by their mayor. But potential budgetary concerns are the purview of others.

All this begs the question, who will pay for the court challenges? Who will defend whom? Should the mayor challenge an unfavorable ruling by the elections board, which is appointed by the mayor? Does the Corporation Counsel (which reports to the mayor) defend the taxpayers' interests? Does any or all of this constitute a conflict of interest?

Where does this all end?

We all know what happened to Hamlet. But what fate lies ahead for D.C. voters and their tried-and-true elections process?

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