- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics unanimously decided last night not to allow Mayor Anthony A. Williams' name to appear on the ballot for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, citing numerous forgeries among the signatures on his nominating petitions.

"We are not comfortable relying on signatures on nominating petitions submitted by people who invoke the Fifth Amendment," said elections board Chairman Benjamin F. Wilson, referring to two Williams petition circulators who refused to testify before his panel yesterday.

The election board's decision, which will likely be appealed by the mayor's attorneys, will force Mr. Williams to seek re-election as an independent and return the $1.4 million he has collected in campaign contributions as a Democratic candidate.

In making its decision, the three-member panel rejected the recommendation of D.C. Registrar of Voters Kathy Fairley, who determined that 2,235 of the more than 10,000 petition signatures submitted by the mayor's campaign are valid.

The Williams campaign needed to produce at least 2,000 valid signatures to get the mayor's name on the Democratic primary ballot.

"It is shocking that the Board of Elections, charged with enforcing voting rights, has denied to voters the right to select a candidate who has qualified to be on the Democratic ballot," Mr. Williams said in a prepared statement. "This is the first time ever that the board has rejected the report of the registrar of voters."

The board, which had a Tuesday deadline to announce a decision, issued its ruling hours after a Williams campaign official had testified that campaign staffers decided to pay petition circulators $1 for each signature they collected because the Williams campaign could not get enough volunteers to circulate petitions.

"If we [did] not speak up in this situation, then a terrible tragedy may have occurred," said Mr. Wilson, meaning that the board took the unusual action to prevent election fraud.

Community activist Dorothy Brizill, who challenged the validity of the mayor's nominating-petition signatures, applauded the decision.

"I think the board has done the right thing to uphold the election laws and regulations of the District of Columbia and not to reward Mayor Williams for wholesale election fraud," said Mrs. Brizill, executive director of D.C. Watch, a city government watchdog group.

The elections board members Mr. Wilson, Stephen G. Callas and Jonda R. McFarlane said there is no evidence the mayor engaged in criminal conduct or told others to do so, and that they will reconvene in a special session if their ruling is appealed.

Williams campaign spokeswoman Ann Walker Marchant said campaign officials are not sure if they will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to overturn the election board's decision, added that "all options are being considered." She said a decision may come as soon as today.

"We must come up with new solutions to new problems, but we must never forget the old rules of playing fair, playing honest, playing by the rules and protecting the integrity of the election process," said Mr. Wilson, who was appointed by former Mayor Marion Barry.

Mr. Callas and Miss McFarlane were appointed by Mr. Williams.

The board cited the decision of Williams petition circulators Scott Bishop Sr. and his son, Scott Bishop Jr., to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as well as the scope of the forgeries the elections board threw out 213 pages of signatures as reasons for its decision.

Earlier yesterday, lawyer David Wilmot, who represents Scott Bishop Sr., defended his client's decision, saying the elections board had indicated it would pursue criminal charges if his client were found responsible for the petition forgeries.

Under D.C. law, persons convicted of forging signatures on nominating petitions can face up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Mr. Wilson had threatened to file a motion in D.C. Superior Court and direct U.S. marshals to bring the Bishops including Scott Bishop Sr.'s daughter-in-law, petition circulator Crystal Bishop before his panel after they had ignored a subpoena for their testimony for two days.

Mr. Wilmot told the board that Mrs. Bishop, who is not his client, could not testify yesterday because she was hospitalized.

Williams campaign co-chairman Gwendolyn M. Hemphill testified before the elections board and denied any wrongdoing in the mayor's campaign.

The board suggested that Mrs. Hemphill would have had some role in the decision-making process, although she denied having any knowledge of the scandal.

"I was not intimately involved in the circulation of petitions," said Mrs. Hemphill, who was questioned by Mr. Callas and Mrs. Brizill.

Mrs. Hemphill testified that the decision to pay petition circulators $1 for each signature received was a collective decision by the campaign staff.

Brian DeBose, Guy Taylor and Jon Ward contributed to this report.

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