- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday said he would seek a quick appeal of a Board of Elections and Ethics ruling that denied him access to the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot and immediately began a write-in campaign, in case the appeal failed.
"We will appeal the board of elections decision on behalf of not just me, but on behalf of the voters of the District," Mr. Williams told dozens of his re-election supporters gathered at the Washington Convention Center.
Members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee said they do not support Mr. Williams' decision to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District to put his name on the ballot, citing numerous forgeries among the signatures on his nominating petitions.
"We want him to slug it out as a Democratic write-in candidate," said Norman Neverson, chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party.
Democratic strategist Donna Brazille, who headed Al Gore's presidential campaign, said she urged Mr. Williams during the weekend to run as a write-in candidate, saying the elections board's ruling "disenfranchises" D.C. voters who already have no vote in the House and Senate.
Democratic committee members who attended the mayor's press conference said they supported his write-in candidacy but also were bound to back the four Democratic candidates on the primary ballot.
Calling himself a "lifelong Democrat [who] won't abandon the party," Mr. Williams reiterated his criticism of the elections board's decision and said he expected a ruling on the appeal in "a matter of days," preferably by the end of the week.
He said his campaign has been executed and organized poorly and that changes in his top staff are likely.
"I've learned a lesson as painful as it is that democracy and its rules are too painful to neglect," Mr. Williams said.
If the appeal and the write-in campaign fail, Mr. Williams will have to run as an independent in November and return about $1.4 million he has collected in campaign contributions as a Democrat or donate it to the Democratic Party.
The three-member panel on Friday unanimously voted to keep Mr. Williams' name off the primary ballot, citing the forged signatures and unwillingness of Williams petition circulators to testify before the board. The ruling dismissed the recommendation of Registrar of Voters Kathryn Fairley, who determined that 2,235 of the more than 10,000 signatures submitted for the mayor were valid.
The mayor's campaign needed to submit 2,000 valid signatures.
Ken McGhie, general counsel for the elections board, yesterday said he is ready to defend the ruling, even "if it's a matter of me spending the night in the office." The defense will not cost taxpayers additional money, he said.
Mr. Williams' attorney, Douglas J. Patton, said the campaign will not pursue further legal action if the appeal fails. "I'm very optimistic, but when you get down to it, you don't know what kind of decision will be made," he said.
Elections board members said they felt obligated to deny Mr. Williams a spot on the ballot because two petition circulators Scott A. Bishop Sr. and his son Scott A. Bishop Jr. invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer any questions about signatures they had collected.
The board concluded that the 945 "presumptively valid signatures" the Bishops collected could not be verified.
The board also noted that Mr. Williams' attorneys conceded in the mayor's response to challenges from the D.C. Watch group led by community activist Dorothy Brizill that 214 pages of signatures collected by the Bishops were invalid.
Mrs. Brizill, who insists she has no favorite candidate, said the Williams campaign doesn't seem to understand the consequences of pursuing a legal battle, which looks bad in the eyes of voters.
"I'm not sure they really get it," she said, "If they did, I don't think the mayor would have, in his heart, appealed."
Mrs. Brizill said the appeal is embarrassing and implies that the mayor supports the tainted signatures supplied by the Bishops.
To succeed, Mr. Williams must hit the streets and connect with voters, she said, not stand in a room with "a handful of cheerleaders consisting of D.C. government employees."
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson agreed, saying he supported the mayor's right to defend himself but that Mr. Williams' most important move would be to get out and campaign as a Democrat.
"I've heard a lot of people say they don't like the appeal idea," said Mr. Mendelson, at-large Democrat, "but in an election, voters are more interested in seeing the candidate, and the court proceedings will be arbitrary in their minds."
Mr. Williams said his campaign will become more aggressive and that his staff will help educate voters and distribute rubber stamps with his name to simplify the write-in process.
The Democratic National Committee also weighed in on Mr. Williams' decision.
"We think the mayor should make a decision based on what he feels is in the best interest of his campaign," said DNC spokesman Bill Buck. "And we understand that Mayor Williams is in no way trying to leave the party."

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