- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

D.C. Republicans are preparing to contest every signature Mayor Anthony A. Williams filed last week on his re-election campaign petitions, saying many are duplicates and, therefore, invalid.

"We are so distressed by the level of duplicates that we are going to have an official challenge, going name by name of the signatures," said Betsy Werronen, chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee. "We want to see that the person whose name is signed is registered at that address and that they are not all the same signatures."

Last Wednesday, when campaign workers for Mr. Williams, a Democrat, dropped off his petitions at the Board of Elections, a Republican committee member noticed the signatures on many of the petitions looked similar, even though the addresses were different, Mrs. Werronen said. The committee member, whom she declined to identify, purchased copies of the signatures from the Board of Elections and went over them during the holiday weekend. Mrs. Werronen, who has seen the disputed signatures, estimates about 4,000 are duplicates.

"We are very disappointed in our mayor, and we have a duty to follow through and get to the bottom of it," Mrs. Werronen said, adding that the Republicans do not have a candidate slated to run for mayor in the November election.

Messages left for the mayor for comment were not returned yesterday.

Mr. Williams filed more than 10,000 signatures last week as his re-election campaign began in full swing. The first-term mayor faces no serious opposition in his re-election bid. He only needed 2,000 valid signatures, but if Mrs. Werronen's challenge proves that fewer than that were valid, then his name could be removed from the ballot.

This hurdle is just the latest in Mr. Williams' attempt at re-election. Last week, his campaign was fined $4,000 for driving tent stakes into the pavement of New York Avenue without a permit in preparation for his kickoff.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance last year found Mr. Williams violated personnel regulations by using city workers to campaign for a favorable vote in a referendum to create the current school board. The mayor was sanctioned, but not fined.

Mr. Williams already had been fined $1,000 for not disclosing that he had earned $40,000 as a consultant when he ran for office in 1999.

The D.C. inspector general reported in March that Mr. Williams' staff had raised $1.4 million to fund parties and events throughout the city some of which never materialized by setting up phony nonprofit groups.

The Office of Campaign Finance has not yet issued a sanction in the matter.

The inspector general has referred some of the fund-raising cases for criminal prosecution and has said it is unlikely that Mr. Williams knew nothing about the unethical schemes a charge that hasn't seemed to hurt the mayor politically.

Mr. Williams' support for U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican who represents Montgomery County, in fact, evoked more outcry than his own fund-raising scandal.

The mayor held a fund-raiser for Mrs. Morella that prompted the Democratic State Committee to censure him.

In his defense, Mr. Williams noted Mrs. Morella's influence as chairman of a House committee with oversight of the District as reason enough to support her, despite the fact that his party is targeting her seat in the upcoming election cycle.

"He's overcome the fund-raising issues in his office and consolidated the power groups," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "But he still lacks that personal touch and charisma."

Mrs. Werronen has until Monday to file a challenge to the mayor's signatures, but she said she plans on completing the necessary paperwork sooner.

"The citizens of the District must have an electoral process they can trust," she said.

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