- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

By this time next week, Americans will likely know who the Republican and Democratic contenders for mayor of the nation's capital are going to be. The operative words are "likely know," as opposed to "will know." Under ordinary circumstances, we would know for certain. However, this election is anything but ordinary.

The top Democrats in the race for the nomination are running as write-in candidates, there is no Republican on the primary ballot for the first time in 25 years, and D.C. voters will use a new voting machine.

The new machine, called Optech Eagle, does not compute write-in candidates, and election officials say it could take as many as ten days after the Sept. 10 primaries to hand-count write-ins on the ballots. Add to that the facts that officials must consider voter intent when calculating votes, decipher handwriting, and factor in all manner of varieties of a candidate's name, and it makes for an extraordinary election.

For example, the Democratic incumbent is Mayor Anthony A. Williams. But voters might write Tony Williams, Mayor Williams, the mayor, Mr. Mayor, Tony, Mr. Williams, Williams, or simply mayor. There might be smart-alecks, as well, who write Mr. Bowtie or Tony the Tiger, nicknames with which voters are familiar and stem from Mr. Williams' days as the District's take-no-prisoners chief financial officer. And, Lord, help us if names are transposed a voters mistakenly write in Tony Wilson.

Similarly, D.C. voters might force election officials to consider their intent regarding Mr. Williams' chief contender, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson. They might write Willie Wilson, Rev. Wilson, the Rev. Willie, or "That guy who reminds me of Marion Barry."

That's right. "That guy who reminds me of Marion Barry." To the surprise of no one, Mr. Barry recently endorsed his minister. He did so because Mr. Wilson asked for his vote. He would have supported Mr. Williams, as he did in 1998, but Mr. Barry said Mr. Williams did not ask. The endorsement will both boost and hurt Mr. Wilson's chances, since Mr. Barry does, in some eyes, personify all that was wrong in the nation's capital during the 1990s.

Another familiar name with which elections officials must consider voter intent is Carol that is, Republican Carol Schwartz. Mrs. Schwartz, an at-large member of the D.C. Council, is not running for mayor this time. She has done so three times. The last time, Carol and Tony went head-to-head in the '98 general election and, after that disappointing defeat, she said she was shoving her mayoral intentions to the back of the closet. And earlier this year, she said anyone who would run against Tony, who had raised more than $1 million in campaign funds, would be out of their minds. Nonetheless, Republicans are being encouraged to write in her name and, interestingly, the name of yet another at-large council member David A. Catania.

Like Carol, David is a very popular politician in this city, which loves Democrats only second to the right to vote. The chairman of the D.C. Republicans, Betsy Werronen, told me a few months ago that she likes a Catania mayoral candidacy. I do, too. Problem is, Mr. Catania opted to seek re-election as a lawmaker, so he would have to forsake that race to run as mayor.

Of course, voter intent must considered on the Republican ballot as well. Mr. Catania, however, has an upper hand. While some people might have trouble spelling and phonetically pronouncing his last name, his full name already appears on the Republican ballot.

As for Mrs. Schwartz, well, for years voters have called her simply Carol. In fact, Mrs. Schwartz's 1998 campaign posters displayed "Carol" in huge letters, advertising the first-name basis with which she and voters identify each other. Too bad her politics translated into defeat three times. Her first two mayoral runs were against Mr. Barry, and the best of those showings was a 43 percent vote in the 1994 general election. By contrast, Mr. Williams beat her 60 percent to 33 percent in November 1998.

Still, if enough voters and financial supporters show considerable interest, Mrs. Schwartz and Mr. Catania have three days after primary votes are tallied to accept a nomination for the November election.

Meanwhile, Democrats have a third write-in option. Why vote for a Barry lookalike when they can vote for the real deal? Indeed, Mr. Barry seriously considered running in the at-large council race this year, and his supporters were gearing up to run with him. So they might ignore the Wilson candidacy altogether and write in Marion Barry. Or Mr. Barry. Or Marion. Or "That guy who reminds me of Willie Wilson."

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