- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday that the more than $20,000 in parking tickets accrued by friends and family of D.C. Council members who hold special license plates must be paid.

“A lot of things happen, that doesn’t mean that we excuse them,” the mayor said. “There may be an explanation, but that doesn’t mean there’s an excuse. All of us stand for ‘If you get a ticket, you’ve got to pay your ticket.’ ”

The Washington Times reported yesterday that since the 1970s, council members and the mayor have bestowed the license plates — which feature low numbers — as political prizes.

Whether any of these friends with such plates are friends of the mayor could not be determined yesterday, despite repeated requests by The Times to Henry Stewart, the mayor’s Freedom of Information Act officer.

Of the 459 plates distributed by the council’s 13 members, 72 had outstanding parking tickets totaling more than $20,000, The Times reported yesterday.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said the vanity-plate system has been abused and should be re-examined.

“We need to go after folks who haven’t paid their parking tickets,” said the mayor, who is not seeking re-election. “There have been problems where the council and the mayor have given out low-tag numbers to people where the tags have been misappropriated … a lot of it needed to be cleaned up by [the Department of Motor Vehicles,] and I’m sure this is a part of that.”

Council members — who exempted themselves from most parking restrictions in 2002 — said yesterday that residents who have received the special plates should be required to pay their parking tickets.

“Everybody needs to pay,” said council member Carol Schwartz, an at-large Republican who has distributed 44 of the license plates.

As of Tuesday, DMV records showed that seven of those plates collectively owed $3,240 in parking fines. Mrs. Schwartz said she would ensure that the recipients of her plates pay their tickets.

“Is there any other response other than ‘People who have tickets must pay for them’?” said council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and mayoral candidate.

Mr. Fenty has distributed 30 low-numbered plates, five of which had outstanding tickets worth $675, as of Tuesday.

Council member Jim Graham, a Ward 1 Democrat who is seeking re-election, said he does not want his recipients to get special treatment.

“I certainly believe that there should be no special treatment for anyone who has a low-level tag from me,” said Mr. Graham, whose 31 plates have accrued $1,195 in fines. “I don’t want any special treatment for anybody.”

Council member Phil Mendelson, an at-large Democrat who is seeking re-election, has distributed 43 license plates, which have sustained $4,485 in tickets.

“I would assume that the DMV is gunning these folks,” he said. “It’s my expectation, and it should be the case, that these folks are treated the same as every other individual.”

The Times reported yesterday that DMV spokeswoman Janis Hazel said the agency does not forgive violations.

“If they were assigned to the incorrect resident, then we do the computer fix to reassign them to the correct person,” she said.

Miss Hazel said a glitch in the DMV computer system has kept the database from recognizing when a new owner is assigned a low-numbered license plate. She did not say when that glitch would be fixed.

Thomas M. White, who received a low-number license plate nearly a decade ago by council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, said he never picked up the tag. DMV records show two parking tickets totaling $210 against it.

“The tag has not been in circulation for 10 years,” Mr. Smith said yesterday.

Motorists standing in line at the DMV yesterday could have given the mayor and the Council members an earful.

“That’s not fair, why should they get to not pay?” said D.C. resident Antonio Bannister, 19, who was in line with a $25 parking ticket. “There should be equal opportunity. I shouldn’t have to pay if they don’t. It’s like they’re above the law.”

Yvonne Turay, 49, who lives in Upper Marlboro, had come to pay a year-old $150 parking ticket she said she found on her credit report last month.

“If you get a fine, you should have to pay for it,” she said. “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care if you’re the president. Just because you have friends in high places doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay.”

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