- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A D.C. man who was organizing a recall of D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown because of ethics scandals that hit shortly after their election in 2010 has abandoned his effort.

Fred Butler, a Ward 2 resident and supporter of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, said Wednesday that he thinks ongoing federal probes into the pair’s campaign activities will eject the city’s top politicians from office anyway. Therefore, he said, “We have decided that it would be a poor use of our supporters’ money to fund the recall.”

He gave the explanation a day after the recall group failed to take advantage of its self-identified “D-Day” for collecting a vast amount of the 45,000 signatures it needs from voters across the city. The effort appeared to be ill-equipped to garner the signatures it needs to pose the recall question to city voters after election officials and observers reported few, if any, signs of them canvassing primary voting sites Tuesday.

Yet a separate effort to ban corporate donations to the city’s political campaigns obtained an estimated 10,000 signatures outside precincts Tuesday, bringing its total to about 12,000 and putting it about halfway toward its goal of garnering 5 percent of the city’s electorate, organizer Bryan Weaver said.

Mr. Butler said individuals had downloaded the recall petitions to circulate them Tuesday. He said he would evaluate the results of this “grass-roots” effort or any action by the U.S. attorney’s office by June to see whether donors should reconsider a cash infusion into the effort.

Under D.C. rules that govern petition drives, Mr. Butler’s group had 180 days as of mid-February to fill their pages with signatures from registered voters distributed across the city.

A March 2 raid by federal agents on the home and offices of Jeffrey E. Thompson, a prolific campaign donor who has given to Mr. Gray and Mr. Brown, should have added fuel to the effort but has not resulted in a visible groundswell of support, nor did it prevent at least four of five incumbents from winning their primaries.

The recall effort’s lack of visibility during the primaries adds to previous stumbles by the group, including a muddled explanation of its cause on an intent-to-recall filing at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and a mix-up that delayed the group’s receipt of petition sheets and forced it to miss a key signature-gathering opportunity at the mayor’s One City Summit on Feb. 11.

None of the efforts to recall all but one of the District’s mayors — only Walter E. Washington escaped — since the establishment of home rule in 1973 has come close to making the ballot. On Wednesday, Mr. Gray said he is focused on running the city and has never given credence to the recall bid.

“Did you read their complaint?” Mr. Gray said with a laugh, before rattling off a list of accomplishments during his 15 months in office. “I don’t think anyone can have any legitimate concerns about the job that we’re doing. I really don’t. … I don’t think that they can make a credible case.”

Meanwhile, the group opposing corporate donations to local races, known as D.C. Public Trust, found success by dispatching an army of clipboard-toting volunteers across the city on Tuesday.

They quickly snapped up signatures from voters in numerous precincts, a sign that residents might consider the prohibition of corporate donations in the wake of the Thompson raid as a more palatable solution than the “throw the bums out” mentality that never materialized at the ballot box, leaving incumbents in place.

Some signers supported the cause known as Initiative 70 outright, while others said voters should have the chance to weigh in on the topic.

Council member Muriel Bowser, the Ward 4 Democrat who secured a resounding victory against five challengers Tuesday, declined to sign the petition at a polling site in Shepherd Park. She, like some other council members, said the initiative would drive corporate contributions underground and offer even less accountability.

As part of his biweekly news briefing, Mr. Gray announced that he has asked D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan’s office to propose changes to the city’s campaign finance laws by May 15 so he can offer legislation to the council. The mayor declined to elaborate on possible reforms, but he signaled that it was a broad look at existing rules and how they could be improved.

“It’s an issue that deserves a lot of discussion,” he said.

Mr. Gray said he has been able to congratulate most of Tuesday’s winners, after four incumbent council members won their Democratic primaries and incumbent Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, held a slim margin of about 1 percent, or 543 votes, over challenger Sekou Biddle. The final outcome of that race is pending a count by April 13 of absentee ballots — 1,554 returned so far out of 3,348 that were sent to Democrats — and 3,867 provisional ballots or “curbside” votes from disabled residents.

It may not be clear how many of those provisional ballots — from voters who used same-day registration, changed their address or hand-delivered absentee ballots — were from Democrats until Tuesday, the deadline for officials to process the paper ballots.

“We expected to have a final score by now, but it’s clear we’ve gone into overtime,” Mr. Biddle said in an email to supporters. “While I have been saying for weeks now that this will be a close race, I admit I had no idea that it would be this close.”

Democrats Marion Barry in Ward 8, Yvette M. Alexander in Ward 7 and Jack Evans in Ward 2 won their party’s nominations. Ms. Alexander will face Ron Moten — a “civil rights Republican” who defeated Don Folden Sr. by a margin of 61 votes to 26 votes in the ward’s Republican primary — in November’s general election.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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