District correction officials on Wednesday categorically denied that D.C. Council member-elect Kenyan McDuffie visited the city jail to convince inmates to vote for him in the May 15 special election, squashing rampant rumors and online listserv chatter about his alleged campaign tactics.
“Please be advised that there is no truth to the allegations made regarding Kenyan McDuffie’s visits to the D.C. Jail as a council candidate,” said Sylvia Lane, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of the Corrections. “We have fully reviewed our visitation records and found without question, that he has not been in the facility. “
McDuffie, who won a landslide victory to replace former council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), will be sworn in May 30 after his election is certified.
But in the days since his victory, McDuffie’s has been dogged by continued gossip that he may have improperly pressured inmates at the jail to vote for him by absentee ballot.
On the day before the election, second-place finisher Delano Hunter sent out a press release accusing McDuffie of visiting the jail as a candidate to urge inmates to support him.
“Some folks had given us some tips, and we kept hearing it from multiple sources,” Hunter said Wednesday. “He was there as a candidate during the campaign season, I am quite certain of that.”
In the District, inmates awaiting awaiting trial or being held on misdemeanors can vote by absentee ballot. But officials do not allow candidates to campaign inside the jail.
Prior to becoming a candidate, McDuffie worked as a public safety advisor to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Paul Quander, the director of public safety for the District, donated $500 to McDuffie’s campaign.
Hunter’s press release accused Quander and Charles Thornton, Director of the D.C. Office of Ex-Offenders, and Quander, of “directing department staff to instruct inmates on who they should vote for on their absentee ballots”
“McDuffie also allegedly was given permission to speak to inmates, while other Ward 5 candidates were denied the opportunity,” the statement said.
Amid the rumors and concerns about Quander’s ties to McDuffie, some Ward 5 residents filed a formal compliant with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. On Tuesday, a new round of e-mails were sent to reporters requesting an investigation.
Wesley Williams, a spokesman for the Office of Campaign Finance, said Tuesday his agency has opened an “internal inquiry” into the matter.
“It’s basically looking into allegations of unethical conduct in regards to voting at the D.C. Jail,” Williams said. “We are just looking at the validity of the complaint to see whether to proceed or not.”
McDuffie vehemently denied the allegation.
“I am hoping that the Office of Campaign Finance does whatever they have to do to quickly dismiss this inquiry,” McDuffie said. “I was not there ... It was a desperate attempt to associate some negatively with my campaign.”
Lane backed up McDuffie’s statement, noting inmates voted by absentee ballot on May 11 “with poll watchers on-site along with security and program staff from the jail.”
“Again, Mr. McDuffie was not at the jail during this process,” Lane said.
Hoping Lane’s comments puts the matter to rest, McDuffie said he’s focusing on getting settled into his new job.
On Friday, McDuffie met with Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) for several hours to start the orientation process. Brown must decide which committees McDuffie will serve on. Curiously, McDuffie said he doesn’t have a preference.
“That is the decision the chairman has to make,” McDuffie said.
But McDuffie will be moving into the fourth floor office in the John A. Wilson Building currently occupied Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large). Orange will be relocating to Thomas’s former office on the first floor.
McDuffie is also currently in the process of searching for a staff, hoping to have at least one or two hires in place by his swearing-in date.