3 Dispute Williams's Election Petitions

By Lena H. Sun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 15, 2002

A group of District activists yesterday filed the first challenge to Mayor Anthony A. Williams's petitions to get his name on the September primary ballot, alleging that at least 9,000 of the 10,000 signatures are invalid.

Sandra Seegars, a member of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, and two others filed their challenge with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. At least two other groups, including the D.C. Republican Committee, have said they also will file a challenge concerning the authenticity of the signatures before today's 5 p.m. deadline.

Mayoral candidates need 2,000 valid signatures of registered city voters to qualify to be on the ballot for the Democratic primary. There are seven other Democratic candidates for the Sept. 10 primary, but the only challenge filed is against Williams, said Bill O'Field, a spokesman for the election board.

"We don't like crooked people in office," said Seegars, who took a lead role in the 1997 campaign to recall then-Mayor Marion Barry. "We're trying to kick [Williams] off the ballot." The mayor appointed her to the taxi commission, but she has been an outspoken critic.

Williams (D) has said he was "nauseated" by allegations that his reelection campaign had submitted fraudulent signatures to get his name on the ballot and has promised to fire staff members found responsible. The campaign has almost completed an internal review of the petitions.

"It does appear that some signatures, some petition sheets, were not done properly," mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said yesterday. In some cases, the petition carrier was "either unaware of the rules or didn't follow them," he said. He declined to elaborate on what specific rules were broken.

Nevertheless, he added, "we are quite confident that there will be more than enough [valid signatures] to meet the requirement, and the rest of it is theater."

The challenge has raised questions about the ability of Williams's campaign to accomplish a seemingly straightforward task of reelecting a popular, well-funded mayor with no major opponent. Administration officials have blamed the loose organization of the reelection campaign for the trouble. It used a mix of volunteers and part-time staff members, who were paid $ 1 per signature, for the petition work.

The election board has until July 30 to investigate the challenge. If the board rules that Williams does not have enough signatures, he can still run in the primary as a write-in candidate or in the general election as an independent. To run as an independent, he must collect 3,000 signatures from registered city voters by Aug. 28.

Members of the three-member board -- two Democrats and a Republican -- were appointed by Williams and confirmed by the D.C. Council. The board's decision can be appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The city's Republican Party, which did not field a candidate, first raised questions about the validity of the mayor's petitions last week. GOP Chairwoman Betsy Werronen disputed about 4,000 of the signatures.

A Washington Post review of one-third of the 512 pages of petitions revealed that many had similar or seemingly identical handwriting on line after line. The name of one prominent Virginian, James V. Kimsey, co-founder of America Online, appeared on one line but with his name backward. A spokesman for Kimsey has said it was not his signature.

At least 80 signatures collected by Scott Bishop Sr., a former city government employee, were dated June 31. June has only 30 days.

Yesterday, Seegars said the largest number of questionable signatures appeared to have been collected by Bishop, his son and his daughter-in-law.

Many of the petitions showed virtually all the signatures in the same handwriting, she said. Another red flag was that the consecutive addresses of those who signed the petitions jumped all over the city -- from Southwest to Southeast, then to Northwest or Northeast. It is far more common for a petition carrier to collect signatures from one part of the city before going to another, she said.

Seegars was joined at the election board yesterday by Absalom Jordan, a Ward 8 political activist, and John May Sr., a cabdriver. Both Seegars and Jordan said they support mayoral candidate Douglas E. Moore (D), a Methodist preacher, energy company executive and former D.C. Council member. But they said Moore had nothing to do with the challenge.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company