A vote of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to remove Marie Dias Bembery, a candidate for D.C. delegate, from the ballot of the Democratic primary was incorrect in an article yesterday. Board Chairman Albert J. Beveridge III and board member Virginia Moye voted to remove Bembery from the ballot, with board member Jeannine S. Clark voting in dissent.
A week ago, Marie Bembery says, she predicted to her campaign workers that the city's Board of Elections and Ethics would vote to keep her name off the ballot as a candidate for Washington's delegate to Congress. The next day, the board voted 2-1 to do just that. Now Bembery is alleging that she was kept off the ballot for political reasons.
A spokesman for the board said that elections officials refused to accept the petitions necessary to put Bembery on the ballot because clerks said her petitions did not get into their office in the District Building until seconds after the 5 p.m. filing deadline.
The elections board vote last week left Walter E. Fauntroy unopposed in the Democratic primary as he tries for a seventh straight term in office.
How did Bembery know she would lose her appeal before the board?
"You don't have to look too far to see that Fauntroy endorsed the mayor right after my petitions were not accepted by the board," said Bembery, whom Barry fired in 1981 when she announced that she planned to challenge Fauntroy for his seat. "The deal was between Fauntroy and Barry to keep me off the ballot and they did it."
Fauntroy called Bembery's charges "nonsense" and said he never discussed the board's vote with Barry.
"I think that is just outrageous and unconscionable for Miss Bembery to suggest that," said Fauntroy. "In the first instance I regret very much that a technicality resulted in the board not accepting her petitions. And secondly, I am hopeful that the court will recognize the basic fairness that should be accorded her and her supporters by allowing her on on the ballot."
Fauntroy's campaign manager testified at the board's hearing on Bembery's petitions and asked the board to allow Bembery to remain on the ballot. Bembery said the show of graciousness by the Fauntroy camp came only after they knew Barry had arranged for the elections board to remove her from the ballot.
A spokesman for Barry denied that the mayor spoke with any of the members of the board, all of whom were appointed by Barry.
"The mayor didn't have anything to do with that," said Annette Samuels, Barry's press secretary. "That was the board's own independent decison. That is an independent board."
Albert Beveridge, chairman of the elections board and one of the two members who voted against Bembery's appeal, said the decison was made only on the grounds that by law, the board does not have the discretion to accept petitions after 5 p.m.
"I haven't had a discussion with Marion in the last eight or ten weeks," said Beveridge. "I don't think there's anything small or niggling about keeping someone off the ballot. I think its very important to have a contest for elected posts."
As proof of her charge that the board was carrying out a political promise for Barry, Bembery pointed to the election board's decision to allow mayoral candidate Morris Harper to remain on the ballot even though he did not get his petitions into the office until after Bembery had submitted her petitions.
"Harper had come in with 34 properly completed petitions at 3 p.m.," explained Beveridge, "and someone in the office mistakenly sent him away because they thought the petitions were not correctly signed. They were wrong. Those petitions should have been accepted at 3 o'clock and that's why we voted to have him put on the ballot.
"In Bembery's case we didn't have the discretion to disregard the 5 p.m deadline," said Beveridge.
Because of the board's ruling, Fauntroy will go unchallenged unless Bembery is successful in an appeal--still unscheduled--that she says she plans to make before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
In his political career in the city, Fauntroy has seen such slight challenge at the polls that he said newcomer Bembery would have been his toughest challenger in the last eight years. Fauntroy said his last tough race came in 1974 from independent James G. Banks, the former executive director of the United Planning Organization.
Although Bembery was considered a long-shot against the popular Fauntroy, she has been using strong language to question his performance as the city's delegate, including blaming him for the collapse of the city's drive for voting rights.
Her questions were helping to renew the debate of what the District's nonvoting delegate really should do for the city. She said the delegate should help the city win voting rights and statehood and stay in touch with District issues that go to the hill.
Fauntroy said he sees the delegate's job as protecting home rule and gaining voting rights, and also leaving District issues occasionally to gain seniority on committees that may not deal with the city but help to form public opinion on issues such as the federal budget cuts that concern District residents.
With Bembery's removal from the ballot, that debate is a loss to voters.