Just as robins herald the coming of spring, you know that a D.C. political scandal is warming up when the lawyers arrive in their finery to spin a defense for their beleaguered clients.
These scandal specialists are an elite group within the expansive world of Washington lawyers, and the Williams administration is proving as lucrative for them as the Barry administration ever was. Just this past summer, when the city was bubbling over with talk of fraudulent nominating petitions, the usual suspects each had a piece of the action.
Former Corporation Counsel Frederick D. Cooke Jr. represented campaign co-chairman Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, uber-lawyer/lobbyist David Wilmot represented petition king Scott Bishop Sr., and Vandy L. Jamison Jr. represented Scott Bishop Jr. and his wife, Crystal Bishop. Rounding out the group was A. Scott Bolden, a former D.C. Chamber of Commerce president, who represented Williams campaign consultant Charles N. Duncan.
The Washington Teachers' Union mess, which has morphed into a Williams administration mess, has three of the four attorneys gainfully employed yet again.
"I'd like to think it's because we did a good job on the last scandal," said Bolden, "but only the clients can say that."
The latest to join up was Jamison, who is representing the mayor's chief of staff, Kelvin J. Robinson. Jamison declined to say when he first started working for Robinson, but if the relationship predates this week, it was an uncharacteristically quiet stretch, given that each of these lawyers do much of their work in the court of public opinion, spinning reporters with seemingly harmless explanations of questionable activities.
Jamison revealed that he was representing Robinson on Monday night, about 9, through a call to a reporter's cell phone. It was early enough to slip a comment into a story about the U.S. Office of Special Counsel opening an inquiry into whether Robinson had violated the Hatch Act by urging a group of more than 200 political appointees to contribute money to the mayor's reelection campaign.
That allegation isn't tied directly to the teachers union scandal, but the accusations became public because of the increased scrutiny that that controversy has generated. Robinson, meanwhile, is battling other allegations specifically related to the union, including questions from federal investigators about a party in his honor bankrolled by the union. (He has adamantly denied knowing who paid the bill.)
Jamison, meanwhile, is also representing Hemphill's son-in-law, Michael Martin, who is under federal investigation for allegations related to the union scandal.
Cooke, an old Barry administration aide, has his hands full with Hemphill, who went from fringe figure in the nominating petition scandal to central figure in the teachers union probe. Bolden is representing Independence Federal Savings and Loan, which cashed checks for thousands of dollars for the union's chauffeur in transactions that an auditor dubbed "unusual." Bolden also briefly worked for Errol Alderman, a secondary figure in the teachers union scandal.
And what about Wilmot? No client yet, but he does sit on the board of the bank, which may be involvement enough for now. Stay tuned.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
It was reported in this space last week that the D.C. Democracy Fund, headed by Executive Director Sean Tenner, suggested the idea of the District holding the first-in-the-nation presidential primary to Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).
But as the saying goes, the most dangerous place to be in Washington is between the District Notebook and a local politico seeking credit for a bright idea. Timothy Cooper, executive director of Democracy First, helpfully sent in the excerpt below from a report of a recent meeting of Team Democracy, a group of District activists working for voting representation, to set the record straight.
"DC DEMOCRACY FUND, Sean Tenner [ . . . reported that a focus of 2003 will be] to involve Democratic presidential candidates in fundraisers and to get presidential commitments to full DC Congressional voting rights and self-government. One way DC Democracy Fund has been considering is to move DC's presidential primary up so that politicians speak to local issues.
"Timothy Cooper asked if they were considering moving the primary before New Hampshire -- he said that, based on research he had done about New Hampshire's law, it had a trigger mechanism to keep it the first in the nation, but it only included states. DC is not a state, therefore, Cooper said DC can move ahead of New Hampshire. . . . One member suggested [WTOP-AM radio commentator] Mark Plotkin could help move this issue along. Timothy Cooper stepped out of the room and called Mark Plotkin."
Cooper, in an e-mail to the Notebook, graciously added, "Plotkin deserves the credit for bringing the idea to Jack Evans."
Election Official Honored
Alice P. Miller, executive director of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, is the first African American to be elected president of the National Association of State Election Directors.
Miller, the quiet but resolute leader of the city's elections board, was sworn in Saturday as the organization's 14th president.
Benjamin F. Wilson, chairman of the elections board, said the board's members were pleased that Miller was selected.
"It is a signal achievement and reflects Ms. Miller's work, not only as part of that national organization, but her fine leadership at the Board of Elections and Ethics," Wilson said.
The association is composed of directors of elections representing all 50 states, the District, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. For the past four years, Miller has served on the association's executive committee. She has represented the association at congressional hearings, including the Congressional Black Caucus 2001 hearing on election reform.
Last year, Miller oversaw the elections office during the mayor's nominating petition debacle, the following court appeal and the unprecedented write-in campaign during the primary election. In addition, the city introduced new voting machines last year.
Miller, 46, was the board's general counsel before she was appointed executive director in 1997.
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.