The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this month delivered a decisive victory to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) when it decided that he had not violated a law that prohibits elected officials from accepting gifts from city lobbyists.
But while the mayor will face no penalties, the elections board will be looking over his shoulder to make sure he pays the balance of a legal bill -- about $20,000.
The mayor's spokesman, Tony Bullock, boasted last week that Dorothy Brizill, the clean-government activist who complained about the mayor's legal arrangement with attorney and lobbyist Vincent Mark J. Policy, had been "slam-dunked." Bullock was referring to the elections board's decision to dismiss Brizill's complaint and clear the mayor of wrongdoing.
But the board acknowledged that Brizill had raised questions that the public deserved to have answered. Such as: Why did Policy, a veteran city lobbyist, fail to bill Williams for eight months while representing him in a pay dispute with a political consultant? If Policy's legal services weren't intended as a gift, when did he plan to get paid?
Policy argues that he did expect the mayor to pay his fees and that, in any case, he was not actively lobbying at the time. The elections board accepted that argument but said it would continue to monitor the situation to make sure the mayor does eventually hand over the cash.
"I do think that it is important that . . . the mayor is not getting a break," said outgoing board chairman Benjamin F. Wilson, who instructed board members to check the status of the mayor's legal debt in 90 days. "We cannot accord the mayor any special privileges." All of which raises another question: Where will the mayor get the cash?
Williams has acknowledged in sworn statements and during a recent news conference that he does not have the financial resources to pay Policy's bill. Williams now wants his political campaign -- which as of January had a $42,131 surplus -- to pick up the tab.
Campaign finance officials have said the law would allow the campaign to pay Policy. But Williams's campaign aides have been reluctant to pay, saying they had no contractual agreement with the consultant.
A Rumble Over Roma
While the elections board cocked its collective eyebrow at the mayor's choice of lawyers, much of the District's political cognoscenti were buzzing last week about his travel schedule. In recent days, Williams has visited Paris, San Antonio and Las Vegas. But it was the trip to Rome that really stirred up trouble.
Williams was visiting the Italian capital over the same weekend that Rudy Crew, his top choice for school superintendent, was visiting the District. Despite a hard sell from council members and school officials, Crew passed on D.C. and accepted a similar post in Miami. He then complained that he couldn't reach Williams to tell him about it.
That touched off grumbling among school officials, council members and even members of Congress about Williams's travels.
Last week, the mayor responded with a spirited defense of the time he spends out of town. "These are important trips," Williams said at his weekly news conference. "I try to manage them with the interests of the District in mind, both in terms of what we say and what we do on them and how we categorize and prioritize our time attendant to them."
Williams said he is in such demand that "I would be gone all year, all over the world" if he accepted every invitation. So he winnows them down, he said, attending only those events that let him market the District, campaign for needed services or spread the word about the District's lack of political representation.
"We all talk about the fact that everybody thinks the city gets its budget from the federal government or that we have democracy. Very few people actually know our predicament. Now we have a mayor who's invited around the country to speak about the District," he said.
Williams said he tries to minimize the amount of time he spends out of town by traveling over weekends and returning quickly. For example, he said, he once made the long trek to Hawaii but stayed only 36 hours.
During Crew's visit, Williams was attending a conference focused on opening youth assistance centers in six war-ravaged cities. Williams said he doesn't regret making the trip. But "if I had known what I know now -- and this is always the case -- I would have rearranged my plans accordingly," he said.
Crew has declined to say whether more face time with the mayor would have forestalled his decision to go to Miami.
Exposing Divided Loyalties
For nearly three years, city officials have struggled to divine the hidden messages in statements by Major League Baseball officials trying to decide whether to relocate the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C.
Now the mayor seems to be sending some weird signals. Last Friday, at a press conference at the 3rd District Police Substation, Williams appeared before a half-dozen reporters and TV cameras wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap. What gives? reporters asked.
Williams, a longtime Cardinals fan, said he didn't mean any disrespect for the District's potential baseball team. "Once we have a team, I'll transfer my loyalties," he promised.
Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.