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Opinion piece on mayoral appeal

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  • David McIntire
    Voters Rights A Poor Excuse For the Mayor By Marc Fisher Thursday, August 1, 2002; Page B01 The mayor was clearly acting from someone else s script. He was
    Message 1 of 3 , Aug 1, 2002
      Voters' Rights A Poor Excuse For the Mayor


      By Marc Fisher

      Thursday, August 1, 2002; Page B01


      The mayor was clearly acting from someone else's script.
      He was uncharacteristically exuberant, almost barking
      his declaration of allegiance to the Democratic Party --
      the same party he didn't care to consult before hosting
      a fundraiser for Republican Rep. Connie Morella. With
      several dozen of his employees whooping it up in an
      embarrassing attempt to stage a grass-roots rally, Tony
      Williams tried to slip one over on a city that only
      wishes he'd give it to us straight.

      "We will appeal the Board of Elections decision on
      behalf not just of me, but on behalf of the voters of
      the District," the mayor said Tuesday. Williams claims
      to have learned a painful lesson from the phony
      petitions scandal, but he is jumping into the same
      lawyer-infested pool that revolted the nation after the
      2000 presidential election.

      How could the same mayor who so forthrightly apologized
      for his campaign workers' election fraud turn around and
      ask the Court of Appeals to uphold those dishonest
      petitions? "You're talking about 2,000 voters," Williams
      said of the 20 percent of his signatures that may
      actually represent real voters. "I don't think we should
      be throwing people's voting rights away."

      In the audience, Lawrence Guyot nearly gagged. A civil
      rights pioneer thrown in jail while trying to register
      black voters in Mississippi in 1962, Guyot could not
      believe that Williams would spin his desperate legal
      maneuver as a matter of voting rights.

      "To illegally attack the vote and then claim to be a
      champion of the right to vote is antithetical to African
      American history," Guyot said. "I risked my life for the
      vote. I support the 15th Amendment as strong as I
      support Jesus. If you really want to deprive people of
      the right to vote, you circulate phony petitions and
      then defend them legally." Bottom line: "The fruit of a
      poisonous tree is poisoned."

      Dorothy Brizill, the gadfly who fought the mayor's
      $250-an-hour lawyers and won, persuading the board of
      elections to reject Williams's petitions, says that as
      many as 1,600 of the signatures the mayor is clinging to
      are tainted because they were collected by the mayor's
      paid operatives.

      Brizill is the kind of activist who is easily lampooned
      by those who don't care for politics. She's a process
      fanatic, one of those rare but invaluable citizens who
      take the time to sit in on boring meetings where the
      clues about money and power are hidden in plain view.
      When she saw what the Williams campaign had done, she
      insisted on a correction.

      That doesn't mean she's out to get the mayor. On the
      contrary, she says, if he had launched an independent
      candidacy Tuesday, she would have gone out to collect
      signatures for him. Now, however, she sees a mayor who
      is "supporting wholesale forgery and election fraud. At
      some point, you have to be bigger than your own personal
      interest."

      Across the political spectrum from Guyot stands a young
      law student who was the first to blow the whistle on
      Williams's reeking petitions. Shaun Snyder, 23 and
      entering his final year at Georgetown Law, is a white
      Republican from upper Northwest, the mayor's power base.

      Like Brizill, Snyder takes pride in checking up on the
      system. Since 1998, Snyder has made it his business to
      inspect D.C. candidates' petitions.

      Snyder wasn't even going to look at the mayor's
      petitions because Williams was virtually unopposed,
      well-funded -- and had a whopping 10,000 signatures. But
      when elections staffers put the mayor's petitions on the
      table with the others Snyder planned to scan, he took a
      peek. The fraud was instantly obvious.

      For Williams to pretend he's defending voters' rights
      offends this law student. "He's defending the will of
      which voters?" Snyder asks. "The ones whose names were
      forged? If you don't play by the rules, you don't get to
      benefit from the breaking of those rules."

      Snyder's only contact with the mayor's staff has been an
      attempt by Williams's lawyers "to get me to withdraw the
      challenge. They said this was going to make the District
      look like Florida. But they're the ones extending this.
      They could have dropped this and taken their campaign to
      the citizens. Instead, he's going to the courts. The
      recourse is not always to the courts, and I say that
      sitting here studying for a law exam."

      Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" at
      www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.



      © 2002 The Washington Post Company
    • Larry Bellinger
      washingtonpost.com Mr. Mayor, You Could Have Used a Machine By E.J. Dionne Jr. Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page B01 Marion Barry never would have made a mistake
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 1, 2002
        washingtonpost.com
        Mr. Mayor, You Could Have Used a Machine


        By E.J. Dionne Jr.

        Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page B01


        Marion Barry never would have made a mistake like this.

        In Washington and beyond, people are (pick your term) astonished, aghast and
        bewildered that Mayor Anthony Williams is in reelection trouble -- not
        because of money, not because he failed in office, not because he's
        unpopular. No, the mayor botched the most elementary of political tasks:
        gathering the proper number of signatures required to get his name on the
        ballot for the Sept. 10 primary.

        "He messed up his petitions?" asked a disbelieving New York State Democratic
        chair Denny Farrell, a veteran of tough political wars in Harlem and
        throughout New York City.

        "Is there no political organization there in the District?" asked Ed Burke,
        the longest-serving member of the Chicago City Council and proud leader of
        the 14th Ward. "He ought to have been able to collect them in City Hall."
        And if he had to go farther afield, Burke mused, what about "friends and
        relatives"?

        Okay, the thing with Williams is that he's not really a politician, He's a
        decent, smart, slightly eccentric number cruncher who is not a crook. These
        are not trivial attributes. I voted for him last time and expect to again --
        if he figures out how to get on to the ballot. The Board of Elections'
        ruling against the mayor on Friday means that he will need a lot of
        sophisticated lawyers to do a job that a few competent petition gatherers
        could have accomplished with ease.

        This petition foul-up is not some minor infraction. If you respect the art
        of politics, it's absolutely enraging. Advocates of good government are not
        required to be bad at getting elected. On the contrary, the "goo-goos," as
        machine politicians have derisively labeled reformers for decades, often
        need to be better at politics than the pros, because they start out fighting
        from the outside in and because they can't take the shortcuts that less
        pristine politicians might permit themselves.

        You don't have to be an apologist for political machines to appreciate their
        genuine respect for doing the little things right. The regulars understand
        that politics is not just about ideology, five-point plans visionary
        speeches or the slickest TV commercials. It's about finding the right guy
        here and the right woman there to get the day-to-day jobs done well --
        something that Marion Barry, at campaign time, at least, was rather good at.
        Who's got the lists you need? Who has the right contacts in the churches,
        the unions, the Elks, the neighborhood associations? Who will go talk to his
        neighbors and not just promise? Who can put out the yard signs? And, yes,
        who can gather the signatures?

        You don't need an MBA or a PhD to collect petitions. So what -- it's a real
        skill. The petition maestros are respected because, as Williams is learning,
        if they mess up, it doesn't matter how much money the candidate has in the
        bank. If a politician is not smart enough to know that getting his name on
        the ballot is really, really important, maybe he's not going to be smart
        enough to reorganize the DMV or reform Medicaid.

        New York's Farrell got his start in old-line politics more than 40 years
        ago, at Harlem's Tioga Democratic Club -- where the art of gathering
        signatures was so cherished, he recalls, that "it was a great honor to be
        allowed into the petition room."

        "Your district leader would give you your petitions," recalled Farrell.
        "You'd collect them and hand them in to the district leader, and he'd give
        them to the mechanic." That's what they called the skilled craftsman who
        could turn in a petition so iron-clad that it was impossible for opponents
        to knock anybody off the ballot.

        "The mechanic," Farrell continued, "would look at them and say, 'Initial
        this, correct that, that signature doesn't look correct, cross it off.' The
        petition would be bound in a volume and you'd sign it and you'd paginate
        it." So important was this document, Farrell recalled, and so bitter were
        the petition wars, that it would then be locked away in a safe. "This was a
        time," he said, "when people might have their petitions stolen."

        In the old days, Farrell recalls, the petition mechanic, upon finishing his
        work, would often leave town. "He'd take a train to, say, Florida and tip
        lavishly and be very loud, so that if there was a court case and he was
        subpoenaed, there would be witnesses to the fact that he wasn't around." If
        there were charges of fraud, the candidate or campaign manager could insist
        that he was innocent and that the mechanic, now safely out of town, was
        responsible.

        Now, there's no way that Tony Williams should ever get himself into that
        sort of skulduggery. But as Farrell notes, if you're smart and careful about
        your petitions, you don't need to.

        Chicago's Burke acknowledges that even in the city that was home to one of
        the nation's most legendary political machines, things aren't what they used
        to be. "The number of wards that still have old-time organizations is
        dwindling," he said, mostly because of "the decline of patronage."

        But Burke is proud of his ward. When it comes to petitioning, "most of our
        people are experienced and they know what they have to do." Petitions are
        carefully checked to catch and eliminate what he calls "round-tabling."
        That's when a group of overzealous signature-gatherers get together with a
        voter list, pick out names on the list, and take turns signing different
        names. The idea is, you don't have the same handwriting for one name after
        another.

        It's worth noting that most professional Chicago pols look down on the
        practice of round-tabling. When it is discovered, Burke said, "we don't turn
        the petitions in, and we know we can't rely on that person the next time
        around." Oh, the joys of organization.

        But Burke is right about the decline of organization politics. Because of
        that, a brisk business is done these days by experienced operators who
        collect petitions for money when campaigns can't find anyone else to do it.
        Here again, a modest amount of political sophistication is helpful. If
        you're going to pay for petitions, as Williams may have done for some of
        his, isn't it worth having pros at the top of the campaign who know whom to
        pay so they'll get what they're paying for? With $1.4 million in his
        campaign account, couldn't Williams afford the best?

        I guess not. He didn't even get the relatively sophisticated fraud of
        round-tabling. On some of Williams's petitions, it looks like the same
        person signed one name after another.

        Give Williams his due. "He's not completely atypical of some of the reform
        mayors who did a good job but lacked political skills," said Fred Siegel, a
        professor at the Cooper Union for Arts and Sciences and author of "The
        Future Once Happened Here," about the failure of urban liberalism in New
        York, Washington and Los Angeles.

        Siegel sees Williams as being in the same league as former mayors such as
        Dennis Archer in Detroit, Steve Goldsmith in Indianapolis and Michael White
        in Cleveland. "These were guys who were good mayors, but could have been
        stronger if they had been good politicians."

        By contrast, he sees Denver Mayor Wellington Webb as someone who's managed
        to combine reform impulses with political savvy. And a mayor who lacks savvy
        should know enough to hire some. New York's Michael Bloomberg, a Republican,
        signed on Bill Cunningham, a longtime Democratic pro, to handle his
        political chores. "Bloomberg knows what he doesn't know," Siegel said,
        reciting what should be a motto for every ambitious pol.

        Finally, there are politically talented mayors who recognize similar talent
        when they see it. Former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, a man who was born
        to run, found an alter ego in his campaign manager and later chief of staff,
        David Cohen. As a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer once put it, Cohen was
        the guy who made sure "that calls are returned, commitments fulfilled and
        the mayor's instructions carried out to the last detail." Not a bad
        description of what our mayor could use.

        It would be a shame if this petition mess sank Tony Williams, because
        Washington is, on the whole, better off now than it was four years ago. But
        our mayor needs to know what he doesn't know, and he needs far better
        judgment about who can provide that knowledge. He also needs to understand
        that politics isn't necessarily a grubby enterprise. People who know how to
        do politics right deserve respect because they can save a mayor from a heap
        of trouble. They can even keep a reformer honest.

        E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Post
        columnist, has signed candidate petitions -- and, in his youth, collected
        them.



        © 2002 The Washington Post Company

        Larry Bellinger

        "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens."
        --Jimi Hendrix
      • William Jordan
        The problem with Mr. Dionne s piece is that the Mayor does have a machine. His machine is just not based on deep community based politics, so is/was not
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 1, 2002
          The problem with Mr. Dionne's piece is that the Mayor does have a machine. His
          machine is just not based on deep community based politics, so is/was not
          focused on community based issues. Nor does the mayor have full control of his
          own machine, which is what caused the petition problems and other issues. But
          believe me you don't get contracts paying over $80K to attend a few meetings,
          close DC General, Restructure the School Board, run non-profits as slush funds,
          raise $1.4M without a machine. Unfortunately, Mr. Dionne is more interested in
          preserving the Williams Myth than providing throughtful insight.

          The destruction of the Myth is good, hopefully now the mayor will take off his
          bowtie and get to the tuff work of governing a complex city from the ground up.
          Intalling computer systems and shifting managment structures and personnel was
          necessary, but it is not the same as governing and leading a city. The control
          board is no longer available to act as a buffer, congress is busy screwing other
          things up, the city's elite got what they wanted, so now the Mayor and focus of
          the city and its people instead of preserving a myth. So, let the myth deie, I
          am sure he is up to the job, at least I hope since we are probably stuck with
          each other for at least 4 more years.

          William

          Larry Bellinger wrote:

          > washingtonpost.com
          > Mr. Mayor, You Could Have Used a Machine
          >
          > By E.J. Dionne Jr.
          >
          > Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page B01
          >
          > Marion Barry never would have made a mistake like this.
          >
          > In Washington and beyond, people are (pick your term) astonished, aghast and
          > bewildered that Mayor Anthony Williams is in reelection trouble -- not
          > because of money, not because he failed in office, not because he's
          > unpopular. No, the mayor botched the most elementary of political tasks:
          > gathering the proper number of signatures required to get his name on the
          > ballot for the Sept. 10 primary.
          >
          > "He messed up his petitions?" asked a disbelieving New York State Democratic
          > chair Denny Farrell, a veteran of tough political wars in Harlem and
          > throughout New York City.
          >
          > "Is there no political organization there in the District?" asked Ed Burke,
          > the longest-serving member of the Chicago City Council and proud leader of
          > the 14th Ward. "He ought to have been able to collect them in City Hall."
          > And if he had to go farther afield, Burke mused, what about "friends and
          > relatives"?
          >
          > Okay, the thing with Williams is that he's not really a politician, He's a
          > decent, smart, slightly eccentric number cruncher who is not a crook. These
          > are not trivial attributes. I voted for him last time and expect to again --
          > if he figures out how to get on to the ballot. The Board of Elections'
          > ruling against the mayor on Friday means that he will need a lot of
          > sophisticated lawyers to do a job that a few competent petition gatherers
          > could have accomplished with ease.
          >
          > This petition foul-up is not some minor infraction. If you respect the art
          > of politics, it's absolutely enraging. Advocates of good government are not
          > required to be bad at getting elected. On the contrary, the "goo-goos," as
          > machine politicians have derisively labeled reformers for decades, often
          > need to be better at politics than the pros, because they start out fighting
          > from the outside in and because they can't take the shortcuts that less
          > pristine politicians might permit themselves.
          >
          > You don't have to be an apologist for political machines to appreciate their
          > genuine respect for doing the little things right. The regulars understand
          > that politics is not just about ideology, five-point plans visionary
          > speeches or the slickest TV commercials. It's about finding the right guy
          > here and the right woman there to get the day-to-day jobs done well --
          > something that Marion Barry, at campaign time, at least, was rather good at.
          > Who's got the lists you need? Who has the right contacts in the churches,
          > the unions, the Elks, the neighborhood associations? Who will go talk to his
          > neighbors and not just promise? Who can put out the yard signs? And, yes,
          > who can gather the signatures?
          >
          > You don't need an MBA or a PhD to collect petitions. So what -- it's a real
          > skill. The petition maestros are respected because, as Williams is learning,
          > if they mess up, it doesn't matter how much money the candidate has in the
          > bank. If a politician is not smart enough to know that getting his name on
          > the ballot is really, really important, maybe he's not going to be smart
          > enough to reorganize the DMV or reform Medicaid.
          >
          > New York's Farrell got his start in old-line politics more than 40 years
          > ago, at Harlem's Tioga Democratic Club -- where the art of gathering
          > signatures was so cherished, he recalls, that "it was a great honor to be
          > allowed into the petition room."
          >
          > "Your district leader would give you your petitions," recalled Farrell.
          > "You'd collect them and hand them in to the district leader, and he'd give
          > them to the mechanic." That's what they called the skilled craftsman who
          > could turn in a petition so iron-clad that it was impossible for opponents
          > to knock anybody off the ballot.
          >
          > "The mechanic," Farrell continued, "would look at them and say, 'Initial
          > this, correct that, that signature doesn't look correct, cross it off.' The
          > petition would be bound in a volume and you'd sign it and you'd paginate
          > it." So important was this document, Farrell recalled, and so bitter were
          > the petition wars, that it would then be locked away in a safe. "This was a
          > time," he said, "when people might have their petitions stolen."
          >
          > In the old days, Farrell recalls, the petition mechanic, upon finishing his
          > work, would often leave town. "He'd take a train to, say, Florida and tip
          > lavishly and be very loud, so that if there was a court case and he was
          > subpoenaed, there would be witnesses to the fact that he wasn't around." If
          > there were charges of fraud, the candidate or campaign manager could insist
          > that he was innocent and that the mechanic, now safely out of town, was
          > responsible.
          >
          > Now, there's no way that Tony Williams should ever get himself into that
          > sort of skulduggery. But as Farrell notes, if you're smart and careful about
          > your petitions, you don't need to.
          >
          > Chicago's Burke acknowledges that even in the city that was home to one of
          > the nation's most legendary political machines, things aren't what they used
          > to be. "The number of wards that still have old-time organizations is
          > dwindling," he said, mostly because of "the decline of patronage."
          >
          > But Burke is proud of his ward. When it comes to petitioning, "most of our
          > people are experienced and they know what they have to do." Petitions are
          > carefully checked to catch and eliminate what he calls "round-tabling."
          > That's when a group of overzealous signature-gatherers get together with a
          > voter list, pick out names on the list, and take turns signing different
          > names. The idea is, you don't have the same handwriting for one name after
          > another.
          >
          > It's worth noting that most professional Chicago pols look down on the
          > practice of round-tabling. When it is discovered, Burke said, "we don't turn
          > the petitions in, and we know we can't rely on that person the next time
          > around." Oh, the joys of organization.
          >
          > But Burke is right about the decline of organization politics. Because of
          > that, a brisk business is done these days by experienced operators who
          > collect petitions for money when campaigns can't find anyone else to do it.
          > Here again, a modest amount of political sophistication is helpful. If
          > you're going to pay for petitions, as Williams may have done for some of
          > his, isn't it worth having pros at the top of the campaign who know whom to
          > pay so they'll get what they're paying for? With $1.4 million in his
          > campaign account, couldn't Williams afford the best?
          >
          > I guess not. He didn't even get the relatively sophisticated fraud of
          > round-tabling. On some of Williams's petitions, it looks like the same
          > person signed one name after another.
          >
          > Give Williams his due. "He's not completely atypical of some of the reform
          > mayors who did a good job but lacked political skills," said Fred Siegel, a
          > professor at the Cooper Union for Arts and Sciences and author of "The
          > Future Once Happened Here," about the failure of urban liberalism in New
          > York, Washington and Los Angeles.
          >
          > Siegel sees Williams as being in the same league as former mayors such as
          > Dennis Archer in Detroit, Steve Goldsmith in Indianapolis and Michael White
          > in Cleveland. "These were guys who were good mayors, but could have been
          > stronger if they had been good politicians."
          >
          > By contrast, he sees Denver Mayor Wellington Webb as someone who's managed
          > to combine reform impulses with political savvy. And a mayor who lacks savvy
          > should know enough to hire some. New York's Michael Bloomberg, a Republican,
          > signed on Bill Cunningham, a longtime Democratic pro, to handle his
          > political chores. "Bloomberg knows what he doesn't know," Siegel said,
          > reciting what should be a motto for every ambitious pol.
          >
          > Finally, there are politically talented mayors who recognize similar talent
          > when they see it. Former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell, a man who was born
          > to run, found an alter ego in his campaign manager and later chief of staff,
          > David Cohen. As a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer once put it, Cohen was
          > the guy who made sure "that calls are returned, commitments fulfilled and
          > the mayor's instructions carried out to the last detail." Not a bad
          > description of what our mayor could use.
          >
          > It would be a shame if this petition mess sank Tony Williams, because
          > Washington is, on the whole, better off now than it was four years ago. But
          > our mayor needs to know what he doesn't know, and he needs far better
          > judgment about who can provide that knowledge. He also needs to understand
          > that politics isn't necessarily a grubby enterprise. People who know how to
          > do politics right deserve respect because they can save a mayor from a heap
          > of trouble. They can even keep a reformer honest.
          >
          > E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Post
          > columnist, has signed candidate petitions -- and, in his youth, collected
          > them.
          >
          > © 2002 The Washington Post Company
          >
          > Larry Bellinger
          >
          > "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens."
          > --Jimi Hendrix
          >
          >
          > URL to this page on the web: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/columbia_heights/
          >
          >
          > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
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