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Native Intelligence
Mayor gives Morella boost she needs
(Published April 22, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Let’s get some things straight in this imploding controversy over Mayor Anthony Williams hosting a fund-raiser for Rep. Connie Morella.

In his defense, the mayor was not alone. He was one of a group of current and former Democratic officeholders to lend their name and support to the Montgomery County Republican’s fund-raiser for her re-election campaign. Former Democratic city council members Charlene Drew Jarvis and H.R. Crawford put their business interests above party affiliation and lent their names and money to the event. Except in a few instances, businesses always hedge their bets by giving the impression they support both Democrats and Republicans. It is an "insurance policy" for them – and what many people say is wrong with the way we finance elections. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that political loyalty in the business community isn’t very deep.

It is in this climate that, according to D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, she agreed months ago to lend her name to "an appreciation event" to thank Morella for being a friend of the District. Cropp says it was so long ago she honestly does not even remember agreeing to have her name on the invitation. The council chairman implies that some of the organizers, who also have been supportive of her, did not characterize it as an event to raise money for Morella’s re-election campaign. If they did, she says she would have said no.

Cropp says she personally likes Morella enormously and does agree that the Maryland congresswoman has been a friend of the District. But whatever you may think about Cropp, she is smart enough to know the difference between working with people of different political stripes and friendship. Sources say that as soon as Cropp discovered it was a political event, she called Morella and indicated why she would not be in attendance. Morella, like Cropp, is no political neophyte and reportedly did not take it personally.

I can almost bet Cropp’s absence will not harm the "working relationship" Morella has with Cropp. Besides, the ensuing controversy surrounding Williams and his subsequent statements about the event gave Morella some of the most positive publicity seen so far in one of the most hotly contested House seats this election year.

Mayor Williams, a Democrat, was the lone host and the highest officeholder who lent his name to the fund-raiser for a Republican in an election year where a switch of just six seats gives control of the House back to the Democrats. The Democrats al-ready control the Senate, so the political stakes are high.

Williams’ spokesman, Tony Bullock, says the reason Williams hosted this fund-raiser for Morella is because the GOP lawmaker asked him directly to host the event. Bullock should have checked before responding so quickly.

A group of lawyers and others who do business in the District takes credit for asking Williams to host the event. Lawyer Dennis Horn, one of the chief organizers and an acknowledged Democrat, says a loosely knit group of downtown firms and businesses think Morella has done a good job. Horn, who lives in Montgomery County, is a classic example of the real behind-the-scenes political power in the District, along with the members of the Federal City Council. Horn, who is also a financial supporter of the mayor, says he suspects the political furor is the result of this being an election year, since Williams’ sponsorship of a similar event for Morella last year went unnoticed.

Morella’s campaign manager, Tony Caligiuri, confirmed that Williams hosted an identical event at the same restaurant, Georgia Brown’s, last year and raised roughly $10,000 to $15,000 from approximately two dozen people. Even some of the mayor’s defenders weakly claim that fund-raising for Morella last year wasn’t as bad because it wasn’t an election year. Morel-la’s campaign credits the Williams controversy with increasing the amount of money raised this year, likely to total $25,000 to $30,000 when all is counted.

There are tons of people, both public and private personalities, who are furious at Williams and his subsequent defense that fund-raising for Morella was intentional and part of his "political strategy."

Norm Neverson, Williams’ hand-picked chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party, came up with the dumbest defense of the mayor heard since the "Twinkie defense" used in the ’70s to justify why former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White viciously gunned down the late Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

A politically beleaguered Neverson said: "I have never had the responsibility of answering to 435 congresspersons and 100 senators on spending decisions and the budget." The mayor’s lame insistence that his support for Morella was part of his strategy to court Republicans to support the District is even laughable. Neverson looks as silly as Williams. The mayor "strategy" now has 211 congressional Democrats upset.

Sorry, Mayor Williams. You can’t blame this one on Marion Barry. If Williams was in a tight re-election campaign and the Republicans were fielding a strong candidate, you can bet Morella wouldn’t have hosted a fund-raiser for Williams. In fact, the chances are good that she would be standing alongside other locally elected Republicans to endorse the candidate challenging Williams.

Morella has already gotten the ammunition and publicity she wanted. The furor over Democrat Williams’ support is a big political victory for Morella. The congresswoman couldn’t ask for better publicity. Mayor Williams’ "strategy" gives credence to Morella’s argument that Montgomery County Democrats should vote for her in the fall. After all, she has the support of such high-profile local Democrats as Mayor Williams and, with that support, the implication that the District’s Democratic mayor prefers her over any of the Democratic candidates trying to unseat her.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator