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Native Intelligence
Mayor makes amends for fundraiser
(Published June 17, 2002)

By DIANA WINTHROP

A few months ago, poor Mayor Anthony A. Williams was slapped upside his head for his defense of a fundraiser he hosted for Republican Congresswoman Connie Morella.

Williams created an even greater political firestorm with his public defense and his refusal to publicly apologize for his actions. The Mayor has routinely been criticized for his inability to say he is sorry to D.C. voters and, while he has successfully staved off censure by the D.C. Democratic State Committee, congressional Democrats have not forgiven him as easily.

This is a politically hot year for both Republicans and Democrats. Everyone is thin-skinned this year, because the Democrats have a painfully small one-vote margin in the Senate and a switch of six seats in the House would give them control of both houses in Congress for the first time since 1994.

The past few months, the mayor has made efforts to sooth ruffled feathers. Among those efforts was a luncheon with D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was publicly apoplectic over the Morella fiasco.

On June 11, the mayor made a serious effort at amends by sponsoring a similar fundraiser for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who controls the purse strings for the District. Williams' fundraiser for the junior senator was held at the downtown offices of the politically powerful law firm Holland and Knight, which was the same venue for the Morella event.

Some people in this firm have told me they offer their offices for events because they care about the District. Some even live in the District. Holland and Knight is a classic example of the real behind-the-scenes political power in the city. The firm has been the beneficiary of financial largess from the control board and the Williams administration. I guess this is an example of what Williams calls "public-private partnership."

Williams, who hosted the event, was in attendance along with Landrieu, whose seat has been targeted by the Republicans. According to the Landrieu campaign, the mayor helped raised somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 - about the same amount he raised for Morella. Landrieu's campaign characterized the mayor as the star attraction at the event and expressed surprise that he was "perfectly charming." I'm sure some of his beleaguered staff would like to see that "charming" side more often.

It is awfully hard to talk about fundraising with looking at the mayor's campaign war chest, euphemistically known as the 800-pound gorilla this election season. No one else has anywhere near the $1.4 million that has been raised for the mayor's re-election campaign. What is different this time, according to campaign finance filings, is the little $50 contributions aren't the majority of his money. His first campaign could be characterized as a "people's campaign" with $50 contributions as the norm. This time, contributions of $1,000 and $2,000 from the business community and wealthier individuals is the norm.

I guess the mayor is too busy to ask "little people" for $50 and a reaffirmation of their support for another four years. I actually thought he would have more money from the business community by now, but I surmised that the lack of a financially flush candidate to challenge him has reduced his take.

The mayor could do a better job of reaching out to ordinary citizens by participating in a real exercise in his civic duty. He could grab those clipboards and seek the petition signatures of D.C. residents to have his name placed on the ballot. It's called asking voters, Mr. Mayor.

The mayor's most recently filed campaign finance report shows he gave Norm Neverson, his hand-picked chairman for the D.C. Democratic Party, $600 for petition work. Of course it piqued my interest, since the chairman of the party is expected to remain neutral until a Democratic candidate is chosen by the voters in the September primary.

Neverson, the quintessential enthusiastic supporter of the mayor, said he gave out the cash to six college students. Reportedly, the student volunteers were at a public event at the D.C. Armory seeking signatures for the mayor. Neverson says he attends so many events he can't recall the specifics (though he was quick to say "they were District residents" and he even recalled two were Howard University students).

I don't begrudge students money, though I think paying people to obtain signatures on nominating petitions corrupts the political process. It is really egregious, because it means people should be rewarded monetarily for good citizenship and performing their civic duty. I know it is not easy work, but $100 per student?

By the way, Neverson says he doesn't know who is running as a Democrat for mayor. Hey, Normy! A dozen people have picked up petitions. How about a little neutrality until the primary?

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator