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Gray: Cafritz violating nonpartisan rules

(Published September 25, 2000)

By OSCAR ABEYTA

Staff Writer

An election born out of controversy has already produced its first official squabble as candidates vying to become the president of the newly restructured D.C. school board jockey to get the upper hand in November’s balloting.

Candidate Lawrence A. Gray, legislative director for the D.C. Congress of Parent and Teacher Associations, filed a complaint with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance and the Board of Elections and Ethics Sept. 19 accusing one of his opponents of violating "the non-partisan nature of the election."

Gray contends that Peggy Cooper Cafritz’s campaign posters, which prominently identify her as a Democrat, give the false impression that she is the Democratic Party’s choice of candidates. Her posters, which are green with white lettering, read "Democrat Peggy Cooper Cafritz." The word "Democrat" takes up the entire top line of the poster.

"To me it is ridiculous to say we have a non-partisan election and then let candidates identify themselves as a member of a political party, as if they’d gone through a primary election or something," Gray said. "They give the impression that there is a party candidate for this election."

Cafritz counters that she merely used the word as an adjective to describe herself to voters. She denied that she was trying to inject party politics into a non-partisan election.

"What’s non-partisan about the race is that when you vote, everyone can vote," Cafritz said. "That’s what’s non-partisan about this election."

Gray said that he has "scrupulously" avoided indicating his party affiliation on any of his campaign signs or literature even though he is a member of the D.C. State Democratic Committee.

The race for the school board president features Gray – who was one of the leaders of the "Vote NO" campaign opposed to this spring’s school board referendum – against Cafritz, who is widely considered to be Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ choice. Williams’ wife Diane is Cafritz’ campaign treasurer. The third candidate in the race is the Rev. Robert G. Childs, the current school board president.

Kathy Williams, general counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance, said Sept. 22 that she will issue a ruling against Gray. She said his arguments are more properly heard before the Board of Ethics and Elections because her office does not have the authority to make judgments on the content of the campaign posters.

Gray said he is hopeful the elections board will side with him on the argument and vowed to keep pressing the issue.

"It’s not decided yet," he said.

Cafritz, meanwhile, was taking the complaint against her lightly, referring to it as "Postergate" in conversation.

"The use of any adjective is fine, and it doesn’t preclude anybody else from telling voters what party they belong to," she said. "I think that he’s grasping at straws, and that’s ridiculous."

Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator