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The mayor’s latest apology
(Published January 14, 2002)

Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ public acknowledgement that former members of his executive staff made "serious mistakes" involving the solicitation of private donations and his recent apology to donors for his self-described "abysmal" oversight of those financial activities raise more questions than they answer.

The finger-pointing has now begun, with the mayor’s former deputy chief of staff Mark A. Jones – who was placed on administrative leave last year and later fired for his role in the solicitations – telling The Washington Post that the mayor was fully aware of his aides’ private fund-raising activities. Former chief of staff Abdusalam Omer, who resigned last spring for unrelated reasons but whom the mayor now also blames for the errors, has made no public statements about the affair.

The mayor has denied any personal wrongdoing, but has declined to release details about the fund-raising.

With the next mayoral election in the offing, the mayor’s political opponents are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the long-anticipated investigation report from Inspector General Charles Maddox.

Maddox’s office began looking into private fund-raising activities by the mayor’s office more than a year ago, after WRC-Channel 4 reported that mayoral aides had set up charitable organizations to solicit large corporate and individual donations that were ultimately used to finance parties and political activities involving the mayor. Some of the contributions, reportedly totaling more than half a million dollars, came from companies that are regulated by the executive branch of the D.C. government – such as Comcast, which currently is negotiating the renewal of its cable television contract with the city.

The whole affair raises serious conflict-of-interest questions that reach far too close to the mayor himself. While private-public partnerships have become the vogue in recent years for financing community initiatives, ethical considerations clearly have been lost when government officials – rather than grass-roots members of the community – take control of the financial strings for these operations.

This is not the first time that Mayor Williams has been implicated in an ethical lapse that involved money. The mayor apologized and paid a $1,000 fine when it was discovered after his election that he failed to disclose taking $40,000 in consulting fees during the 1998 mayoral campaign from two companies that received city contracts while he was chief financial officer.

The mayor also was rebuked by the Office of Campaign Finance for using city workers and other government resources to promote passage of a city charter amendment in 2000 that changed the makeup of the D.C. Board of Education to include mayoral appointees. The mayor publicly promised an accounting of the misspent funds after the election but has never released the information. There is some speculation that this matter is included in the inspector general’s ongoing investigation.

With a mayoral election on tap this fall, and little opposition materializing at this point to Mayor Williams’ bid for re-election to a second term, it’s time to clear the air.

Beyond an apology, the mayor owes the voters details and an explanation.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator