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Who wants to be mayor?
(Published February 20, 2006)

Staff Writers

Democratic mayoral hopeful Faith, well-known among local political activists for punctuating events with a toot of her trumpet, found out how difficult it is for lesser-known candidates to be heard in this year's campaign when she showed up Jan. 31 to participate in a youth forum at the University of the District of Columbia.

She wasn't invited. She was told she wasn't welcome to participate. And by the time the confrontation with the event's organizers ended, with the assistance of UDC security officers and Metropolitan Police, the 82-year-old statehood activist and former nightclub entertainer was in an ambulance on her way to George Washington University Hospital.

Faith's husband, Jude Crannitch, said his wife has been spending time at home recuperating from the stressful encounter, during which she worried that she might be having a heart attack. Crannitch alleges that he and his wife, who uses only her first name, were assaulted by police.

"They had no right to put their hands on her," he said of the police, who also escorted him from the auditorium, according to his account of the incident.

UDC security officials and Metropolitan Police said they could not provide The Common Denominator with a written report of the incident, but they acknowledged during telephone interviews that officers had been called to assist the forum's organizers with the incident involving Faith.

"We have a right to invite anyone we choose - this event was paid for by my organization and it was my decision to select the participants," Kenneth Barnes, founder and president of ROOT Inc., told The Common Denominator.

Five candidates were invited to participate in the mayoral forum - D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp, Ward 4 Councilman Adrian Fenty, Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange, lobbyist Michael Brown and former Verizon D.C. chief executive Marie Johns.

"I chose the five [candidates] because, in my opinion, the next mayor of D.C will be one of those individuals," Barnes said.

Barnes is not alone in holding that opinion, judging by the frequency with which organizers of mayoral candidates' forums - beginning last fall - have invited only those five Democratic candidates to participate.

Yet, none of the five most widely known candidates for mayor in this fall's election has yet filed a "declaration of candidacy" with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, one of the legally required steps to get a candidate's name listed on the ballot. However, all five have formed committees to raise campaign cash and, according to recent disclosure reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance, have collectively raised a record-setting amount of money for so early in a mayoral campaign.

The Democratic primary election will be held Sept. 12. Prospective candidates cannot pick up petitions until May 12 to begin gathering signatures to get their name listed on the primary ballot.

"Because these people are out there raising money, they're being invited to forums," Crannitch complains. "Democracy is being gagged. Free speech is being gagged."

Faith is among five lesser-known Democratic candidates for mayor who had filed a "declaration of candidacy" with the Board of Elections and Ethics by the close of business on Feb. 17. Other Democrats who have filed legal declarations of their candidacy to date are Artee J. Milligan Jr., James R. Oxley, Theresa S. Smith and Osie Thorpe.

Milligan, who said he expects to form a campaign committee by March 1, told The Common Denominator he has not been invited to participate in any recent mayoral forums.

"I feel sad, because we cannot get a true dialogue and we are depriving the voters of an opportunity to hear from all the candidates," he said. "I feel all the voices of the poor and working class will not be heard if the people who continue to be invited to forums are the same five candidates."

Ashley Futrell, president of the American University chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council -- which sponsored a recently televised forum featuring only Cropp, Fenty, Orange, Brown and Johns -- said her organization was unaware that other Democratic candidates had declared.

"I researched the candidates through Web sites and other local media channels and only found five mayoral candidates," she told The Common Denominator. "Had I known there were more, I would have invited them all."

Candidate Johns said she believes all legal candidates for mayor should get an opportunity to address the public at forums.

"This is a democracy, and there should be a forum where all candidates may participate," she said during a telephone interview. "This is a serious matter, and any activity where candidates are gathered to discuss issues facing the community should be taken seriously."

Candidate Brown noted that participants in the forums have no control over who is invited by the organizers.

"As a candidate, I am at the mercy of the organizer," he said. "Problems with candidate forums have been taking place from presidential elections to mayoral elections. I feel everyone should be invited."

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator