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Who did this?

(Published August 12, 2002)

Ann E. Lewis got a harsh lesson in politics from Mayor Anthony A. Williams' re-election campaign. Lewis, who works at the front desk of her housing cooperative in Ward 8, volunteered to collect signatures of registered voters on the mayor's nominating petition when asked to do so by her cooperative's board president, Robert Yeldell.

Yeldell, who recently told the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that he's being paid $1,500 a month to be the campaign's Ward 8 coordinator, offered to get Lewis paid on a per-signature basis for her efforts. When her efforts yielded few signatures, Yeldell offered to do Lewis a "favor" by letting her claim the dollars for getting 15 signatures he had collected on a petition sheet. Lewis told the elections board she never read the affidavit she signed at the bottom of Yeldell's sheet, attesting with her signature that she had witnessed each of the 15 signatures.

Now Lewis, among others who tried to help get the mayor's name on the Sept. 10 Democratic primary ballot, faces possible criminal prosecution by the U.S. Attorney's Office for election fraud. The crime, if she is prosecuted and convicted, carries a penalty of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.

Lewis is not the only victim of the campaign's ill-advised policy of paying citizens as incentive to gain their civic support.

Mark Perez and Kevin Sothern each signed affidavits as circulators of numerous petition sheets on which Registrar of Voters Kathryn Fairly has found all of the purported voters' signatures were forged. Perez and Sothern have yet to be heard from. The elections board has tried repeatedly, without success, to subpoena these gentlemen, but election officials said the men could not be found at the homeless shelters they gave as their legal address.

Consider also the predicament of Scott Bishop Jr. and his wife, Crystal. According to published interviews, both became entangled in the mayor's petition debacle when Bishop Jr.'s father asked for their help. Campaign officials say Scott Bishop Sr. was paid $7,000 a month by the mayor's campaign, until he was dismissed on Aug. 2, and that he was in charge of the mayor's petitions.

Both Bishop Jr. and his wife were described repeatedly during elections board hearings as having "diminished mental capacity." On the advice of their lawyer, both refused to testify before the elections board by invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Both now face possible criminal prosecution for submitting forged petition signatures. Bishop Sr., who likewise took the Fifth, also faces possible prosecution.

But the questions about what happened don't end at the U.S. Attorney's Office. Beyond criminal implications, what's happened here raises serious ethical and moral questions about the attitudes that are driving the mayor's re-election effort. That effort has become a write-in campaign, after the D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the elections board decision to deny Williams a spot on the ballot.

Three years ago, Mayor Williams told The Common Denominator that his closest political adviser was attorney Max Berry, the man who currently co-chairs his campaign. The other co-chair, Gwendolyn Hemphill, was subpoenaed twice to testify during the elections board's investigation and could not shed light on what transpired. Neither Berry nor the man who ultimately bears responsibility for his campaign's actions, candidate Tony Williams, was called to testify.

Why not?

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator