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Government and People
In March and April 2002, Mayor Williams has held two town meetings with senior citizens that again raise concerns about the methods of fundraising used by the Executive Office of the Mayor.
The first event took place on Thursday, March 14, 2002. It was a Ward 5 Seniors Town Meeting held at the Theodore Hagans Center in Fort Lincoln. Mayor Williams attended in his capacity as Mayor, and the meeting was organized by the EOM Office of Constituent Services. Bob King, a Recreation Department employee, served as MC of the event and suggested that he solicited checks to pay the expenses of the event. Lunch was served, and on the videotape of the program King indicates that a number of Ward 5 businessmen (e.g., Michelle Hagans, Larry Beasley, the Mambo [sp?] brothers) contributed.
The second event took place on Friday, April 5, 2002. It was a Ward 4 Seniors Town Meeting held at Fort Stevens. Mayor Williams again attended in his capacity as Mayor, and the meeting was hosted and chaired by Norm Neverson, the chair of the DC Democratic State Committee. A sit-down fried chicken luncheon was provided to approximately two hundred people. In response to inquiries by Tom Sherwood and me, Mayor Williams at different times has said that Norm Neverson paid for the event himself or that "a hat was passed."
Over the past few weeks, Mayor Williams and his administration have repeatedly refused or failed to provide an accounting of the amounts and the sources of the funds raised for the two events. As can best be determined, it appears as though individuals, such as Bob King and Norm Neverson, are collecting funds from individuals and businesses that are regulated by or do business with the District government for public events that are organized by the Executive Office of the Mayor. After receiving and laundering these funds, these same individuals pay all the expenses associated with the event.
Mayor Williamsís response to inquires has been to defend this latest round of fundraising because "it was for a public purpose," town meetings for senior citizens. At two successive press conferences, on April 17 and April 24, 2002, the Mayor has minimized and dismissed questions about this fundraising, and has failed to recognize that the fundraising for these events shares exactly the same failings as all the fundraising discussed in the Inspector Generalís report: because the money is not deposited into District government accounts, even though it is raised for events that are organized by government employees and billed as official government events, it escapes the District governmentís requirements for open, public reporting and it avoids the District governmentís policies for procurement. In defending the way that these events were financed, Mayor Williams has signaled that he intends to continue to use the fundraising practices that the IGís report criticized most severely.
Attached is a transcript of the relevant sections of the Mayor's press conferences on April 17 and April 24, 2002.
April 17, 2002 Mayoral Press Conference
Tom Sherwood: Youíve had some senior citizen events around town. Theyíve been very well attended. You give a nice speech; people like them. But Iím unable to find out whoís paying for it, in terms of whoís paying for the food. At the one at Fort Stevens two weeks ago, for example, I asked your staff aides there, who paid for all the fine food that people were eating. No one could tell me; they suggested I talk to Norm Neverson. Norm Neverson gave me some kind of fuzzy answer at best. He said, "a hat was passed." The problem, Iím told at all these things youíve had around town, people are raising money for food, and thereís no accounting for it, whoís paying for it, what benefit they expect to get from it. Itís just a kind of a minor version of the IG report. Because no oneís paying attention to the fundraising. Iím just wondering, are you aware of whoís paying for the food? Itís not Veronica Paceís organization.
Mayor Anthony Williams: Well, I mean, what are we talking about? The cake and the, like, deviled eggs?
Tom Sherwood: The fried chicken, the potato salad, all of these things.
Dorothy Brizill: If I could add to Tomís question, at Fort Stevens in Ward Four, there was a senior citizens town meeting, in which sit-down lunches were provided for two hundred people. [Remainder of question edited out of Channel 16 version of tape.]
Mayor: Well, first of all, I think everybody has to recognize that weíve talking about events for senior citizens. This is what weíre talking about, ladies and gentlemen. Weíre talking about town hall events for senior citizens in the different wards of the city, and just as Iíll continue to have discussions and dialogue and town hall meetings with senior citizens, I want to continue to represent this city, to bring baseball to this city, to get full representation for this city, to have events for children in this city. And in all of these things, as we announced a couple of months ago, we want to make sure that theyíre done right and we want to make sure that thereís full disclosure. So in this case, doing a great thing and Iím proud of it, we will make sure that you get all of that information as to who paid for the deviled eggs and the punch.
Tom Sherwood and Dorothy Brizill begin questions:
Mayor: And Iíve answered the question and Iím going to do that.
Dorothy Brizill: You donít get the point, the attitude that youíre taking ....
Mayor: No, youíve asked me a question and Iíve answered that question. Iím going to get that information to you.
Dorothy Brizill: The tone youíre taking ....
Mayor: Do you want to ask me a question, or do you want to lecture me?
Dorothy Brizill: Iíd like to ask a question.
Mayor: What is the question?
Dorothy Brizill: The question is, if you take this tone as regards, "Well, Iím doing a great thing. It really is a minor point, it doesnít matter ó what message are you sending to people who have to implement that policy, as regards, ĎWe donít have to account for where we get the money, we donít have to answer questions the public asks.í" What message do you think youíre sending to people as a leader?
Mayor: The message Iím sending, Dorothy is, Iím just trying to make clear to everybody whoís watching, that letís just make clear what weíre talking about here. Weíre talking about town hall events for senior citizens in this city. Weíre making it clear that with these town hall events for senior citizens in this city, this is a public purpose. You want to communicate with your citizens. I have town hall meetings all over the city. And we want to make clear exactly who paid for whatever is in question. And Iíve said that. And Iíll make sure that that is available to you.
Dorothy Brizill: You donít seem to understand why this is an issue. The issue is not the purpose of the events ....
Mayor: Yes, go ahead.
Dorothy Brizill: . . . but the fact of . . . .
Dorothy Brizill: . . . how youíre doing the event on public money.
Mayor: Iíve answered the question.
Dorothy Brizill: No, you havenít.
Mayor: Yes, go ahead.
Jonetta Rose Barras: Let me just sort of piggyback on Tomís and Dorothyís question, if I could. And to say that, number one, it is senior citizens, but we all know senior citizens are a powerful voter base in every ward in the city.
Mayor: So what you suggest, I shouldnít have town hall meetings with them?
Jonetta Rose Barras: No, Iím not saying that. But the one thing that the IG made clear, and I think that you also recognize as a result of the previous fundraising, that you went into some of these events without having the answers to the specific questions weíre asking. It appears that maybe, perhaps, you havenít altered your approach to these things in terms of walking into a senior citizen event and right now being asked a question about how the money was provided for these, and you are unable to provide that, like that [snaps fingers].
Mayor: As Mayor of this city, and I have Grace Lopes with me here, and my Chief of Staff. Now we have laid out a whole new policy, and we have spoken with the cabinet. Weíve spoken to all my people. So they know what the rules are. And as Mayor I canít micromanage every event. I assume that if weíre conducting any kind of event, that people have vetted it, theyíve scrubbed it, and that weíre going to do the right thing in the right way. Weíve always said, weíre going to do the right thing, weíre also going to do it in the right way. Now, if in reviewing this, things arenít done in the wrong, arenít done in the right way, then clearly, pursuant to laying out new rules and procedures three or four months ago, there should be consequences.
Tom Sherwood: Mr. Mayor, I just want to follow -- I donít want to belabor this, but I will try to make it clear to you. When you got up at that event in Ward 4, and you provided the information of who to thank, and all that, as you normally do, you were very good at it, and someone had written on there, "Thanks to all the Democratic State Committee members who are visiting here today," and you caught them, and you said, "This is not a political event, but you guys [unintelligible]." And it was all very nicely done. But weíre told that Norm Reversion, the chairman of the Democratic Party, was the person who was collecting money for a government event. I donít think the government event is in question. Itís a question of how much money is being. . . .
Mayor: Well, let me see. Weíre talking about who said this, and who said that. Let me get all the information for you, and for everybody here, because, again, you know, we want to have these town hall meetings, we want to make sure that our seniors are taken care of for, like, what we do with Thanksgiving and Christmas. We had the wonderful event at the Lincoln Theater. Make sure that theyíre always done in the right way, cause theyíre good things for our people.
Tom Sherwood: Thatís the problem. We donít know that theyíre being done in the right way. And it may be as little as a few thousand dollars, and it may be a few hundred.
Tom Sherwood: Itís your embarrassment, not theirs, when it comes out that someone got special favors.
Mayor: Okay. Other questions?
April 24, 2002, Mayoral Press Conference
Tom Sherwood: Speaking of that, Mr. Mayor, last week you said that you would get us details on all the fundraising and the food service for the senior citizens events. Do you have that, as Ed McMahon walks up?" [reference is to Tony Bullockís approaching the podium]
Mayor: You know, Norm Neverson is a longtime resident of Ward 4; he is a friend to the seniors in Ward 4, and he has said that he paid for the food. As we move forward, we want to make it absolutely clear in every possible way whoís paying for everything at all these events, even at the most detailed, de minimis level ó sodas, deviled eggs, and everything. Yes?
Dorothy Brizill: I have two questions. One, it is my understanding that Mr. Neverson has said that he raised money for the event in Ward 4 by asking businesses in Ward 4 to contribute. In essence, Mr. Neverson is saying that he laundered the money, or he served as a middleman. That still presents a problem in terms of, if these businesses are regulated or do business with the city, then theyíre told to give the money to Mr. Neverson to pay for an event. The second question I have is, I assume youíre just addressing the issue in Ward 4. Who paid for the food and the event in Ward 5, for the seniors?
Mayor: Was there food in Ward 5? Weíll get that to you.
Dorothy Brizill: How long will it take before ....
Unknown: Lincoln Theater?
Dorothy Brizill: No, Iím not talking about the Lincoln Theater. The Lincoln Theater is in Ward 1.
Mayor: No, at Fort Lincoln, Fort Lincoln. Sheís talking about Fort Lincoln. Weíll get that to you. And Iíve answered the other question, I believe. Okay.
Tom Sherwood: Mr. Mayor, for housekeeping purposes, itís oddly difficult. If itís such a de minimis part of what youíre trying to do with seniors, then it seems to me somebody ought to be able to have those answers on a regular basis, and youíve announced that youíre going to doing them.
Mayor: Well, you know what happens is, look, weíve committed to having a regular reports of every activity, and what you all, because, I think, things are transparent. Youíve got a list of all my calendar events, youíll have a report you can match where there are some events. You know where there was food there, or whatever was there, balloons for the kids, whatever. You can track that against the events and see whether weíve been completely, as we want to be and commit to be, forthcoming with these things. And I, you know, I talk about the deviled eggs but this, you know, I want to be completely forthcoming with all these events because they are, again, important things that Iím proud of doing. Iím proud of having town hall meetings with seniors. Iím proud of having public-private partnerships that actually produce real benefit for our city and our communities.
Dorothy Brizill: In the future, since you make the point of open and transparent government, especially as regards your fundraising, can you tell us the one person in the Executive Office of the Mayor who will provide answers to question regarding fundraising and whoís raising money. Because right now, you call Kelvin Robinson, you call Grace Lopes, you call Larry Hemphill, you call whoever, and either they, usually they donít return phone calls, but they also point their finger and say, "You need to need to somebody else." Can you just say who you consider the point person for information in the future on your fundraising activities?
Mayor: Yes, I can. Would you like to know?
Dorothy: That was the point of my question.
Mayor: The person . . . I was just trying to be friendly. [laughter]
Dorothy: I didnít take it that way.
Mayor: Okay. I was trying to be friendly. I think though, that the person we have designated for that purpose is Lafayette Barnes, and he is a master of the database in terms of all fundraising activities in the Executive Branch, and we want that database to be available to you and everybody else.
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