Sign Tampering Scandal a ‘Charade,’ Jim Graham Campaigner Says
Ward 1 Democratic candidate Jeff Smith continues to accuse incumbent D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham of tampering with his political signs.
Graham's camp maintains there is "zero hard evidence" of any such malfeasance.
Smith says he recently received an email from Mt. Pleasant resident Margot Berkey, alleging that the Department of Public Works (DPW), a city agency whose committee Graham oversees, has been snatching down Smith signs from light poles in her neighborhood. In the email, forwarded to City Desk by Smith, Berkey writes:
"Hello Jeff, Out walking the dog today and noticed that there was a DPW pick up truck (with a watering tank on the back) that also had your campaign signs in the back of the pick up. Robert, my husband, spoke to them and they are under the impression that the signs are illegal and should be taken down. They believe that only campaign signs for the mayor's race are permitted on public light poles, etc. Yard signs are okay for city council races but not other signs posted in the city. They believe this to be a DC reg. I would encourage you to research this issue and contact DPW immediately to correct it."
Contacted by City Desk, Berkey declined to comment. But Smith says Berkey and her husband got "a detailed description of a black female with star tattoos on her eyebrows who was driving the truck."
The alleged incident prompted the chair of Smith's campaign, Denise Wiktor, to send a sharply worded email to DPW head Willliam Howland Jr. and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) head Gabe Klein:
"Although the writer states it was a DPW truck involved, it sounds like the trucks street and bridge maintenance own. As a former longtime Public Space Manager for DDOT, I can assure you that campaign signs on light poles are very much legal. DCMR Title 24 section 108 clearly sets out the rules and regulations under which campaigns may attach signs to light poles and Mr. Smith's campaign is in full compliance. I would ask that you have your workers cease and desist this practice immediately and return any signs to our campaign in the possession of the city."
Wiktor tells City Desk that DDOT gave only a cursory response to her email, while DPW offered a mea culpa: "I apologize if a DPW worker removed the signs. As you stated campaign signs affixed to light poles are legal. I will remind the staff that we should not remove them," writes Howland.
Wiktor says that if it was DPW removing the signs, she's sure Howland had nothing to do with it. She says she wouldn't be surprised if Graham himself "intimidated" them into doing it. "Having worked for him I know he's capable of that," says Wiktor. Wiktor explains that she was once Graham's chief of staff.
Smith previously pointed to Graham's use of D.C. government contracted company MC Dean's trucks to hang vote Jim Graham signs, leading to what may be, at the very least, a conflict of interest issue, he says.
In a conversation with City Desk, Graham campaign consigliere and spokesperson Chuck Thies earlier mentioned that Smith claimed "DDOT is taking down his signs and putting up our signs." Thies says Smith had offered nothing in the way of proof that such a thing was going on. He says Smith makes a habit of hurling unsubstantiated accusations at Graham: "He claims that Jim Graham is corrupt but offers no corroboration," says Thies.
Forwarded Berkey's email last night, Thies responds with vitriol: "As with all conspiracy theories, this allegation offers details, but there is zero hard evidence. It is a charade manufactured by the Smith campaign. If you believe that random people are emailing Jeff Smith about campaign signs, perhaps you'll buy my theory: extraterrestrials disguised as DPW workers have descended on Ward One and are intent on thwarting Jeff Smith."