Cora Barry organized gift card giveaway
UPDATED 7:45 A.M.
Cora Masters Barry, the estranged wife of Ward 8 council member and former mayor Marion Barry, is claiming responsibility for an effort to reward voters with supermarket gift cards.
On Saturday, supporters of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's campaign secretly videotaped voters receiving $10 gift cards outside the Giant on Alabama Avenue SE. The Fenty camp alleged that the scheme was intended to buy votes for rival Vincent C. Gray, though the tape does not show anyone telling residents to vote for Gray.
It was the "Ward 8 Voter Assurance Unity Campaign," Cora Masters Barry said, that ran vans and buses and offered the gift cards to voters Saturday. She denied any connection to either mayoral campaign. "It was not anything to do with Vincent Gray," she said, describing it as "a mom and pop operation by the seat of our pants."
Gray on Sunday denied any involvement.
Barry declined to name who is involved in the group, saying only that "six or seven people in the community," including advisory neighborhood commissioners, were part of the organization. Nor did she give details on how gift cards were paid for.
"It ain't no big high finance. A lot of stuff was donated. When you tell people you're just trying to get the vote out and you're not speaking for a campaign, you get a lot of support, you get a lot of discounts, you get a lot of in-kind [contributions]," Barry said.
Barry said she bought 30 gift cards out of her own pocket.
The voter turnout operation was centered on the early-polling site at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, a city-owned facility in which Barry's nonprofit group -- the Recreation Wish List Committee -- runs programs. Barry clashed with Fenty last summer after his administration ordered the nonprofit to vacate the facility after a paperwork oversight. Barry fought the eviction in court and won.
The cards, Barry said Sunday night, were not meant as an incentive to vote for any particular candidate. "These people wanted to vote; they needed transportation," she said. "When you're in a community that is so much in need, you try to do something to help people. It's not a lot."
A source not affiliated with either the Fenty or Gray campaigns took a flier (pictured above) from a person present at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center on Saturday. "GET ON THE BUS," reads the flier. "EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE -- FREE GIFT CARD." The front includes an image of a Visa card; the back lists eight pick-up locations.
On the previous Saturday, Sept. 5, a Post reporter saw Barry stationed outside the Tennis and Learning Center. "This time last year I was in a battle to be here," she said, referring to the eviction battle. "I just want peace." That day the Ward 8 Voter Assurance Unity Campaign held an event near the voting site, at Mississippi Avenue and Wheeler Road SE, featuring hot dogs and Italian ice for voters, plus a moonbounce ride for kids.
Barry said Sunday night that she saw no difference between handing out hot dogs and handing out gift cards.
"What's the difference? You're just feeding people, that's all," she said. "We didn't have time to have a big cookout again, so you give them something to go get their own food."
Under federal law, anyone convicted of paying or accepting payment for registering to vote or voting can be fined as much as $10,000, or imprisoned for as long as five years.
The Board of Elections and Ethics has gathered information on the matter and has passed it to federal authorities.
Barry said she's "not sure" whether the Ward 8 Voter Assurance Unity Campaign will be turning out voters in a similar manner on Tuesday's election day.
"I'm so tired," she said.
UPDATE, 7:45 A.M.: The Fenty campaign says it's "well known" that Barry is a "strong Gray supporter," noting that Gray attended Barry's 65th birthday party in May.
"Getting out the vote with grocery money represents the worst in old-school politics," said spokesman Sean Madigan. "It is clear to anyone watching the footage or who was there that this was a Gray-driven operation, no matter how they try to spin the story. ... This leaves only two choices: either Gray is condoning a vote-buying operation or he is surrounding himself by people who do. Both show a lack of integrity and leadership."
September 12, 2010; 10:15 PM ET
Categories: 2010 District Election , Mayor Fenty , Mike DeBonis , Vincent C. Gray
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