Campaign Ethics For All

Photo by District of Columbia Office of Campaign Finance via Facebook

Written by Stefan Hankin, President, Lincoln Park Strategies


The DC Council has been working on ethics reform for a while now, and while most of us tend to envision past problems with former Mayors (or those running for Mayor) the problems in DC are not limited to the top of the ticket. In fact, all you need to do is look to the race in ANC2E05 for some good old-fashioned election hi-jinx and prime examples of the need for ethics reform. For those who are not familiar with where the ANC districts are (all 99% of us), this particular district is in Lower Georgetown. The Current Commissioner, Bill Starrels, has served as ANC Commissioner for 16 years and has never had an opponent. This year he does. A first time candidate, Lisa Palmer, is running against him. We all know that elected officials tend to be a little protective of their positions, but typically it’s not for an unpaid, grassroots advocacy position.  However, that is not the case in Georgetown this year. 


The incumbent Commissioner started by trying to throw his opponent off the ballot so he would not have to confront having an actual race in the first place. The DC Board of Elections summarily refuted these efforts and certified her as a qualified candidate.  Then, according to The Georgetowner, his campaign treasurer sent intimidating letters to Palmer, asking her to drop out of the race.  This week, this same treasurer moved to intimidating supporters of Palmer, even sending emails to the community about a long time ANC Commissioner, telling this Commissioner he should be ashamed of his adult daughter. 


Alone, this would be unseemly enough, but now the Incumbent is under investigation by the Board of Elections’ Office of Campaign Finance for illegal campaign tactics and process. This past week, Pinstripes (the bowling alley/restaurant/bar) appears to have paid for the advertising and hosted a meet and greet community reception at their establishment on Wisconsin Avenue. This matter is also being reviewed by the Office of Campaign Finance as related to the receipt of an illegal contribution. But what is most egregious about this reception, is Commissioner Starels, who is the co-chair of the ANC committee which, alongside CAG,  negotiated a settlement agreement related to Pinstripe's liquor license and potential neighborhood complaints on behalf of the neighborhood. And now, he appears to be a recipient of this restaurant’s generosity.  


Whether the event was handled legally on paper is a minor point compared to the overall issue of how this looks - that an elected official in the district is being thrown a campaign related party by an establishment with this type of pre-existing relationship. At best this is just bad optics, at worst it is more of the pay to play politics so many residents in the District are looking to move past. 


The efforts of the City Council are long over due when it comes to cleaning up our campaigns and elected officials, but we should not be fooled that this is only important for the Wilson Building. We must start by supporting candidates that understand they have a legal and ethical obligation to avoid such situations.

8 Comments For This Article


When the invitation arrived at my door, I couldn't believe that this party was legal. The ANC commissioner is supposed to represent the residents who live here-- and vote here. Mr. Starrels always does exactly what the business interests desire. I have lived here throughout his term and never have I known of him serving any of the residents below M St.

Georgtown Park Resident

Had the author of this op-ed bothered to check the facts, or even consult with any of the 128 residences atop Pinstripes, he would have quickly found out that this three year old settlement agreement that Bill Starrels championed on behalf of the Georgetown Park Residences was a model agreement on how to be business friendly in Georgetown while protecting the rights of residents to live in peace and quiet. To date, Pinstripes has been the best neighbor our community could have hoped for, thanks, in part, to Bill Starrels negotiating a strong settlement agreement, which by the way is available on the Office of Zoning website.


Best neighbor is a matter of where your unit is located in the Georgetown Park Residences as well as where you live in 2E05. I myself, along with at minimum of 20 other neighbors who are in close proximity to PinStripes find the outside noise level disruptive. Additionally, a road map is necessary in order to navigate your way through the maze of people and outside tables in the Spring, Summer and Fall. This is a safety hazard as one of our neighbors tripped over a delightful young woman's shopping bags as she sipped her wine.
None the less, the information provided by the above GT Park resident regarding Mr Starrels allowing PinStripes to pick up the tab for his campaign bash does not negate the smell of "Pay for Play".


This commissioner does most anything for money.


In response to the Georgetown Park resident above.... I think you might be missing the point of this piece. From what I can tell in this article, I don't believe the writer is criticizing the settlement agreement. I think the writer is simply pointing out the optics of a conflict of interest. I'm glad there is a settlement agreement with this restaurant. I just don't like the way this event all played out - sounds to me like some sort of "gentleman"'s agreement....


Bill Starrels is an honorable man and dedicated public servant. Those trying to secure his demise as an elected official should be careful to get what they want. Working with DC Government is not a walk in the park and Palmer will be no better than a lame duck unable to accomplish much.

Pay for Play allegations are so ridiculous, but so appropriate for an entitled and wealthy neighborhood. Other parts of our city have real challenges. We wish someone like Starrels would serve as Commissioner.

Charles Black

I am glad this election cycle will be over tomorrow. Reading this piece reminded me how sad and pathetic, mostly petty my neighbors can be.

Bill Starrels, Ron Lewis and Ed Solomon have served with honor. Under their leadership ANC2E was envy of DC Government. Used as a role model of civility and best practices by two former Mayors.

It is sad to their kin and supporters behave this way.

Charlie Black

Anne Kelly

Dearest Bill,

You can hold your head up high and be proud. Your term as ANC has been one of the most productive. Maybe it is time to retire?

If people are I ungrateful, there is not much one can do. Unpaid elected positions are a true labor of love. You have shown great love and passion for work.

Good luck,

Captain K