Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Negative Campaigning in Montgomery County, Part Two

Conventional wisdom holds that negative campaigning hardly ever happens in Montgomery County. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the county has a long and rancid history of political smackdowns. Consider the following contests.

1. In the 1998 District 5 County Council race, challenger Marc Elrich called incumbent Derick Berlage a “total hypocrite” for accepting developer contributions. Berlage responded that Elrich was using business as a “bogeyman” and was “the candidate of shrill rhetoric.” Berlage won.

2. In the 1998 District 3 County Council race, challenger Phil Andrews accused incumbent Bill Hanna of being “beholden to developers” because of the volume of developer contributions he received. Andrews won.

3. In the 1998 at-large County Council race, William O’Neil called incumbent County Council Member Mike Subin “an abusive, obnoxious, horrible politician.” Lawrence Rosenblum, a close friend of both Ike Leggett and Ben Kramer, said, “It’s a destructive way to campaign… and it’s usually a sign that you’re desperate to win.” O’Neil finished last out of eight candidates. Kramer, who took more developer money than any other candidate (40% of his contributions), finished seventh.

4. In 2000, Board of Education incumbent Mona Signer blamed a “vicious smear campaign” by MCEA for her defeat. MCEA President Mark Simon replied, “I don't think you can build a career on the board of education by attacking teachers.”

5. In 2002, District 20 Delegate Dana Dembrow, who had long feuded with the other members of his delegation, was arrested for hitting his wife. Two anti-Dembrow attack mailers went out right before the election, one of them financed by the other District 20 incumbents. Dembrow called the mailers “absolute garbage, absolute deceitful lies,” but he still lost.

6. Also in 2002, the Gazette described “extensive use of attack ads” and “a barrage of vicious mailings” in the County Council races, much of which was aimed at incumbents Blair Ewing and Phil Andrews.

7. In 2004, Board of Education candidates Valerie Ervin and Sheldon Fishman held a number of “bitter exchanges” over the school system’s gifted and talented program. Ervin told the Gazette, “Sheldon's philosophy – it’s old and I think it’s elitist.” Ervin won.

8. In 2006, Montgomery’s negative campaigning spread to the Internet. Neighborspac ran a cartoon on its website showing five County Council Members singing and dancing on strings pulled by developers. Two short-lived anonymous attack blogs, Quid Pro MoCo and MoCorruption, sprang up to spread dirt on Council Members Steve Silverman, Nancy Floreen and Mike Subin. But good old mail-and-bash negative campaigning was alive and well in District 20, as MPW founder David Lublin related in his two posts about the Ida Ruben-Jamie Raskin mudfest.

9. The 2008 Congress District 4 rematch between incumbent Al Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards was even meaner than the original. The low point came when Wynn robocalls alerted voters about Edwards’ long-since-paid tax liens. Edwards called the messages “a really desperate attack… for the Congressman to attack me personally like this, shame on him.” Edwards won.

10. In the 2008 District 4 special election, Nancy Navarro was slimed by illegal attack robocalls. The perpetrators have never been discovered. Navarro lost.

11. In the summer of 2008, another anonymous attack blog was spawned targeting County Council Member Mike Knapp in the belief that he might challenge Ike Leggett for County Executive. After Eric Luedtke, Dan Reed and I condemned it, it shut down.

There you go, folks. Every election cycle in this county over the last decade has seen at least one negative campaign. Let’s see what next year brings!