Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Meanest MoCo Primary of All Time, Part Two

Montgomery County is a special place. Its enlightened voters and their leaders are dedicated social progressives who work in harmony to promote justice and change. By standing together against reactionary elements, Montgomery County serves as a model for other liberal communities and is leading the way to a better future for all.

Yeah, riiight!

Deprived of competition from the GOP and, for the most part, meaningful policy differences, many of MoCo’s primaries have degenerated into slime-drenched mud wrestling. This blog has chronicled negative attacks in Council District 1, Council District 2, the Council At-Large race, the Senate races in Districts 14, 17, 19 and 39 and the House race in District 16. That’s the majority of contested primaries in this county, folks. Almost every kind of issue, and every means to convey it, has been thrown onto the butcher’s table for split and splatter. Party unity is an old maid’s dream as the daggers are drawn and the Iron Maidens are snapped shut. Somewhere in Dante’s Inferno, Lee Atwater is flapping his wings with glee.

In all the blood-soaked infamy, three events stand out from the rest. These are the three wildest negative attacks of the year, and three of the most unforgettable in MoCo of all time. Start your chainsaws!

The District 19 Reporter

Perhaps no MoCo character assassin has ever had a longer knife than Ginger Ramsey, a former employee of Senator Mike Lenett’s who started a one-person jihad to take him down a year ago. Ramsey’s efforts began as the anonymous “District 19 Reporter,” a venomous Lenett critic who sent out periodic emails skewering him on an endless variety of topics. Frustrated that she had not broken through to the press and fearful that she was viewed as a creation of challenger Roger Manno, Ramsey finally unmasked herself and was covered by the Gazette.

As Lenett’s former legislative aide, Ramsey was certainly in a position to know about his sins. But her year-long practice of using anonymous emails and her mixing in items like Lenett’s hair coloring and references to his children destroyed any credibility she may have had. Ramsey’s bitterly personal rantings actually made Lenett, who has since proven himself as one of the state’s most brutal politicians, appear to be something of a sympathetic figure. But that would not last.

Mike Lenett’s Nuke

Late in the campaign, we believed Lenett had a slight edge over Manno. He had dramatically outspent Manno and shared both a district and an Apple Ballot with former MCEA President Bonnie Cullison – thereby indirectly benefiting from the union’s efforts to elect her. Manno had struggled to concoct a rationale for Lenett’s removal and had sent out a comical negative mailer that looked like it might backfire in Leisure World. And Lenett did nothing to stop the rumors that the “District 19 Reporter” was a part of Manno’s campaign team – a totally unverifiable allegation that nevertheless helped the incumbent.

But Mike Lenett does nothing halfway, a personality trait that is both a blessing and a curse. And so to secure victory, he launched what will forever be known in MoCo as “the Nuke,” a fearsome website listing every single speck of dirt his operatives had dug up on Manno. Some of the points made by the Nuke were legitimate, such as questions about Manno’s ethics form disclosures. But they were peppered with purely personal criticisms of Manno’s original name, his history tending bar and playing blues and his wife’s professional career. The legitimate material was submerged by outrage against the personal attacks. And Lenett lost whatever sympathy he had earned as the victim of the District 19 Reporter. The race has gone from a leaner for Lenett to a toss-up that Manno could conceivably pull out.

Light Saqib, Dark Saqib

The original purpose of Senator Nancy King’s sixth anti-Saqib Ali mailer was to point out that Ali was no longer abiding by his 2006 pledge to not take PAC money. Indeed, Ali said on his website:

I have pledged not to accept a single penny from any corporation or special interest Political Action Committee (PAC). It is the only course that will allow me to remain completely independent of special interests and entirely focused on the best interests of District 39 citizens and business owners. I urge my opponents to take a similar pledge.

Going after a politician for abandoning a campaign finance pledge is 100% legitimate. We have done that ourselves, notably when we spanked County Council candidate Ben Kramer HARD for violating his pledge not to take developer money last year. But then someone inside the King campaign made the disastrous decision to flip and darken an image of Ali and leave it on the same mailer page as the original image. That led several commenters, including Kim Propeack, Oscar Ramirez, Guled Kassim, Sam Arora and Council Member Valerie Ervin, to question that action. King’s campaign manager compounded the mistake by denying ANY photo alteration, a claim that no one viewing the pictures could ever believe. And King herself made it even worse by contradicting her manager.

And so an entirely legitimate argument against Ali has been eclipsed by suspicions of ill intent and serious questions about the credibility of King’s campaign. Now that the story has been picked up by the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and Fox 5 News, the image below has been immortalized in MoCo political folklore and as part of Senator King’s political legacy.

What do all three of the negative attacks above share in common? All of them may have had at least a tiny bit of truth buried under the sludge. But all went overboard through illegitimate methods (like anonymous emails or altered photos) or irrelevant personal attacks that looked petty and mean. Let this serve as a lesson for any candidate looking to go negative: make sure your facts are iron-clad and appropriate for consideration by the voters, and NEVER let problems with their mode of conveyance overwhelm the legitimate message they contain.

Four years from now, we’ll find out if the candidates learn anything from the mud-spewing hell pit of 2010. We are not optimistic that they will, but at least it will make for fun blogging!