Wednesday, April 16, 2014 9:03 AM
Published on: Thursday, October 27, 2011
By Helen Hocknell
ROCKVILLE - Amid calls for a return to civility, allegations of campaign finance violations and accusations of smear campaign tactics have added a decidedly sharper edge to the already heated dialogue surrounding the Rockville mayoral election.
“Ms. Marcuccio must be mighty desperate to send her hounds out to attack me like this. These smears essentially imply I am corrupt, but they’re cowards, so they won’t use the word corrupt,” said Councilmember Piotr Gajewski, who is running for mayor against the incumbent, Phyllis Marcuccio.
“I think Mr. Gajewski knows far more about unwarranted attacks than I do. Every time you hear him speak he attributes something to me that isn’t true,” said Marcuccio.
The Board of Supervisors of Elections for Rockville has scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday, Nov. 1 to review allegations of campaign finance violations filed against Gajewski. Drew Powell, a city activist filed the complaint Friday, October 21. Powell, a Rockville resident, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 and served as executive director of the now-defunct political action committee Neighbors for a Better Montgomery.
“It amounts to absolutely nothing, and is simply a well timed smear campaign,” said Gajewski. The violation submitted by Powell calls into question the legality of two in-kind donations for office rental space for $600 each, made to Gajewski’s campaign by Neil Marcus and MS PIKE LLC. In the notice, Powell alleges the two contributions should be considered as coming from one entity, as the office space Gajewski is renting for his campaign headquarters is owned by Finmarc Management, which owns MS PIKE LLC and for which Neil Marcus is an employee. If the Board of Supervisors of Elections agrees with Powell’s assessment, the two donations totaling $1,200 would violate the city code because they exceed the $1,000 limit on campaign contributions by $200.
Powell says even if the donations were considered to be from two distinct entities, and each $600 donation were to cover a month’s rent, the amount would be inconsistent with the true market value of the property, which would constitute an “unfair advantage for illegally provided campaign headquarters.” According to Powell, during the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election, Bob Ehrlich’s campaign headquarters were located at the same address, and his campaign paid $3,000 per month for the space.
Gajewski says that a number of factors make this allegation invalid, primarily the condition of the building and the amount of space being used. He says he knows the property owners are planning to refurbish the space, but that it was in rather poor condition by the time he moved in.
“It’s not a pretty place,” said Gajewski. “It’s pretty trashed up – the ceilings are falling down, wires were hanging from the walls – I even had to remove a dead bird.”
He said the Ehrlich campaign was likely occupying a much larger part of the building as compared to the tiny corner he has been using since August, and the fact that his lease on the space includes a stipulation that he may only be given seven days notice to vacate the property makes it “apples and oranges” compared to what Ehrlich paid for it.
“I imagine that makes the market value go through the floor – because what business would agree to such a condition? I thought, beggars can’t be choosers, this is a friendly agreement, and if it came to that I would find a way to deal, but I doubt Ehrlich’s campaign would be willing to move out that quickly,” Gajewski said.
Concerns expressed by Rockville residents at the Citizens Forum in Monday night’s council meeting and on websites like facebook.com and Rockville.patch.com have to do with campaign contributions from developer sources.
At the city council meeting on Monday, the council voted 3-2 to annex the Reed Brothers property near the waste transfer station so the Silverwood project could be built – Gajewski in favor, Mayor Marcuccio against. Gajewski said a “much better accusation” would be that he allowed his personal interest to sway his vote, given that he lives in King Farm and his property values could be positively or negatively impacted by the Silverwood project, but added he is representing the interests of his neighbors and other residents.
“If council members recused themselves every time an issue affected them personally, we’d never vote on anything – it’s a small city,” explained Gajewski.
Gajewski has received a $1,000 campaign contribution from Aris Mardirossian – critics of Gajewski characterize Mardirossian as a developer, but Gajewski says he is “semi-retired” and a “longtime friend who contributed to my campaign in 2007 and 2009 as well.” Other donations that have received scrutiny are three contributions from lawyers representing developers in the amounts of $500, $200, and $250, totaling $950.
“We’re extending the web,” joked Gajewski. “What’s next, accountants of developers, dentists of developers?”
“We are talking about trivially small amounts of money. The implication that a few hundred dollars would mean I would do their bidding is ridiculous,” said Gajewski. “My father has contributed $900 to my campaign, and as he would tell you, I haven’t done much of what he’s told me to do since I was a teenager.”
Mayor Marcuccio has stated that she does not accept any campaign contributions from developer sources.
“It’s a choice I’ve made because I’m elected by the citizens of Rockville, not developers, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be taking money from people I don’t represent,” she explained.
Meanwhile, Gajewski, conductor of the National Philharmonic, has received criticism from some voters that he doesn't take his job seriously, and has referred to his position on the council as a diversion.
“It’s another smear,” he said. “I’m a full time musician, I don’t apologize for loving my career, and consider myself lucky to be able to work at what I love, that’s what pays the mortgage. I’ve devoted extraordinary amount of time to any position on council and held numerous town hall forums. To suggest that I would not take the job seriously is ridiculous.”