Friday, December 06, 2013 7:25 AM
Published on: Thursday, October 31, 2013
By Holden Wilen
ROCKVILLE – A quiet election season has suddenly turned fiery after a campaign manager for the Team Rockville slate filed a complaint with the Board of Supervisors of Elections because a citizen distributed an anonymous flyer endorsing three opposing candidates.
Max van Balgooy, a campaign manager for mayoral candidate and current Councilman Mark Pierzchala, filed the complaint on Oct. 22 after he received notice that anonymous flyers were being distributed in King Farm endorsing mayoral candidate Bridget Newton and council candidates Don Hadley and Claire Marcuccio Whitaker. In his complaint, van Balgooy alleges that the flyer is illegal because the distributers failed to register as a campaign committee and distributed the flyer anonymously.
“Team Rockville and I support fair elections and transparent government, so anonymous and misleading campaigning like this is not only illegal but completely unethical and cowardly,” van Balgooy said.
According to the city code, a campaign committee consists of two or more people who promote the success or defeat of any candidate, while individuals are exempt from including their names on literature.
On Oct. 24, the Supervisors of the Board of Elections discussed the complaint and began their initial fact-finding. However, at Monday’s mayor and council meeting, the facts finally came out.
As it turns out, an individual King Farm resident, Echo Lin, came out and admitted she created the flyer as a tool to inform her neighbors and encourage them to vote in the city election. Lin said she had become aware of issues concerning the city’s adequate public facilities ordinance and development around her neighborhood, so she wanted to let her neighbors know about the issues before the election.
“I spent some time researching on my own,” Lin said. “I came up with the flyer I have been distributing on my own which I have created on my own without any support from anybody. I did it on my own.”
Lin, a Chinese immigrant, told the mayor and council she and her husband came to the United States in 1997 seeking freedom and moved to King Farm this past June because they thought it would be a great place to live. Now, she said she objects to the efforts of van Balgooy and Councilman Tom Moore, who is running for reelection on the Team Rockville slate, to suppress her freedom of speech.
“To make this a campaign dispute reminded me of the government in communist China that suppresses its citizens’ speech,” Lin said.
After Lin spoke, several members of the King Farm community spoke in support of their neighbor. Tom Curtis, treasurer of the King Farm Citizen’s Assembly, accused van Balgooy and Moore of bullying.
“Moore and van Balgooy have taken a very innocent expression of someone’s personal opinion and attempted to twist it to their own political advantage,” Curtis said. “They should be ashamed of themselves. They are engaging in exactly the kind of dirty politics they have decried.”
In an interview after the mayor and council meeting, Moore said his concern came about because there was a political flyer endorsing his team’s opponents.
“We had a perfect right to be concerned about that,” Moore said. “The flyer was political, our response was political and the people who showed up (to speak) were there for political reasons. It is political season.”
Van Balgooy said he talked to Lin after the mayor and council meeting, and that it is apparent to him that because the flyer was distributed by an individual the election code permits it. He said he did encourage Lin to put her name on the flyer so her neighbors could call her to get more information.
On his blog, Max For Rockville, van Balgooy said he was sorry to put Lin through the ordeal, but he was just trying to uphold the city’s election code.
“If there is a silver lining to this event,” van Balgooy said, “it is that more people are talking about the election and their rights as citizens.”
Moore said now that the Board of Supervisors of Elections knows who created the flyer, the board can settle the issue.
Lois Neuman, chair of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, said now that the board knows more about what happened, it can make a final determination at its next meeting on Oct. 30. Neuman said the whole situation shows the city’s election codes need to be revised.
“We need to look at the rules,” Neuman said. “They may be out of date and there are things that should be looked at.”
When asked if he would have filed a complaint had the flyer supported Team Rockville instead of his opponents, Moore said he would not have been an injured party so he would not have, but he “would have scoured the Earth to find out who did it and make them stop it.”
“As far as I can tell there was no effort like that on the other candidates’ parts,” Moore said.
Don Hadley, a candidate for council, said he would not have filed a complaint if there had been an anonymous flyer supporting Team Rockville.
“As long as something is not libelous or offensive or inappropriate for public, I’m okay with the expressions, regardless of who they elevate or criticize,” Hadley said. “Unless there are clear grounds for believing there has been a violation of the election ordinance, I think filing a complaint is a bullying and publicity stunt. Moore and van Balgooy failed to exhaust their investigative resources before van Balgooy filed the complaint. The bottom-feeder practice of ‘policing’ the ‘other side’ under the banner of campaign ethics is a manipulation to serve purely partisan ambitions.”
Councilwoman Bridget Newton, a candidate for mayor, said she also would not have filed a complaint.
“We need to stop looking for the worst in people,” Newton said. “This situation provides a very instructive insight into how certain individuals view other people.”
Posted By: Bea Thiele On: 11/5/2013
Title: Lin vs Moore
I'd heard about this confrontation and didn't know whether to believe it or not. I'm on my way to vote now and it will certainly cost Moore my vote. He never claims he was defamed in any way ...