The site surfaced Sunday, as Montgomery Democrats gathered for their annual brunch at the Bethesda North Marriott. Attendees were texted and provided a link to the site.
The number attached to the text did not accept phone calls, and the site’s home page has no indication of who paid for it. But a review of the site’s internal code shows the user name of a principal at Kenefick Communications, a public relations and graphic design firm in Annapolis. It specializes in union communications and works regularly for the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization. The local, affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers, represents about 3,700 non-public safety workers in Montgomery. President Gino Renne has been outspokenly critical of Ervin. He did not return phone messages Wednesday.
Tara Landis, the Kenefick principal whose name appears in the code, did not return a phone message to her home Wednesday. Lisa Gebbia, another firm principal, denied involvement but said Kenefick has “done anti-Valerie sites before.”
Ervin, a possible candidate for county executive in 2014, denounced the site Wednesday. “This has no place in politics,” she said.
She was supported by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who issued a statement calling the anonymous nature of the attacks “outrageous.”
“If you have a criticism about something or someone, you should own up to it,” Leggett (D) said. “A lively exchange of views and perspectives is healthy for the body politic. Smears and slander bring political discourse down into the gutter.”
It is the latest turn in a blistering two-year feud between Renne and Ervin, a former UFCW organizer elected with heavy labor support who took some positions against union interests when she served as council president in 2010-11. They included a proposal to open binding arbitration sessions to public participation and an overhaul of the county’s disability retirement system.
Among issues highlighted by the Unmasked site is $6,000 in consulting fees that Ervin received last fall from the reelection campaign of Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md). The payments, in three $2,000 installments, are listed in Edwards’s Federal Election Commission filings.
Ervin received clearance from Montgomery’s ethics commission, which must approve all outside employment for county officials. But Ervin’s and Edwards’s offices offer inconsistent accounts of Ervin’s duties. On Monday, Edwards’s press secretary, Ben Gerdes, said Ervin “staffed events, helped coordinate events around the election and worked the Democratic National Convention.” He declined repeated requests to elaborate.