In Clifton, Forgetfulness Fosters Contention
Missing Filing Deadline Reminds Foes of Flap Over Beer Machine
By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; Page B03
Mayor James C. Chesley, the top elected official of the tiny, tony town of Clifton (pop. 250) has decided to stand for reelection. He wants to bring new streetlights and brick pavers to Clifton's sneeze-and-you-miss-it downtown.
The problem is, he forgot to sign up. Chesley, an independent running for his seventh two-year term, missed the candidate filing deadline. So now, like D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams was forced to do in 2002, Chesley is counting on his supporters to write in his name on the May 4 ballot.
Chesley said he missed the deadline because of the press of municipal business. He also blamed Fairfax County elections officials for not reminding him and said others also had missed the deadline.
"I'm a human, not Superman," Chesley, 57, said.
Tired of all of the questions -- and giggles behind his back -- Chesley recently sent a letter to all 192 town voters explaining his side.
But his political opponents in this hyper-political hamlet on the Fairfax County side of the Occoquan River are asking what else the mayor has forgotten. And they are sure to remind voters that this is the not the first time that the Chesley administration (which pretty much consists of the mayor and his wife, Jennifer) has been at the center of a controversy.
They bring up Beergate.
Two years ago, a council member called the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to complain that a vending machine in Town Hall was selling beer, which is illegal in Virginia. The machine had been donated to Clifton and was being operated by the local Lions Club. The council member complained to the mayor, a Lions Club member who had assumed responsibility for the machine, and said the mayor had promised to take care of the matter. The result, the council member said, was that someone used masking tape to cover the window that displayed the beers.
A reporter who checked the machine at the time was able to buy a cold can of Budweiser for $1 from the covered window.
Asked about the matter later that day, Chesley expressed surprise, saying that he had just checked the machine and that "there is no beer in there right now." He consistently denied having removed it, even after a witness told the town council he saw the mayor remove several Budweiser cans from the machine, place them in a paper bag and leave town hall.
An ABC agent checked the machine, and, finding no beer, quickly closed the investigation.
Asked again Saturday if he had removed the beer from the machine, Chesley said, "No."
He described the episode, during which he jokingly was referred to as "Bud Man," as "ancient history."
"Things here are kind of funny if you don't take it too seriously," he said.
Chesley's opponents, however, are not joking when they question the mayor's truthfulness.
"If you make a mistake, admit it and move on," said Wayne H. Nickum, a former mayor who is challenging Chesley. In case voters miss his point, Nickum's platform is "honesty, integrity and trust."
Chesley's opponents point not only to his statements during Beergate but also to his more recent explanation of how he forgot to file for reelection. In Chesley's March 15 letter to voters, he blamed the Fairfax County Electoral Board for not sending him a reminder this year, as it has in the past.
Chesley said he has a copy of a letter he received two years ago from the elections board reminding him to file. Board officials don't dispute the authenticity of the letter but say if it was sent, it was done as a personal favor to Chesley and not as a requirement of the office.
Larry E. Byrne, vice chairman of the county electoral board, said the filing deadline is certainly no secret. All election information, including all filing deadlines, is posted on the Internet.
"It doesn't seem to be too heavy a burden to me,'' Byrne said. "If you want to be the mayor of Clifton, I would think you would find out what you have to do."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company