Leggett Alleges Dirty Tactics; Silverman Counterattacks

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 26, 2006

With the Democratic primary less than three weeks away, the two leading candidates for Montgomery county executive have gone from civil to hostile, accusing each other of conducting smear campaigns.

Isiah Leggett, who served four terms on the County Council, charged that his main opponent in the Sept. 12 primary had spread "gross misstatements" about him in mailers, a telephone poll and an anonymous Web site. Council member Steven A. Silverman (At Large) accused Leggett of questioning his character by saying he had used dirty tactics.

This week, Silverman sent out two new mailers targeting Leggett.

"Ike Leggett would support using state funds to pay for private-school textbooks and busing private-school students," one reads.

Another notes that Leggett voted against the Purple Line, a proposed light-rail link between Bethesda and New Carrollton. "Now he claims to support it," it reads.

"That's a mischaracterization," said Leggett, who faulted Silverman's tactics and said he was running a positive campaign.

Said Silverman: "Rather than defend his positions or statements, he is personally attacking me and my integrity, and it's unfortunate that a man of his distinction should turn around and personalize this campaign."

Leggett told an audience of private-school parents in May that he would consider using public money for private-school textbooks if it were constitutional. In recent weeks, he has said he would never support that. As for the Purple Line, he voted against a version of it as a council member in 2001 and 2002.

The candidates also sparred over a Silverman campaign poll. Leggett called it a "push poll," referring to a technique in which interviewers spread negative information about a candidate under the guise of conducting a poll. Silverman said his pollsters had simply been gathering research about issues.

"We tested out a variety of factual statements about Leggett's votes and positions. And by every definition of a push poll by pollsters, it's not a push poll," Silverman said.

The questions were transcribed and e-mailed to reporters by Keith Berner, a political consultant who is not working for either campaign but who supports Leggett. "Practically the only thing they didn't ask is: Ike Leggett mutilates small children. Does this make you more or less likely to support him?" he said. "The poll was meant to actually capture votes. It's not a poll at all."

Warren Mitofsky, president of the New York polling firm Mitofsky International and a board member of the National Council on Public Polls, was asked by a Washington Post reporter to review some of the questions. He said that they did sound negative but that they didn't necessarily make it a push poll.

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