County Treasurer Says He'll No Longer Work for Democrats

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007

A top elected Democrat in Arlington County said yesterday that he will no longer actively work for the local party because its leadership censured him over a racially provocative campaign mailing he sent during a heated primary campaign against an African American challenger.

County Treasurer Francis X. "Frank" O'Leary's pronouncement took top party officials by surprise and roiled the normally calm surface of the Democratic-controlled county.

"We have no idea why Frank O'Leary chose this particular moment to bring this matter up again," Peter Rousselot, chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said in a statement.

O'Leary said in a letter dated Dec. 5 and in an interview yesterday that he would "not participate" in the Arlington County Democratic Committee because of its decision this summer to punish O'Leary by excluding him from the party's promotional materials for the general election.

O'Leary, who has been in office 23 years, emphasized that he was not resigning from the local committee or giving up his lifelong Democratic affiliation. But he said he would no longer work for the party because he believes it treated him unfairly.

"It was a decision I made last July based on what I saw as a total lack of process by the Democratic committee," O'Leary said. "It starts at the top."

The party censured O'Leary over a "Taxpayer Alert" mailing that O'Leary sent out days before the June 12 primary. The mailing characterized his challenger, lawyer Bob James, as a "chronic delinquent" who failed to pay his car tax or display his county decal. The mailing also warned that James was pushing several fiscally "dangerous" proposals and could pull off an upset in a lightly attended primary because he was supported by "eight minority churches."

The mailing, which reached about 1,500 voters, caused outrage. Several elected officials, including state legislators and County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson, issued a joint statement saying O'Leary's mailing had "stepped over the line."

After the primary, the Democratic Party's steering committee voted 21 to 1 to take action, and the party's membership approved, on a vote of 40 to 7, a resolution calling the mailing "deeply offensive to Democratic values." The membership also voted to ban O'Leary from joint campaign events and exclude him from promotional materials.

O'Leary overwhelmingly won the June primary against James and was unopposed in the November general election.

To the annoyance of party officials, his latest pronouncement stirred tensions over an issue that most thought had been put to rest.

"We consider the matter closed," Rousselot said. "Mr. O'Leary won his election, and presumably should be focusing on serving the people of Arlington. In the future, ACDC hopes its candidates will conduct their campaigns in a manner worthy of Arlington, and looks forward to continuing to advance our principles in 2008."

In an interview, Rousselot disputed O'Leary's assertion that the party's censure lacked due process.

"He was present for the full membership vote," Rousselot said. Rousselot said O'Leary spoke to his colleagues and even claimed not to oppose any action they might take.

But O'Leary said he was not invited to a meeting of elected Democratic officials or of the steering committee. He also said he was given only two minutes to rebut the charges before the full membership acted.

"It was just a complete railroading," O'Leary said. "When you're standing at the foot of the gallows and you're looking up at the noose, what are you supposed to say?"

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