Race for Open Council Seat Takes On a Combative Tone

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 19, 2009

In the final days of the primary campaign for an open seat on the Montgomery County Council, Board of Education member Nancy Navarro has turned up the heat on Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, sending a series of mailings that accuse him of taking positions in the General Assembly that are detrimental to children and victims of domestic violence.

Last week, Kramer (D) called the missives "absolutely repugnant," taking Montgomery politics to a new level of "11th-hour character assassination." Navarro said the mailings were nothing personal, just an attempt to highlight some of Kramer's votes that she considers troubling and at odds with how he has presented himself to voters.

Kramer and Navarro are among the six Democrats and three Republicans competing in Tuesday's special election to fill the eastern county District 4 seat left vacant by the death in January of Donald Praisner. The winners will go on to face a candidate from the Green Party in the May 19 general election.

In the first mailing, a young girl gazes anxiously through a chain-link fence with the message that Kramer "sides with special interests instead of protecting our children." Navarro, who has the backing of four council members, writes that Kramer sponsored "pro-gun legislation, making it easier to buy handguns in Maryland."

The legislation, which failed in the House this session, would have made it easier for victims of domestic violence to get state police approval for permits to carry handguns -- not to buy handguns, as the mailing states. Kramer said the bill was inspired by a constituent who was beaten by her boyfriend. The woman, he said, owned a gun but wanted to be able to legally carry it outside her home for protection. The measure had support from gun-rights advocates and was opposed by victims' advocates.

In a subsequent mailing, a young woman clutches a teddy bear and carries the message that Kramer "sides with defense attorneys and the NRA instead of protecting victims of domestic violence." The controversial bill, which was also defeated in the House, would have allowed records in some unproven domestic abuse cases to be expunged. Kramer said he was concerned that dismissed protective orders could be used to deny innocent people housing or jobs.

"We have a responsibility to be tough on crime, but we also have a responsibility to honor our Constitution and protect those who are innocent," he said.

Kramer, who has support from County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Praisner's daughter, describes himself in his own mailings as the "clear choice for women." He lists efforts in Annapolis to add protections for domestic violence victims, including his support for a bill backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) that will take guns away from abuse suspects.

Keith Haller, a Bethesda-based pollster not affiliated with either campaign, said such hard-hitting mailings in the final days of a campaign could backfire on Navarro in what is expected to be a low-turnout election. "This election is really about who has the superior grass-roots, get-out-the-vote operation," he said. "It's a very high-risk strategy."

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