Montgomery County Republicans tested a possible election year theme yesterday when they attacked the association of some prominent Democratic officials with firms seeking cable television franchises as "a scandal waiting to happen."
The Republicans cited Montgomery Democratic state legislators Sen. Victor Crawford and Del. Jerry Hyatt as stockholders in firms seeking he county's cable franchise an criticized the involvement of Sen. Laurence Levitan, Democratic Central Committee Chairman Stanton Gildenhorn, and central committee member Stephen Nassau, who work as attorneys for cable firms.
Crawford was listed as a shareholder of Montgomery Community Cable Vision, although the senator has placed his shares in a blind trust. Levitan was listed as an attorney representing Metro Vision. Hyatt was listed as a stockholder of Montgomery Cable Communication, Inc. Gildenhorn represents Tribune-United of Montgomery County as an attorney, and Nassau is an attorney for Viacom.
The involvement of all was confirmed yesterday. But Hyatt said he sold his 4,000 to 5,000 shares of stock in Montgomery Cable Communication, Inc. back to the company last May.
"I really resent [the Republicans] doing this. Everybody's looking for a cause this year because they are running for office. It's a political move," Hyatt said.
"I go out of my way to make certain that I never discuss any aspect of cable television with members of the County Council or the executive staff," Nassau said in defending his affiliation.
Concern over the appearance of scandal in the awarding of what is generally considered one of the most lucrative cable television franchises in the Washington area has already led the county to enact a number of strict regulations prohibiting any county decision makers from even discussing cable television with representatives of cable firms, except at public meetings.
In September, the Montgomery County Council voted to prohibit local campaign contributions by employes of firms competing for the franchise. In November, the Maryland attorney general's office ruled that the council had overstepped its bounds, but yesterday the council decided to disregard the legal opinion and voted once again to implement the restriction with only a minor amendment that would exempt clerical employes.
At yesterday's press conference, the Republican officials -- Del. Luiz Simmons, state Sen. Howard Denis, and Republican Central Committee Chairman Paul Clark -- unveiled a plan Clark said would "substantially reduce the possibility of political scandal resulting from cable television franchising in our county."
Specifically, the Republicans called on the council and County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, a Democrat, to endorse a resolution banning the acceptance of contributions from cable firms and anyone affiliated with them; the public disclosure of all financial contributions accepted by elected officials from 1981 through February of 1982, and a resolution urging all elected officials to divest themselves of any ownership in cable firms.
Gilchrist said the Republicans, for the most part, were merely endorsing suggestions he has already made. He said he hoped the press conference "was not just a political shot," and added that he accepts no campaign contributions from cable firms or their employes and will disclose his campaign contributors in February or March.
But Gilchrist and County Council Vice President Michael Gudis said that they could not endorse a resolution urging others to give up financial interests in cable firms, or stop them from becoming attorneys for them.
Simmons said that he and Denis had introduced legislation that would have amended the state's ethics law to regulate actions of public officials involved in the process of awarding cable franchises.
He added that when it came to doing something about regulating the process, the County Council and the county executive "will have to do more than preach water and drink wine."