A new campaign commercial for Montgomery County Council member David Scull, which includes a quotation from the county's popular Democratic congressman Michael Barnes, has prompted charges of "dirty tricks" from Scull's opponents, and a call for an ethics investigation by the county's Democratic Party chairman.
The advertisement, which began airing last week on WTOP radio, opens with remarks by Scull and concludes with an announcer saying "Congressman Mike Barnes says 'Each member of the Merit Team of which Scull is a member has a splendid record of accomplishment in public service and would well serve the citizens as a member of the County Council.' Vote for all seven."
The phrase "vote for all seven" is not part of the Barnes quotation, since Barnes has made it clear he is not endorsing either the Merit Team slate or its opposition, the United Democrats, in the bitter council feud. The United Democrats complain the ad makes it sound as if Barnes -- not the announcer -- is urging listeners to "vote for all seven" Merit Team candidates.
Democratic party chairman Stanton J. Gildenhorn, reacting to a request by the United Democrats team, said yesterday he has listened to the ad and that it is misleading. In a rare criticism of a Democratic candidate before the primary, Gildenhorn blasted Scull and said he is asking the party's ethics committee to launch an immediate investigation into possible ethics violations.
"It's fairly blatant," Gildenhorn said. "There is no doubt whatever that the ad states that Scull and his running mates have been endorsed by Congressman Michael Barnes. That claim is false. Montgomery County has a proud tradition of honest and forthright political campaigns. It is unfortunate that a candidate has seriously deviated from that tradition."
Council president Neal Potter, a United Democrat and Scull's opponent, said, "The commercial is sleazy politics and an abuse of Mike Barnes' good will. Potter's running mate for an at-large seat, former teacher's union president Henry (Hank) Heller, demanded that the ad be retracted and Scull apologize to the voters.
Scull said he listened to the tape in the radio studio before it aired and felt satisfied that there was a sufficient pause between the Barnes quote and the "vote for all seven" tag line. "There was certainly no intention to mislead," he said.
Meanwhile, Barnes is concerned that the ad would leave listeners thinking he had endorsed Scull's Merit Team. He said he will be discussing the incident with Scull.
The complaint about the advertisement is the latest, and by far the most serious, allegation in an escalating series of accusations by United Democrats members against the Merit Team, in a Democratic primary campaign that has grown increasingly bitter with just seven days left until the Sept. 14 primary.
Council member Rose Crenca, a member of the United Democrats, is accusing her Merit Team opponent, former school board member Thomas S. Israel, of being "a public liar" because of a controversial letter Israel mailed out last week to precinct workers.
The letter states that Crenca "has sponsored few pieces of legislation in four years on the council, and has had none enacted."
Crenca angrily said, "I don't believe Mr. Israel knows the truth when he sees it. The man is telling untruths."
Crenca listed among her legislation the county's new ethics code, the enabling legislation for cable television (which she cosponsored with Potter), a bill to prohibit live pornographic shows, and several zoning text amendments.
Israel said he does not consider zoning text amendments or cosponsored bills as legislation sponsored by Crenca.