College Park Mayor Alvin J. Kushner, a two-term incumbent who has served as an elected official since 1969, has faced many opponents over the years, but he's never run against a cartoon character before.
In the weeks before the city's Nov. 5 election, Kushner, 58, has been defending his record to city voters who were sent a blanket mailing of a 16-page booklet printed by V. Charles Donnelly, a 42-year-old lawyer challenging the mayor in the race.
The booklet, which Kushner referred to as "that garbage," contains dozens of cartoons drawn by Lanham free-lance artist Dick Hafer that depict Kushner hiding behind desks and conducting city business in closed-door meetings.
Hafer's renderings and accompanying text allege, among other things, that Kushner is "invisible on the issues and when he's supposed to be providing leadership . . . . The City Council either runs all over him or ignores him."
"The greater percentage of it is untrue, and what isn't untrue is misleading," Kushner said of the booklet, which includes detailed depictions of recent controversies involving the Metro Green Line extension, a law concerning offensive odors and problems of student housing.
"The negative political campaign seems to be getting a bigger foothold and it's regrettable," the mayor said.
Donnelly said that a mayor should do more than Kushner has done, and he charges in his booklet and on the campaign stump that Kushner has abdicated his responsibility.
"In this city we have a government that has become, on a local level, very arrogant," said Donnelly. College Park residents, he said, are "discouraged from participating" by an entrenched mayor and City Council.
College Park's 24,315 residents have been alternately absorbed with the problem of how to house the estimated 10,000 University of Maryland students who live off campus and how best to accommodate the extension of the Metro Green Line.
Hafer, who has done similar work for national candidates and, on one occasion, for the National Conservative Political Action Committee, was paid about $3,000 for his work, Donnelly said.
According to Donnelly's figures, the cost of the booklet could amount to nearly two-thirds of the money he plans to spend on his campaign.
"I suspect that document cost more than the salary of the mayor for a year," said Kushner, a lawyer in the Internal Revenue Service's publications division. The mayor, who is paid $200 a month and is serving a two-year-term, said he expects to raise about $3,000, part of it from a recent fund-raiser. "I'm not raising as much, apparently, as I need."
Donnelly's booklet has stirred up some comment in College Park political circles, but observers said it has not noticeably enlivened the mayor's race for those who are not tied in to local politics.
"I'm amazed at how people are not talking about it," said Andy Miller, 30, a third-generation city resident who works as a property manager.
"It's a boring election."
Miller, who was a fraternity president when he attended the University of Maryland, said that the college's presence in the community has been a recurring issue in most city elections.
"I've been on both sides of that issue, and I can tell you that students are not interested in keeping College Park a residential, family-oriented city, which is what it was when I grew up here."
"Municipal campaigns are usually based on personality," said Donnelly, who came in third in his race to unseat council member James Herl in 1982. The cartoon book, he said, has helped to delineate city issues.
"In our government, the city has an extremely limited role," said Kushner, who said he is sensitive to questions about Donnelly's booklet. "We provide services the county doesn't do. One of the problems government gets into is trying to do too many things."
Most of the eight members of the City Council, several of whom have disagreed with Kushner on different issues over the years, are supporting his reelection effort. But Anthony Yanchulis, a council member who is retiring after 10 years, said he was asked to resign his position as mayor pro tem after he announced his support of Donnelly at a council meeting that he chaired in September.
Kushner "felt he'd appointed me as mayor pro tem and that I shouldn't back another candidate," said Yanchulis, a former Kushner ally.
Yanchulis said he is behind Donnelly because the city needs "new blood."
The council's relationship with Kushner, Yanchulis said, has been "rough and nasty for the last four years," but "over the last month or so everybody's been patting him on the back."
John E. Perry, a Berwyn activist who as a council member challenged Kushner in 1982 and is now an outspoken Kushner supporter, called the comic book "outright scandalous.