Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer's write-in candidacy began in earnest yesterday as a citizens group leading the effort officially launched its campaign.
The Citizens to Write In Sid Kramer held its first news conference, rented campaign headquarters and showed off campaign materials, including a giant lead pencil emblazoned with the name Sid Kramer.
"This is a serious effort . . . . We are going to win," said Fran Abrams, a longtime day-care activist who is chairman of the newly organized group.
Kramer, meanwhile, continued to spurn suggestions from friends and colleagues in the Democratic Party that he drop out of the race and filed a certificate of candidacy with county election officials.
The move was a blow to county Democratic leaders who had hoped their condemnation of Kramer's two-day-old write-in campaign and their unilateral support for veteran County Council member Neal Potter, who defeated him in last month's Democratic primary, would persuade him to renounce the challenge.
The citizens group backing Kramer is a nonpartisan committee of community volunteers, civic activists, professionals and small-business people, Abrams said. Members who attended yesterday's inaugural news conference included several North Potomac residents who oppose Potter because he wants to put a landfill in their community and Silver Spring residents who support Kramer's redevelopment plans for their downtown.
Joyce Crooke, widow of former county Police Chief Bernard Crooke, also attended, as did some small-business owners. Kramer was not present because Abrams, stressing the grass-roots theme of the group, explained, "This is our show."
Abrams disputed suggestions that the group was set up by Kramer, his political supporters or county officials whose jobs are threatened if Potter wins. However, she refused to provide details on how the group came together or who had talked to Kramer to persuade him to sanction the effort.
Potter upset Kramer in a bitterly fought race and had been seen as a favorite in the Nov. 6 general election against Republican Albert Ceccone. Ceccone, a Chevy Chase businessman who has waged a series of losing campaigns, held his own news conference yesterday to complain that no one is paying attention to him and that he provides the change that voters wanted when they turned against Kramer.
Officials at the county Board of Elections, meanwhile, took their own steps to prepare for the campaign: They rushed an order for 10,000 pencils that will be distributed to all of Montgomery's precincts.
Douglas Jernigan, the county election supervisor, said that the total number of write-in votes will be tabulated on election night, but the names of the candidates who received the votes will take longer to sort out. He said there is only one requirement to validate a write-in vote: that the intent of the voter be clear. Jernigan said, for instance, that if a voter writes in "Sid," that vote will be counted for Kramer.
Members of Kramer's cabinet, who had been urged by county administrator Lewis Roberts this week to back the write-in bid, continued to be divided over which side to support. Transportation Director Robert McGarry and budget director Robert K. Kendal said they would back Kramer, while others said they would remain neutral or support Potter because he is the party's nominee.
Robert Metz, a lawyer who heads a political action committee of business leaders, said the group will meet to reconsider its decision not to take a stand in the race. Metz, a Republican, said he will back Kramer.
"Neal Potter has not been a friend to business throughout his 20 years on the council," Metz said.