Should he be reelected next week, Prince George's County Council member Anthony J. Cicoria will be suspended from office upon his sentencing Dec. 12 for stealing campaign contributions and lying on his state income tax returns, county and state attorneys said yesterday.
The likely scenario has prompted several of Cicoria's colleagues to call for his resignation. It also prompted Takoma Park Mayor Stephen J. Del Giudice, runner-up to Cicoria in the four-way Democratic primary, to say he is "seriously considering" a write-in campaign.
"There's a concern about what we do as voters," said Del Giudice. "Do we vote for Mr. Cicoria? I don't think any of us find the Republican as a real alternative. There is a real lack of choice now, given the finding of the jury."
Cicoria's conviction Tuesday, too late for his name to be removed from the general election ballot, left both Republicans and Democrats shaking their heads at the choice facing voters in the council district that includes Takoma Park, Mount Rainier, Hyattsville and University Park.
The Republican Party has disavowed its nominee, J. Lee Ball Jr., 59, who works for a College Park car dealership.
"He's an entertaining character, but he's really not qualified to hold office," said Charles W. Sherren Jr., the Republican candidate for county executive. "I think I wouldn't vote in that particular race."
"It's awkward, it's embarrassing," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who nonetheless urged Democrats to vote for Cicoria so that his successor, selected by the council after a recommendation from the party central committee, would be a Democrat. At present all council members are Democrats.
The alternative, he said, would be a write-in campaign. But Miller and others said such an effort, difficult under the best of circumstances, would be almost impossible with the election next week. Should one be mounted, Miller said Del Giudice would be a natural candidate.
Cicoria's conviction "creates something of a dilemma," said council member Richard J. Castaldi, who said Cicoria should resign. "You don't really have a good choice." Barring a write-in, he urged residents to vote for Cicoria so the Democrats could choose his successor.
But county and state lawyers disagree over whether that choice will be made by the party that wins the seat next week or directly by voters. According to Ronald A. Willoner, attorney for the county board of elections, the County Council would select Cicoria's temporary replacement after receiving recommendations from the party's central committee. After Cicoria's appeals are exhausted and his conviction is upheld, Willoner said, they would choose a permanent replacement.
However, the situation is complicated by a charter amendment on Tuesday's ballot that provides for popular election in the case of vacancies. The county board of elections contends that the amendment is unconstitutional, and has said it will refuse to hold such an election.
According to Willoner's interpretation, if the charter amendment is approved, it would leave the seat of a suspended council member vacant until the appeal is resolved.
The state disagrees. According to Assistant Attorney General Robert Zarnoch, the seat may be filled even temporarily, pending Cicoria's expected appeal, by a special election. If Cicoria's conviction is upheld, he said, another special election would be required to make his replacement permanent.
Should Cicoria prevail on appeal, he said, the person elected to occupy the seat would have to relinquish it to Cicoria. Both lawyers agree, however, that Cicoria's sentencing suspends him from office.
Neither Cicoria nor Ball could be reached yesterday. Cicoria has indicated that he intends to appeal his conviction. In an interview before the conviction, Ball spoke highly of Cicoria and his service to constituents. "Frankly," he said, "Tony would be the better man, but he's messed up his personal career."
Cicoria, who has not attended a council meeting since June 12, won the Democratic primary with 30 percent of the vote. The other candidates were Del Giudice; Doyle Niemann, a former Mount Rainier City Council member; and University Park Mayor Margaret Malino.