A coalition of elected officials and community leaders are organizing to defeat three controversial initiatives on the November ballot. But some leaders of the effort are openly wondering whether they will have enough time to run an effective campaign.
Aimed at urging voters to reject questions A, B and C, the Vote No Coalition began meeting this month to think about ways to raise money and communicate with the public.
"We want to get our message out to voters that all three of these measures will be harmful to Montgomery County," said County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large). "You will see press conferences. You will see literature out there. There will be a full-blown campaign."
Most County Council members, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and a host of other groups, such as Montgomery County's teachers union, have joined Silverman in the effort to defeat the ballot measures.
Anti-tax activist Robin Ficker is behind the first two ballot questions. Question A would prohibit the County Council from overriding a charter amendment that limits increases in property tax receipts to the roughly the rate of inflation. Question B would limit council members to three four-year terms.
The Montgomery County Civic Federation, a nonpartisan group made up mainly of neighborhood associations, is campaigning in support of Question C. It would scrap at-large council seats in favor of nine single-member districts. The civic federation argues that the change would limit developers' influence in county government.
While voters have rejected past Ficker amendments, including measures dealing with term limits and tax caps, this year county leaders are nervous because they expect the presidential race will draw an influx of new voters.
For weeks, Ficker has been posting "You're Entering a High Tax Zone" lawn signs in subliminal support of Question A, and the civic federation has been handing out literature asking voters to support Question C.
But Silverman said the Vote No Coalition is being led by an experienced team capable of outworking -- and certainly raising more money than -- the supporters of the ballot questions.
The coalition is being co-chaired by Becky Wagner, executive director of Community Ministry of Montgomery County, an interfaith group that represents 129 congregations; former Planning Board chair Royce Hanson; and Roscoe Nix, a former county NAACP president and school board member.
Nix, however, said he cannot understand why the coalition is being formed just weeks before the election.
"I think we could have started much earlier," Nix said. "We can still pull it off, but it means we do not have the comfort room we would like in a case like this. There are so many things we want to do and now we have to do it in a hurry."
Picture Provokes Protests
For Rosario Farruggio, a co-owner of Joe's Place Pizza and Pasta on North Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg, President Bush is bad for business.
Farruggio said a photo of the president hanging in his restaurant has provoked complaints from customers over the past three months.
"I had a lady who said, 'I don't want to sit next to this [jerk],' " Farruggio said. "Another time, a customer called me over. I thought maybe we gave them the wrong order. He said, 'If you want me to come back, you better remove that picture.' "
And that's just the people who speak up. "I don't know how many people just don't say anything," Farruggio said. "I think our business is affected because of this [photo]."
Farruggio's father started the tradition of posting a picture of the sitting president on the wall of the restaurant in the 1980s. "My parents started this when they came from Italy when I was a young kid," Farruggio said. "They were proud of having made a success. . . . They don't want to have a political affiliation, they just wanted to show we're proud of the United States."
He said his relatives who run Joe's Place outlets in Vienna, Falls Church and Fairfax City have not received similar complaints.
"I don't want to take it down," Farruggio said of the president's portrait. "Even if I don't agree with everything he says, I want to keep up this tradition."