The nation avoided the bitter recriminations of a hotly contested presidential recount this year, but the tiny town of Chesapeake Beach seems to be less fortunate in its local election.
Joseph W. Johnson, who finished 57 votes behind five-term incumbent Gerald W. Donovan in the town's mayoral race, has requested a recount of the election's 1,438 ballots. He also accused Donovan supporters of intimidating voters and illegally posting campaign signs within 300 feet of a polling place.
"There is a hell of a story here of corruption," he said. "We have got to clean up town hall."
Donovan called those allegations "crazy rumors" and said he was unaware of any voting irregularities.
"I won, and I feel great about it," he said.
Meanwhile, the town's election officials and lawyer are determining whether Johnson is entitled to a recount.
Some political observers said they were shocked that Johnson, who moved to the town four years ago, even came close. Donovan has been the town's mayor since 1983 and last faced an election challenger in 1988.
"That was a stunner," said Calvert County Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large). "[Johnson] came out of nowhere. Had a three-week campaign. And he almost accomplished an upset."
Johnson attributed his loss to a series of campaign violations by Donovan supporters. The night before the election, he said, a mobile home plastered with Donovan campaign signs parked within 100 feet of the polling site and stayed there through Election Day. Johnson said he told town officials that the signs violated town election laws that prohibit campaigning within 300 feet of the polls but that the officials did nothing.
He also said town officials harassed his wife and turned away voters who were registered in the town.
"If this is the way this town is run," Johnson said, "then no one will ever be able to beat" Donovan.
But Donovan said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by town employees. "They don't deserve their integrity assaulted," he said. "People should align themselves more with the truth."
Many town residents said they had never seen Donovan wage a campaign. But over the past three weeks, his red-white-and-blue campaign signs dotted the town's landscape, he hosted numerous meet-and-greet sessions with voters, his campaign ads appeared in local newspapers and supporters began sporting "Re-Elect Gerald W. Donovan" buttons.
Donovan said he spent $2,000 on the race. Town law does not require candidates to file financial disclosure reports.
Johnson, who did not purchase any yard signs and had smaller newspapers ads, said his campaign cost $3,000.
The election contest exposed differences between longtime residents, who tended to support Donovan, and those who have moved to town more recently, who leaned toward Johnson, said Pat "Irish" Mahoney, a Town Council member and sometime Donovan critic.
Vanessa Hunter, 43, a stay-at-home mom who moved to town from Reston four years ago, said she opposes Donovan for a simple reason: One of the restaurants the mayor owns operates pull-tab bingo machines that resemble slots. And she worries he will try to open a casino at his new 72-room Chesapeake Beach Hotel and Spa.
"I don't want the gambling," she said.
Clara Mae Buckmaster, 67, who has lived in the town most of her life, said there was no basis for allegations that Donovan only looks out for his personal interests.
"His special interest is you, me and the children of Chesapeake Beach," she said. "These new people really don't know and then they listen to the negativism about him."
Donovan said he is used to personal attacks and is now focusing on his next term. He said his top priorities are to reduce the discharge of effluence into the Chesapeake Bay from the town's sewage treatment plant and build an indoor swimming pool in town.
He also said he will form a committee to review election laws and support town laws mandating disclosure of campaign finances.
"I don't think there needs to be any secret about anything," he said. "I think the more open all forms of government are, the better."