The candidates for the 39th District in Virginia's House of Delegates traded ethics accusations Wednesday in their campaign to represent the Annandale area.
Fairfax County Democrat Vivian E. Watts, a member of the House since 1996, accused her Republican challenger, Michael J. Meunier, of lying to avoid paying taxes in Maryland, where he owns a second home.
Meunier, meanwhile, demanded an apology from Watts for a political flier she produced that said: "Delegate. Community leader. One of our own." Meunier, an Egyptian-born immigrant, said her statement was racist and meant to imply that he is an outsider.
The candidates denied each other's accusations and said they were trying to run for office on the strength of their ideas.
"It proves that Mrs. Watts wants to run a smear campaign," Meunier said of the flier. "She does not want to talk about the issues or the lack of any ideas or significant legislation that she has proposed in her 20 years."
Meunier, who runs an information technology firm and founded a group called the Center for Freedom in the Middle East, said: "It's clear when you look at it. Mrs. Watts is saying that because I don't look like her, I am not qualified to run for office. I'm as much a Virginian as she is. I'm not someone who is an outsider to the community."
Watts said she was "dumbfounded" when she heard the allegation of racism. She said she has always tried to describe herself as an integral part of the community in her political ads and mailings.
"It's a description of me," she said. "It's something that has been consistently used throughout my campaigns. This is where his statement, again, just leaves me in shock. I can't relate to it. We all have our roots."
Watts, in turn, accused Meunier of misrepresenting himself on tax documents filed with Maryland officials last year.
She provided copies of a document dated Oct. 15, 2004, titled "Finance Affidavit" and filed with Prince George's County. On it, Meunier indicated that he did not have to pay recordation and transfer taxes because he was refinancing his "principal residence."
The document he signed says: "I/We understand that if I/We fail to truthfully answer or provide information to avoid collection of County Transfer and State Recordation Tax, I/We may be found guilty of a misdemeanor." The punishment, according to the document, is as much as $5,000 or 18 months in prison.
"He appears to have broken Maryland law," Watts said.
"He needs to clarify it. You are writing the laws, and you have to do the darnedest to obey the laws."
She said she was bringing the information forward "so he has time to explain it or correct it."
After reviewing the documents, Meunier confirmed that he had refinanced his home in Maryland but said that at the time late last year, he was seriously considering moving into that home permanently.
He later changed his mind, he said, after his father, who lives in Alexandria, received a lung cancer diagnosis.
"I was so determined I was going to move to Maryland. The real estate values were high. I thought I would sell my house and make some money," he said.
Of his decision to then stay in Virginia, he said, "You are entitled to change your mind."