Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso received a $70 ticket Wednesday morning while sign-waving in Edgewater as part of his bid to become county executive.
But later in the day, a county police spokesman said the department will ask the state's attorney to drop the charge, because police believe the law may be unconstitutional.
Grasso, a Republican from Glen Burnie, who said he wanted to get his name out to voters in the southern part of the county, was waving a large red campaign sign from the median of Route 2, just south of the South River bridge during morning rush hour.
"I made sure I was far enough away from the cars … but with enough exposure that they could see it," he said.
County police officers ticketed him under a state law that bars people from standing in a highway in Anne Arundel while soliciting donations or advertising a message.
In 2007, when the panhandling measure was approved, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler wrote a letter to the governor saying the part of the law barring sign-waving probably wouldn't withstand a legal challenge. A total ban on signs would violate the First Amendment, he wrote.
Anne Arundel police spokesman Justin Mulcahy cited that letter and said county officers will be told not to enforce the advertising portion of the law, though he said the officer who ticketed Grasso was acting in good faith.
"He applied the law as currently written," Mulcahy said.
A spokesman for the state's attorney's office could not be reached for comment.
Grasso said he's considering whether the law needs to be changed.
"What we need to do is see if we can change the wording of it so it still addresses the panhandling problem, but not the First Amendment right of people to advertise," he said.
After getting the ticket, Grasso said he moved to another location, though he wouldn't say where.
"I just moved to another spot, and the response was tremendous. I felt so good. I felt it happened for a reason," Grasso said.
Grasso was the first Republican to announce his campaign for county executive for the 2014 election. Del. Steve Schuh of Gibson Island is also running, and County Executive Laura Neuman of Annapolis is considering a run to keep the job for a full term. Neuman was appointed to the position in February after County Executive John R. Leopold resigned following his conviction of misconduct in office.
No Democrats have officially announced for the county executive race, but Joanna Conti, who ran in 2010, has said she'll likely launch a campaign closer to the election.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun