Senate primary candidate challenges opponent's name

A candidate named "Rebecca Weir Nelson" rode her family name to victory in last week's Democratic primary election for the state Senate seat in the 7th District. Now, the opponent she defeated has raised questions about whether she should have been allowed to use the name at all.

Nelson, a cousin of Democratic Del. Michael H. Weir Jr., and the great-niece of his father, the late longtime delegate Michael H. Weir Sr., listed her given name on the ballot — Rebecca L. Nelson — when she ran for the House of Delegates in 2006. She said that after her opponent in that race questioned whether she was even a Democrat based on some of her political stances, she decided to list "Weir" as her middle name this time around.

She said she thought changing her name on the ballot "made sense."

"I thought [voters] would feel more comfortable knowing what family I come from," she said. "I didn't think there would be a question mark on it. No one had ever questioned my being a Weir or the Weir family."

Her Democratic opponent, James G. Stavropoulos Jr. said he believes Nelson changed her name to hide criminal misdeeds that occurred after her failed 2006 run.

She was hit with a $1,400 fine from Baltimore County Animal Control for operating an illegal pit bull breeding pen in August 2006, and charged with second-degree assault the following year, a case that was dropped. Nelson denies any wrongdoing.

"I'm not bitter or disgruntled, but if you have someone who broke the law and changed their name to hide their criminal record, you shouldn't be allowed to represent the public," Stavropoulos said.

Stavropoulos himself has a legal record that includes second-degree assault charges, of which he was acquitted on several counts and had charges dropped on another. He was also fined for failure to file campaign finance reports.

Stavropoulos said his former campaign treasurer did not file a final report. All fines related to the incident have been paid, he said.

Nelson won the primary election, 4,177 to 3,492 votes. She will face Republican J.B. Jennings in the fall general election. The district includes sections of Baltimore and Harford counties, and is now represented by Republican Andy Harris, who is leaving to run for Congress.

Jennings said he's disappointed by the turn of events.

"If she did this to sway voters, I'm disappointed," he said. "She ran four years ago, and she didn't use it as her name. Why did she use it all of a sudden?"

Nelson said she was raised by her maternal grandparents, John "Skip" and Virginia Russo Weir — the state delegate's aunt and uncle.

Nelson played up her Weir family ties in the unsuccessful House of Delegates run, said Delegate Weir, who did not make an endorsement in this race.

"Her mother was a Weir, and she was my first cousin. She is entitled to the name as well as I am. Well, not as well as I am … it's on my birth certificate," Weir said, with a slight chuckle. "It's something that she's never used until this past election."

Weir said he was not aware of her criminal history.

"I am sure the individuals that are involved in the general election should have not only the background but experience that should stand up to any concern of a voter," he said.

Stavropoulos, who also ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates, said he wanted to file a complaint with the State Board of Elections shortly after the July filing deadline, believing that Nelson had not provided the appropriate documentation for the name change.

State election officials enacted regulations after the filing deadline requiring candidates who wish to use an alternative name to include news accounts or witnesses to support the request. Jared DeMarinis, director of candidacy and campaign finance, said the agency sent Nelson a letter informing her of the new requirement, but that letter was unclaimed. He said he did not know if additional steps were taken to reach her prior to the printing of the ballot.

Nelson now has until Sept. 30 to provide two witnesses to support her name change request. Otherwise, she will appear on the general election ballot as Rebecca Lynn Nelson, DeMarinis said.

Though Stavropoulos said he knows that a Democrat would have an uphill fight anyway in the Republican-heavy 7th District, he wants his name on the ballot. He's filed to run as a write-in candidate. He would prefer for Nelson to be removed from the ballot or be allowed to run as an independent or third-party candidate.

"That would be a fair way to draw a straight line between the three candidates," he said.

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