1st District rhetoric heats up as McMillen deploys a parrot against Gilchrest


EASTON -- Maryland Congress man Tom McMillen has enlisted the aid of an unusual campaign ally -- a squawking radio character named Pete the Parrot -- to bash his opponent in the tight race for the 1st District congressional seat.

In an ad that began airing yesterday on radio stations throughout the 1st District, Pete the Parrot accuses Republican incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest of breaking a pledge to refuse money from special interest or campaign groups as well as a promise to distribute his congressional pay raise to charities.

"He's a politician. He's a politician," Pete squawked while an announcer said Mr. Gilchrest "lied" to constituents about his campaign funding and his pay raise.

Mr. Gilchrest is a first-term congressman from the 1st District. Mr. McMillen, a Democrat, has represented the 4th District of Maryland since 1987. This year, the two incumbents are facing each other in the newly drawn 1st District, which covers the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County and Baltimore.

The two men have taken to exchanging political punches over the air waves, although neither campaigner had publicly accused the other of lying to voters until the parrot ad debuted yesterday.

Two weeks ago, the Gilchrest campaign aired a cheeky ad poking fun at Mr. McMillen's numerous flights to speaking engagements across the country and abroad that were paid for by special interests.

"Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire," Brad Fitch, Mr. McMillen's campaign chairman, said yesterday of the parrot ad. "This is not going to be the sole message we're going to get out, but we have to spend some of our ad budget to outline the deficiencies of Mr. McMillen's opponent," Mr. Fitch said.

Reaction from the Gilchrest campaign was a mixture of amusement and scorn. "I know [Mr. McMillen] has a lot of supporters, but that's the first time I heard a bird speak for a politician," said Tony Caligiuri, Mr. Gilchrest's campaign manager.

Mr. Caligiuri disputed the ad's claim that Mr. Gilchrest had said he would never accept contributions from political action committees and said the $250,000 figure cited in the McMillen ad was wrong.

He said the Gilchrest campaign, which accepts money only from special interest groups who share the congressman's views, has kept but $124,850 in PAC money since Mr. Gilchrest won the primary race two years ago. "We only spent $264,000 on the 1990 campaign itself," said Mr. Caligiuri.

But according to a Federal Election Commission (FEC) report on PAC contributions, Mr. Gilchrest's campaign has accepted nearly $260,000 since he first entered politics with an unsuccessful race for Congress in 1988.

By FEC reporting standards, the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent more than $100,000 on Mr. Gilchrest's campaigns, is a PAC.

The Gilchrest campaign also said the Eastern Shore congressman has contributed "thousands" of dollars from his $35,000 pay raise to churches, civic groups and charitable organizations in the 1st District.

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