Angering many, activists gathered petition signatures yesterday in Towson during an outdoor ceremony to observe the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States.
Actions by the activists, who said they represented the Holly Neck Conservation Association in eastern Baltimore County, drew harsh words from the spokesman for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and the head of the county firefighters union. But the president of the Holly Neck group said no one from the group was sent to the event.
"It was an absolute disgrace that on this day of remembrance that this group took advantage of citizens, firefighters and police officers who gathered to mourn the sad losses of 9/11," said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1311.
Day said that the group, carrying clipboards, "took advantage of the moment to advance their political front. ... It was a huge mistake."
The Holly Neck group is collecting signatures for petitions to block a development by Leonard P. Berger, who wants to build 90 upscale homes - some of them to sell for $1 million - on Holly Neck peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay and Middle River.
To put the issue on the ballot for next year's election, opponents need to gather 27,939 signatures of registered county voters. They need 9,313 signatures by Sept. 22.
The group has "several thousand" signatures, according to a news release sent to The Sun yesterday.
Jim Mitchell, president of the Holly Neck group and longtime resident of the peninsula, said yesterday that no members of the association were assigned to collect signatures at the event.
"If that was done, I was not aware of it," said Mitchell, a veteran Maryland State Police officer. "We've been trying to meet people at shopping malls and during 'Back to School' night. No one was sent to this observance today."
Mitchell said a few community activists might have acted individually or another environmental or community group might have been in Towson.
Regardless, said Damian O'Doherty, spokesman for Smith, the clipboard-bearing signature seekers were out of line.
"It was shameful they seized upon this solemn observance to further their political agenda," the spokesman said.
About 150 people, many of them police officers and firefighters, gathered in the Towson courthouse square to join yesterday's nationwide observance.