Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has been stumping in Mayor Martin O'Malley's backyard for months to improve his name recognition in Baltimore. Yesterday, the county executive took the effort to O'Malley's front yard.
About 25 Duncan supporters marched outside City Hall yesterday morning demanding that O'Malley return campaign contributions from energy industry officials.
O'Malley criticized Duncan for using tactics to disrupt his campaign.
"I think they've become increasingly more desperate, evidenced by their paying to bus protesters down to the town hall we had in Montgomery County, evidenced by their desperate tactics [yesterday]," O'Malley said.
Duncan's campaign has acknowledged busing at least a half-dozen city residents to the mayor's town hall meeting in Germantown last week.
But Duncan officials said O'Malley has little room to talk.
The protest at City Hall yesterday came a day after five union leaders aligned with O'Malley delivered a letter to Duncan's Silver Spring headquarters demanding that the county executive return $85,000 in 1999 campaign contributions that they say are tied to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist, and sweatshop companies in the South Pacific.
Duncan's campaign, which calls the accusation of links to illegal labor an "outrageous distortion of seven-year-old contributions," has already returned $20,000 of Abramoff-connected money.
Duncan campaign manager, Scott Arceneaux, said in a statement Tuesday: "It's a shame that Martin O'Malley continues to stand behind others when he makes a desperate attempt to smear an honorable public servant."
One of the labor leaders, Ernie Grecco, president of the AFL-CIO Metropolitan Baltimore Council, said the group's demand was not spurred by O'Malley's campaign, but that he expects answers from Duncan. He said that no protest had occurred and that he and his associates simply stood outside Duncan's office, waiting for a late associate, before being invited in for water by Arceneaux.
"We weren't protesting anything," Grecco said. "We didn't mean to demean [Duncan]."
The Duncan supporters outside City Hall were not nearly as cautious about their purpose. They held placards reading "For Sale: Martin O'Malley" and chanted, "Mayor, mayor, don't attack, give BGE their money back."
The signs stated O'Malley has taken $53,900 in contributions from Baltimore Gas & Electric and its parent company, Constellation Energy, and the two firms' executives.
"Get out of BGE's pocket," Aaron Kraus, of Silver Spring, shouted at City Hall.
Jody Couser, a Duncan spokeswoman and participant yesterday, said O'Malley's high-profile clash with BGE over the July 1 rate increase is disingenuous since his campaign has benefited from the company's largess.
When told of the protest, O'Malley said his actions to fight the rate increase contradict claims that he is beholden to BGE because of contributions.
"Nobody has been more outspoken, more at the forefront of the fight for lower rates ... than I have been," O'Malley said. "The insinuation that I have not been independent ... is par for the sort of campaign they have been running."
Campaign finance reports show that O'Malley received $32,750 from the energy group. The amount is less than Duncan's count because of differences over who constitutes an executive.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. received $33,000. Duncan got $3,205 and has returned the money.
Potomac Electric Power Co., the company that supplies power to Montgomery County, has contributed at least $1,750 to Duncan's campaign, which has not returned the money even though the company has also proposed rate increases.
Despite yesterday's protest, O'Malley did not break his silence on Duncan's connection to Abramoff. "No, that's his problem," O'Malley said.