Tuesday, September 05, 2006

On Raskin - response to Bruce Williams

See below -- http://circlewoods.blogspot.com/2006/08/saturday-aug.html -- for a story on lawn-sign theft allegations made by Ruben campaign.

Hi all--

I don't want to politicize the listserv, but I felt I should stand up for Jamie Raskin (and Lucinda Lessley) because Bruce has provided his analysis and listed his recommendations.

I'm not sure if the listserv was the appropriate way to communicate your choices, Bruce, but it certainly was the most efficient! I think we're all intelligent enough and interested enough in the many races to consider your comments along with everything else, and then vote for the candidates we feel will best represent our interests. I actually appreciate your stating why you're voting the way you are (or are more or less undecided in some cases).

First, re: Lucinda Lessley. She didn't rate a mention in Bruce's post, but she's thoughtful, smart and experienced (she's worked in the Legislature and on Capitol Hill, for Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings), and really wants to listen to all points of view before moving forward. She's also the only delegate candidate to come to my door! So, retail campaigning makes a difference.

On the Raskin-Ruben race, I urge folks to check out Jamie Raskin's web site at www.raskin06.com and read as much as you can on both candidates. Sen. Ruben has been around a long time and has seniority, but I don't think her record is so stellar that she should be automatically rewarded with another term. The advt. in the latest Voice, signed by TP supporters including Mayor Porter and Bruce, says that she's been there for us and now it's time to be there for her. But this election isn't about rewarding her for years of service. It's about doing what's best for District 20. I'm voting my interests, which I hope coincide somewhat with those of the community at large. Raskin, by the way, lives in Takoma Park.

Just to respond to some of the points -- Ruben is for the death penalty in very limited circumstances, Raskin's against it. Yes, he worked for Doug Gansler, who's pro-death penalty. But I think it's unrealistic and unfair to hold him to the standard Bruce laid out. If every politician were judged based on the company he kept (or whom he worked for in the past), and only those who were 100 percent consistent were considered worthy, I think the halls of legislatures and council chambers would be empty.

Registration: Actually, 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the general election are allowed to register and vote in the primary. Raskin's idea may seem pie-in-the-sky, but I'm not sure what's wrong with trying to get young people thinking about their civic duty. I think you still have to register with the Selective Service at 18, so why not have to register to vote as well?

Ida brings home the money: I think Raskin would fight hard for dollars for our district, and given his smarts, affability and energy would have as much success. By most accounts (even those of her supporters), Sen. Ruben is not an easy person to get along with. Raskin is a very personable, backslapping kind of guy who will hit the ground running. Will he accomplish everything he sets out to do? Of course not. But the idea that he doesn't know how to build coalitions or horse-trade with out-of-district legislators is, I believe, wrong. He grew up in D.C. steeped in politics -- his father, for example, was on the staff of the National Security Council in the Kennedy Administration before founding the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal think tank. Raskin (the candidate) is a constitutional law professor and is passionate about education, democracy, health care and a host of other issues. I think he'll bring fresh energy to Annapolis.

Raskin stands accused of being thin-skinned. I don't think so. I think he's simply tried to respond to misleading criticism lobbed at him by the incumbent, the most notable being her claim in a flier sent out a few weeks ago that he's not a real Democrat because he supported the right of pro-life groups to protest outside abortion clinics, as well as the right of Ross Perot to appear in the 1996 presidential debates. Even Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has given money to Ruben, denounced her tactics. I wrote a letter to the Gazette complaining about their coverage of the race that went into some of these issues.

Ruben, however, called up the principal of Montgomery Blair High School to complain about the school newspaper's endorsement of Raskin, prompting the Washington Post to editorialize that she looked like "an ill-tempered rookie" compared to the newspaper's editor http://www.raskin06.com/news/posteditorial06-06-17.php

Lastly, on the issue of campaign tactics and both campaigns' complaints about the other, let me simply say that a supporter of the senator went on a local blog (Gilbert/Granola Park at the Voice) to claim that the Raskin campaign had stolen hundreds of Ruben lawn signs from her neighborhood in Hillandale. Insignificant and petty, perhaps, but I decided to look into it because I simply couldn't believe the allegation. Turns out the charge originated with the Ruben campaign, even though the campaign manager feigned ignorance. I posted the results of my reporting at http://circlewoods.blogspot.com/2006_08_01_archive.html

Much ado about nothing? Maybe. Politics as usual? Probably. But the experience left me wondering what Ruben
won't do to win.

I think it's time for a change.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ruben campaign's story of lawn-sign theft looks like politics as usual

originally posted Saturday, Aug. 26th - Last update Sept. 4


Takoma Park supporter of incumbent senator says campaign manager
Phil Olivetti told him of thefts, but Olivetti refuses to "engage" on the issue

By Steve Davies (steve@eswr.com)

On Friday, the 25th of August, I decided to investigate the claim made on a blog hosted by the Takoma Voice that the the campaign of challenger Jamie Raskin was responsible for the theft of "hundreds" of lawn signs from Senator Ida Ruben's neighborhood in Hillandale.

What I found: The person who made the allegation had no evidence that it was true; the allegation was relayed to him by Ida Ruben's campaign manager, Phil Olivetti, and Olivetti himself offered nothing to back up the claim (and still has not). Lastly, Montgomery County police have no record of a complaint made by Ruben about missing lawn signs.

Most people would say -- why waste time looking into charges and countercharges made by political campaigns? After all, it's only a bunch of lawn signs.

To that I say, what about fairness? And what about the truth? An elusive, if impossible-to-attain commodity, to be sure, but one that is worth pursuing through the collection of confirmable facts -- and a whole lot of circumstantial evidence.

Perhaps more vexing -- why would a longtime incumbent make up such a ridiculous charge and funnel it through someone known to support her?

First things first, because you should know the source of this post. I'm a journalist by trade; I edit and publish a newsletter, Endangered Species & Wetlands Report (www.eswr.com). It's a for-profit operation that has been around for 11 years.

My family is concerned I'm tilting at windmills too much, not paying enough attention to my business. They're right. So after this baby is scrubbed and put to bed (Tuesday morning, 8/29, and I have already edited it -- not for substance -- a number of times, trying to find the right tone), I'll be out of the local political blog biz. I can't wait for Sept. 12!

I've lived in Takoma Park, on Poplar Avenue in the Circle Woods neighborhood, for about 13 years. I named the blog Hondo Homers in honor of old Senator Frank Howard, who hit a lot of roundtrippers at RFK. (Also, because that's the first thing that came to me.)

I support Jamie Raskin. I even have one of his signs in my front yard. But the reason I did this was because I hate sloppy journalism (I admit I've occasionally been a perpetrator myself throughout 20-plus years of it). And, I get tired of seeing outlandish claims accepted as truth.

Our story begins...

On Aug. 14, Paul Chrostowski, Takoma Park resident and staunch supporter of incumbent Sen. Ida Ruben (D-Dist. 20), posted the paragraph below on a blog hosted by the Takoma Voice and known either as Granola Park or "Gilbert," a pseudonym for the author. http://www.takoma.com/granola/

The comment
didn't appear until sometime after that date, perhaps as many as 10 days. The Voice had a technical problem and the comments were lost for a while in computer limbo, and then retrieved.
"Jamie Raskin has run one of the most negative campaigns in Maryland history. He has called Senator Ruben a 'conservative right winger' a 'supporter of Bush's war' and a 'corrupt back room politician.' At the candidates forum, his supporters called Senator Ruben an 'old hag.' The Raskin campaign has twice stolen hundreds of lawn signs from Senator Ruben's neighborhood. When are people going to wake up to what this campaign is all about?"
When I saw that, I thought, wow, can all that be true? But no sources were cited for the quotes or the lawn-sign claim. And "Gil" simply accepted the comment at face value, saying (on the main page of the blog, http://www.takoma.com/granola/):
"This IS depressing, Dear Readers! Usually yard sign hooliganism happens in the campaign’s last week - most often in the last few days. This must be an indication of the high emotions the Raskin - Rueben [she's still not a sandwich, Gil] race is generating. Gilbert hates this “Feud-al Phase" and is disgusted that it has started so early. Forget about issues, from now on it will be all about allegations of dirty tactics, outrageous acts, and fighting words that serve only to crank up the ire of already-committed voters. Bleh!"
Oddly, at his special Ruben-Raskin page, "Gil" removed his own comment and added one from "James," which is a good response and effectively rebuts/refutes the notion that Raskin didn't say any of those things publicly

But getting back to our story, Raskin's not even alleged to have said those things publicly. As I learned, Chrostowski relies completely on anonymous sources -- including (he says) -- a Ruben operative who "infiltrated" Raskin's campaign.

As the kids say, whatever. In the original posting and still, no sources have been cited for the incendiary charges.

Hey, "Gil," can you spare a post?

I sent a comment in to "Gil" on the 24th or 25th of August, soon after I read the Chrostowski comment on "Granola Park." I don't recall exactly when -- I used the comment form on the site and have no record of it (it hasn't been posted). In it, I asked for substantiation of the charges made by Chrostowski.

[Addendum Fri. morning, Sept. 1: I believe Gil has posted everything now.]

Fri., Aug. 25: After I sent the comment, I spoke on the phone with Takoma Voice publisher and editor Eric Bond, urging him to tell/implore "Gil" to vet comments before they're posted. Later in the day, after noticing that "Gil" had not posted my entreaty, I decided to go ahead and check into the whole mess myself.

["Gilbert" has now responded to my report, kind of, and explained his perception of his role, in a follow-up post. "Gil" believes it is not his job to vet comments and/or investigate their veracity. Fair enough. But I would argue that it is his job to keep his antennae up when people write in with off-the-wall stuff, and offer skeptical commentary.]

I called Raskin's campaign headquarters. Luckily, he was right there and willing to talk. His initial reaction was to say he had not uttered the quotes attributed to him, but he wanted to go back and look at the record before completely disavowing them. He couldn't very well speak to the veracity of the alleged quote from a supporter(s), because, well, he's not alleged to have said it. (As you'll see below, however, Chrostowski says the quotes aren't public record.)

On the more serious charge of the lawn signs, however -- remember, Chrostowski said unequivocally, "The Raskin campaign has twice stolen hundreds of lawn signs from Senator Ruben's neighborhood" -- he responded directly and forcefully:
"The claim that our campaign has stolen any of Ida Ruben's signs, much less hundreds, is a baldfaced lie. It is pure fiction and fantasy--I challenge anybody to come up with a shred of evidence for that.

"This is reflective of the desperation tactics of a losing campaign," he added.
I left a voice mail for Senator Ruben; I haven't heard back from her yet. An email from her campaign (voteruben@aol.com) this morning (Aug. 25) said:

"Mr. Davies,
"This is to acknowledge a voice mail left with Senator Ruben at her home phone number.

"Please direct all future communications to her campaign office at 8719 Colesville Rd. 301 562 2052 or via this email address.

"Thank you.
"Philip Olivetti
Campaign Manager
8719 Colesville Rd
Silver Spring 20910"
(I have sent a follow-up email to the campaign).

No evidence of Raskin involvement

During my fact-gathering foray, I have made no secret of the fact that I'm supporting Raskin, which is not uncommon in Takoma Park. But I wanted to find the source of the quotes and see if there was anything to the sign-boosting charge -- certainly the most explosive of the allegations, especially since it is alleged to have happened (twice!) in Ruben's own neighborhood.

In a voice mail to me, Chrostowski backed down, saying he had "no direct evidence that this is the Raskin campaign doing this." But, he added, it certainly wasn't the Ruben campaign, and "it wasn't public officials trying to clean litter off front yards."

But the MoCo Police's Hillandale station said they have no record of a complaint of yard sign theft from Ruben's address. (They said they could not check unless they had an address, so I provided Ruben's and only Ruben's. I suppose it's possible that others complained, but neither Chrostowski nor Olivetti has provided any names of aggrieved neighbors.)

Chrostowski said some residents had sent letters to the Post and the Gazette but they had not been printed. Let's see them.

Campaign manager refuses to "engage"

I talked to Olivetti after getting Chrostowski's voice mail, but before I had been able to speak with Chrostowski directly. When I asked Olivetti for Chrostowski's phone number, he said he didn't have it, even though Chrostowski and his wife were scheduled to co-host a fundraiser for Ruben in Takoma Park the very next day. When I asked about the lawn signs allegation, Olivetti said I should ask the man who wrote the comments.

Olivetti didn't say much in our brief conversation, but his demeanor (even over the phone) called to mind the Martin Short character on Saturday Night Live -- the sweating, bespectacled guy in the black suit, puffing on a cigarette, the ashes dropping onto the table as he says to the camera, "I didn't say that. You said that. Why would I say that?"

Except Olivetti didn't even go that far. He simply pawned the whole thing off on Chrostowski.

"You're not going to get me to comment about something someone else wrote," he said. "The gentleman doesn't work for me. He's not connected with the campaign. I'm not going to get involved."

"I'm not going to engage you in this discussion," he said, losing patience.

That, of course, made me more curious. I pressed Olivetti until he sputtered, "This is campaign headquarters and we're running a political campaign!" A campaign which Chrostowski was not "connected" with.

For his part, Chrostowski said he is not "associated" with the Ruben campaign. Yet he and his wife, Lorraine Pearsall, co-hosted a get-together/fundraiser on Sat., Aug. 26, in Takoma Park at the home of Susan Gilbert and Ronald Schechter. (See http://www.senatoridaruben.com for the invite: "Please Join Senator Ruben For a Midsummer's Night Jazz Featuring Marcus Johnson, Jazz Pianist." Suggested donation is $25-$40.) [Tuesday morning add: I haven't checked the Ida Ruben website in a couple days, because I assume the invite has been taken down.]

The phone number to R.S.V.P. was Ruben headquarters.

[Tuesday, Aug. 29 addition: Jonathan S. Shurberg, a Silver Spring resident and Raskin supporter,
notes in an email to me that in addition to hosting the fundraiser, Lorraine Pearsall has been identified in the Washington Post as the "Takoma Park Coordinator" of the Ruben campaign. Pearsall tried but failed to get an endorsement from the Montgomery College Democrats removed from Raskin's site. See this entry at the Washington Post site.

[Pearsall contacted the college's vice president and provost about the logo on Raskin's site, saying, "she thought the Web notice looked like an endorsement from the college and that 'Sen. Ruben has done so much for education,' " the Post said.

Brad J. Stewart, VP and Provost of the TP/Silver Spring campus, emailed Raskin to say , "The presentation on your website implies that this is an official endorsement by the college, something we do not allow," he cc'd Pearsall.

[The college backed down when it became obvious that the logo could not be confused for an endorsement by the college, which of course cannot endorse candidates.]

By the way, Chrostowski, who claims he is not "associated" with the campaign, nonetheless knew enough to say the lawn signs had been put up "at the great expense of the Ruben campaign."

Sounds to me like he's pretty involved with the campaign, actually.

Full disclosure: Shurberg's wife is Raskin's Political Outreach Director.

Finally, the lede

But here's the kicker, folks (I buried the lede): When I asked Chrostowski for the source of the sign-stealing allegation, he said it was the Ruben campaign. And with no prompting from me, he said it was Phil Olivetti.

By the time Chrostowski dropped that bombshell at about 6:45 p.m., giving me a sorely needed shot of adrenaline, I had already had my SNL moment with Olivetti, who had refused to answer any questions, which included whether Ruben had ever reported the thefts to police.

In between these phone calls, I spoke to the Hillandale station of the MoCo police, waiting on hold for a good five minutes until I was told by an officer -- I have her name, but I see no reason to publish it -- that there had been no phone calls from the Rubens' address in the last six months. If the police have a record of a complaint from the senator, I wasn't able to get hold of it.

I have sent a follow-up email to voteruben@aol.com -- It says, "Chrostowski says you [Olivetti] told him about the signs."

In the body of the email, I said," Please, can you comment?


"Steve Davies"

Monday morning (Aug. 28) update: No response yet from Olivetti or Ruben.

Tuesday morning (the 29th): Still no response. Today I will send this post to voteruben@aol.com. Yesterday I sent it to a few Maryland political blogs but no one else in the media seems to care about it yet. Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

Friday morning: Haven't heard from Phil or Ida

Labor Day: Nothing from Phil or Ida addressing this issue

Those nasty quotations

As for the quotes, here's where they came from, according to Chrostowski:

Raskin allegedly called Ruben "a supporter of Bush's war." Chrostowski said that came from "an internal Raskin meeting" that had been "infiltrated" by one of Ruben's supporters.

"Corrupt back room politician" -- He supposedly said this after the candidates' forum in Takoma Park in July.

"Raskin said that when he was talking to some people right after the official meeting was over," Chrostowski said.

Here's "James's" take (I was not at the debate, nor did I watch the online recording, but I did talk to people who were there).
"At the Voice debate, back-room politics were discussed. At one point, Ruben herself talked about getting things done in the back rooms. At no point at the debate did Raskin call Ruben a 'corrupt, back room politician.' I challenge you to watch the tape and find him saying that. You won't."
My take: If he did say it afterwards, it may have been said incredulously, as in, why would I want to be known as a corrupt back-room politician? For anyone who hasn't been watching American politics for oh, the last 100 years, the words "back room" have a negative connotation, and for Ruben to tout her "back room" abilities in Takoma Park just shows she did not know her audience. It went over like a lead balloon and was quickly seized upon by Raskin, who is a smart guy.

"Conservative right-winger." -- Chrostowski says the source for that quote is a "highly placed Takoma Park official" whom he cannot name. When I mentioned two "high-ranking officials" who are Ruben supporters (Mayor Kathy Porter and Councilman Bruce Williams), he wouldn't bite. So who knows who it is. If anyone wants to own up to the hearsay, let me know (steve@eswr.com). Or let "Gilbert" know. I'm sure he'll get the truth out.

On Sen. Ida Ruben's long career

Another aside -- I'm not trying to judge others who have given to Ruben or support her. She has been around a long time, gathered plenty of accolades, and doesn't deserve some of the calumny heaped upon her -- including by me. I don't know the woman, but I think that needs to be said.

On the MoCo Politics blog http://mocopolitics.blogspot.com/, for instance, I mocked her for saying to the Gazette, "I brought home millions and millions of dollars to the county and I have the scars to show it.”

"Scars? What the hell is she talking about? Did someone beat her up?" I asked.

That comment was way out of line. I wrote before thinking. To Sen. Ruben, her family and supporters, I sincerely apologize. On reflection, I think I know what she was talking about.

Ida Ruben has been in Annapolis for 32 years, first in the House and then the Senate. It's only been in recent years that the Montgomery County delegation has attained some semblance of power in the historically male-, Baltimore-, and Eastern-Shore dominated legislature. For most of those years, especially at the beginning, it cannot have been easy being a woman there. I'm sure Sen. Ruben has put up with more than a lifetime's worth of stupid sexist comments and more, which, frankly, stinks. She deserves kudos for sticking it out and dealing with the old guard.

But her years of service and well-deserved accolades don't give her right to spread misinformation about her opponent. If there is any evidence of theft of lawn signs, she should produce it.

Back to the quotes...

"Old hag": Chrostowski reiterated to me his comment on "Gilbert" that the remark was said by a supporter (or supporters),
but who cares? As "James" notes, "Rather than question whether or not this is true, I question the relevance. Supporters say a lot of things. I've heard pretty nasty things about Raskin from Ruben supporters (actually far more than the other way around). A candidate needs to rein in supporters, and needs to denounce unsavory behavior, but it is inevitable that some supporter says something stupid. I imagine that your experience, Paul, is anecdotal and not indicative of Raskin supporters, and certainly not indicative of Raskin--just as I draw the same conclusion about what I have heard out of the mouths of Ruben supporters."

I have to agree. Politics in America has always been a rough business, and holding Raskin responsible for what his supporters say is a bit much.

I think that's finally it. I have a couple more things I can add, but I have a day job that needs my attention.

You may repost this and comment on it wherever you want, but I'm not allowing any comments here, except in the context of what I post. I'll try to at least make mention of the various comments I receive. I might even post some in their entirety. But I'd rather this whole thing just gravitate to another site that is more religiously maintained.

If you do have something to add, send me an email at steve@eswr.com and I'll check in later.

My only personal message is, can we stay away from the unsubstantiated charges and dirty politics? As Paul Chrostowski himself said to me, "I wouldn't be unhappy if both candidates were to [forswear the use of] this type of rhetoric." (
I couldn't read all of my notes on that one, but that's what he was saying.)

I completely agree. Except in this case, there's no evidence Raskin said what he supposedly said, nor any evidence of the sign-boosting allegation. And rhetoric is different than outright lying.

Here's hoping the campaign will be all about the issues from this point forward.

Steve Davies

The above was originally posted Aug. 25, but has been edited and scrubbed (for typos) since then

Editor's notes: Jonathan S. Shurberg, who lives in Silver Spring, was misidentified as a Takoma Park resident in an earlier post. 3:30 p.m. 8/29/06

Also, Sen. Ruben's home is in the Hillandale area, but I believe it is more accurately referred to as Cresthaven.

Here's "James' " response to Paul Chrostowski, reposted from


I've put it in italics to distinguish it from what I wrote.


Your first comment is so hyperbolic that I am left wondering about the veracity of your other statements. I've lived in Maryland my whole life, and I have seen some pretty nasty campaigns. In my view, Raskin has not run a particularly negative campaign. He has run an "unseat the incumbent" campaign, which inevitably focuses on the record of the incumbent.

I think that blogs are really great for getting to information that doesn't come out readily in the mainstream media.

On the other hand, Paul's post makes a number of assertions that cannot be readily fact checked.

1. "called Ruben a 'conservative right-winger.'"

I'd like to see the exact quotation and context. In all of my months following the Raskin campaign, I've never heard those words come out of his mouth. When and where? Proof? (And if you find proof, fine. I'm just registering my skepticism of an unsubstantiated charge until then.)

2. "supporter of Bush's war"

This I can buy a bit more--but I don't see it as negative. It all goes to how you interpret Ruben's record. She introduced a bill to "support the troops". You can spin that one way or the other, but I certainly see that as a vote in favor of the war, particularly given the timing and symbolism. I can also see (but not agree with) the other side on this one, the side that says that it was literally just a shot in the arm for the troops and not support for the war.

So, as far as I'm concerned, Raskin's comments on this are not negative. He raises a point, a common interpretation of such votes. You can agree with him or not. Ruben can choose to address it or not.

3. "corrupt back room politician"

At the Voice debate, back room politics were discussed. At one point, Ruben herself talked about getting things done in the back rooms. At no point at the debate did Raskin call Ruben a "corrupt, back room politician." I challenge you to watch the tape and find him saying that. You won't.

So, when did Raskin say this? You may be extrapolating based upon several things that Raskin has said. But that is not the same thing. When did Raskin utter those words?

4. "supporters called Senator Ruben an 'old hag'"

Rather than question whether or not this is true, I question the relevance. Supporters say a lot of things. I've heard pretty nasty things about Raskin from Ruben supporters (actually far more than the other way around). A candidate needs to rein in supporters, and needs to denounce unsavory behavior, but it is inevitable that some supporter says something stupid. I imagine that your experience, Paul, is anecdotal and not indicative of Raskin supporters, and certiainly not indicative of Raskin--just as I draw the same conclusion about what I have heard out of the mouths of Ruben supporters.

5. "hundreds of yard signs"

That would require a coordinated effort--vans going through the White Oak neighborhood in the dead of night. Whatever you may think about Raskin, do you really see this constitutional law professor organizing a campaign to suppress speech? Surely this would be a huge scandal if true. Do you really see Raskin taking that risk?

And most importantly, where's your evidence?

As I said before, it blogs provide a good link to POSSIBLE information about issues, but no one is vetting that information. So commenters (and bloggers) can only prove that they are reliable over time--just like a columnist in the newspaper. And readers need to be careful about unsubstantiated information--like these charges.

Show me the tape.

(Dated Aug. 25)