The ghost of a 1990 scandal involving Nazi salutes by county sheriff's deputies made a last-minute encore yesterday, this time haunting Richmond Laney, the Republican challenger in the sheriff's race.
With some of the county's leading Republicans and a Columbia rabbi supporting him, Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo, a Democrat, charged yesterday that Mr. Laney's campaign was being helped by two former deputies Sheriff Chiuchiolo fired for delivering Nazi greetings and Nazi-style straight-arm salutes on the job.
Mr. Laney acknowledged that one of the deputies, who are brothers, was helping his campaign.
The charge surfaced at a news conference Sheriff Chiuchiolo had arranged to denounce accusations Mr. Laney had made in his campaign literature.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Mr. Laney responded to Sheriff Chiuchiolo's charge by saying, "Excuse me while I laugh," and "Only one brother has ever really talked to me."
Asked whether the former deputy had volunteered to help the campaign, Mr. Laney said, "I believe that the one [brother] may have been working for an area manager, but that's not hypocritical in my view."
The challenger's campaign has focused on reviving the old scandal, charging that Sheriff Chiuchiolo did not do enough to correct offensive behavior in the department. The Nazi salutes of Maj. Donald Pruitt and Sgt. Dennis Pruitt Jr. became an issue during the administration of Sheriff Herbert Stonesifer, a Democrat who was defeated by Mr. Chiuchiolo in the 1990 primary.
Neither of the former deputies could be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Laney's campaign literature is topped with the promise, "I would never rehire the Pruitt twins" and goes on to blast Sheriff Chiuchiolo for sponsoring another deputy, Sgt. Rodney Stem, to be National Deputy of the Year. On the back of the white photocopied flier are two pages of a transcript of the Pruitts' state trial board hearing, in which one witness said Sergeant Stem also gave a Nazi salute and gossiped that a female deputy was a lesbian.
Standing with his supporters next to the county Circuit Court building, Sheriff Chiuchiolo also vowed to ask the county state's attorney's office to investigate Mr. Laney's campaign finances to determine whether he has spent more than the $300 maximum. Spending over that amount would require filing a campaign finance report.
"I've got nothing to hide," Mr. Laney said.
Everyone at Sheriff Chiuchiolo's news conference repudiated Mr. Laney's literature. The group included County Executive Charles I. Ecker, County Councilman Charles C. Feaga and state's attorney candidate Marna McLendon, all Republicans, and Rabbi Kenneth Cohen of Beth Shalom Congregation.
"I do not condone this activity," said Mr. Ecker of his fellow Republican's campaign literature. "It's very repulsive to me."
Sheriff Chiuchiolo said the literature was aimed at opening up racial and ethnic wounds.
"It affects the very moral fiber of what so many citizens in Howard County have fought so hard to overcome," he said.
Ms. McLendon said she was especially upset to find the fliers inserted into her campaign brochures that had been placed on windshields in the Columbia Mall parking lot.
Mr. Laney said he thought Ms. McLendon's own campaign workers were responsible.
Sheriff Chiuchiolo and the others said they were not speaking to support anyone's campaign, but rather intended to denounce the literature and its accusations against others, such as Sergeant Stem.
"I'm outraged at the maligning of what I think is one of the finest racial-ethnic-religious educators in the country," Rabbi Cohen said, referring to Sergeant Stem's work in the department training members to be sensitive to issues concerning minorities.
Mr. Laney said the group was made up of Sheriff Chiuchiolo's "drinking buddies," who have "let their friendship and emotions get in the way."
Allowing Dennis Pruitt Jr. and his friends and relatives to distribute campaign literature does not mean the deputy will get his old job back, Mr. Laney said.
"If he wants to help, he can. But he has to understand that he won't get any help from me," Mr. Laney said.
As for campaign financing, Mr. Laney stood by his affidavit, claiming he would spend no more than $300 on his campaign. He guessed that he had distributed about 5,000 fliers, which he had designed himself, written on his home computer and copied at a negotiated cost of $299.25.