Campaigning in the gutter Anne Arundel County: Mostly civil Annapolis election season ended on a distasteful note.

November 12, 1997

UNTIL ITS FINAL DAYS, Annapolis' municipal election was refreshingly free of negative campaigning. Unfortunately, the last-minute distribution of a nasty brochure and an anonymous mailing of scurrilous fliers dragged a hard-fought, well-conducted mayoral race into the gutter.

The campaigns of Democrat Dennis M. Callahan and Republican Dean L. Johnson each have legitimate complaints about negative campaigning.

Mr. Callahan found himself on the receiving end of a highly inflammatory brochure that attacked his record as mayor in the state capital from 1985 to 1989.

As for Mr. Johnson, someone attempted to tar him with a letter to selected voters in Ward 1. It falsely accused one of his chief campaign strategists, John Hammond, and his wife, Louise, an alderman, of criminal behavior.

It is ironic and lamentable that Mr. Johnson's campaign resorted to an 11th-hour attack on Mr. Callahan. During the Republican primary last September, Mr. Johnson took umbrage when M. Theresa DeGraff attacked him for a number of unsubstantiated failings, such as being a Johnson-come-lately Republican and not answering telephone calls from constituents.

One would think that being the target of such innuendo would have made Mr. Johnson reluctant to resort to similar distasteful tactics during the general election. The mischaracterizations of Mr. Callahan's record tarnished Mr. Johnson's own reputation for civility as a city alderman.

At least he signed his work. More troubling was the anonymous mailing in Ward 1. The fliers accused the Hammonds of fleeing a traffic accident in which a Glen Burnie man died, accepting "payola" from businesses and other assorted sins. Since these irresponsible accusations lacked even a scintilla of truth, it's no wonder that the cowardly author shunned responsibility.

Mr. Callahan, to his credit, immediately denounced the mailing and offered a $1,000 reward for information that might lead to the identification of the person who wrote it.

Public officials don't have much right to complain about public cynicism toward politics if they ride into office on the beast of negative campaigning.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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