Delegate-editor friendship is questioned County officials criticize DeCarlo association with manager of Essex Times

October 08, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The friendship between Jackie Nickel, managing editor of the Essex Times, and Del. Diane DeCarlo has prompted criticism from Baltimore County public officials who contend that Nickel has blurred the line between journalism and politics.

Nickel, who writes a column and news stories for the 40,000-circulation weekly, has not only endorsed DeCarlo's bid for re-election to the House of Delegates but also is accused of pressuring a regular Times advertiser to post DeCarlo signs at an Essex bar.

Nickel, who denies any inappropriate behavior, has appeared with DeCarlo at fund-raisers in the 6th District and has worn T-shirts trumpeting DeCarlo's campaign. Nickel did not report last year that DeCarlo was found guilty of drunken driving.

"Jackie should temper her enthusiasm for Diane DeCarlo," said Del. Michael Weir, a Democrat from Essex who is running on a ticket with DeCarlo. "It's a flagrant violation of what a journalist is supposed to do."

Many newspapers -- from small community publications to large dailies -- have strict codes of ethics that prohibit journalists from working in political campaigns or associating with public figures to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"I'm very much troubled by that relationship," said Joseph DiCara, a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates who is running against DeCarlo and two other Democrats. "Jackie has to look at her ethics."

Nickel helped launch the Times in March 1996 after working at The Avenue, another east side community weekly, for 14 years in various journalistic capacities. The Times, which is free, is distributed in businesses such as restaurants and service stations. Nickel is an activist and is president of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, which is holding a political forum tonight at Essex Community College.

"I'm not working for any candidate," Nickel said. "I was a friend of Diane before the campaign began, and I will not allow politics to come between that friendship."

Times publisher George Wilbanks denied yesterday that the paper backs DeCarlo. "Jackie isn't working for Diane," he said, adding that the Times does not intend to endorse any candidate.

Yet, Nickel wrote in her Aug. 27 column in the Times, "Wouldn't it be great to see two women represent us in Annapolis? Nancy Hubers has worked hard to win this election and has earned the support she is receiving. Diane DeCarlo has a stellar voting record over the past four years and has the endorsements to prove it."

Several weeks before the September primary election, Nickel visited an Essex tavern and asked why the owners weren't displaying signs supporting DeCarlo. Shortly afterward, the owners canceled their $380 monthly ad in the Times.

"I felt intimidated by her," said Rayna Thormann, who owns J. R. Tee's on Myrth Avenue with her husband, John. "What would she do to us in the newspaper because I didn't put up her sign?"

Nickel insisted yesterday she did nothing wrong. However, Rayna Thormann said a Times representative called her and apologized.

In August 1997, Nickel said, she made a decision not to print a story on DeCarlo, after the delegate was found guilty of drunken driving in an August 1996 incident.

"It wasn't an issue," Nickel said. "My feminine side told me that if it had been a man stopped with .01 over the legal limit, the officer would have have said, 'Sir, let me escort you home.' "

Nickel confirmed that she accompanied DeCarlo to the Essex police precinct in August this year to file a complaint that campaign workers for Sen. Michael J. Collins stole two of DeCarlo's political signs at Pulaski Highway and Rossville Boulevard. She did not report the complaint in the Times. "I was concerned about the perception I was out to get someone," Nickel said.

DeCarlo described Nickel yesterday as "a very good friend and a good reporter. I have friendships with lots of people, and maybe they blend in together."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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