To walk in parade, don't run for office

Campaigning OK only on sidelines of Fallfest procession

September 11, 2000|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Westminster's parade to launch the city's annual Fallfest will include all the things one might expect from a small-town parade: antique fire engines and marching Girl Scouts, cartwheeling gymnasts and tiara-wearing homecoming queens.

Everything but campaigning politicians.

The committee that organizes Fallfest decided Thursday not to allow people running for public office to march as candidates in the parade Sept. 20.

"Fallfest is a family event," said Ronald J. Schroers, Westminster's recreation director and head of the seven-member executive board that organizes Fallfest. "It is not a political event."

The decision supports a policy of the city's mayor and Common Council that does not allow campaigning politicians to speak at council meetings, Schroers said.

Although candidates can't march in the parade, they can volunteer at the four-day festival, which benefits local charities, or they can shake hands with spectators at the parade, he said.

"There's nothing to stop these politicians from meeting people and passing out literature at the parade," Schroers said. "They just can't be in the street."

About 10,000 people are expected to attend the parade, which will feature 65 entries and will last about 90 minutes, Schroers said. About 60,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which is sponsored by the City of Westminster but organized by a committee composed of volunteers and parks and recreation staff.

Three candidates for Carroll County School Board - Susan Holt of Sykesville, Thomas G. Hiltz of Woodbine and Stephen M. Nevin of Finksburg - applied to march in the parade. All said they were planning to attend the event anyway. These candidates, and Lisa Breslin of Westminster, are vying for a pair of seats on the board in the November general election.

"I've been trying to get out to as many events as I possibly can," Hiltz said. "Carroll County is very active in festivals and events and activities. I'll make good use of whatever time becomes available."

Nevin said that although he would honor the board's decision, he was disappointed.

"First Amendment rights say I should be allowed to walk," he said. "The event is sponsored by a public group on public street with security paid for with taxpayer dollars. What is a small-town parade but baton twirlers, firetrucks and politicians?"

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan and the city's Common Council plan to march in this year's parade. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett have marched in past parades, Schroers said.

The policy to exclude candidates for public office has been in place for at least the six years that Schroers has been involved, he said. However, it has not always been enforced.

In 1998, Robin Bartlett Frazier, then a candidate for county commissioner, marched in the Fallfest parade and handed out campaign signs along the route.

Schroers said the Fallfest committee does not know how Frazier gained entry into the parade as a candidate.

Frazier said she simply applied to march and was accepted. She seemed surprised that campaigning candidates usually were not allowed to march.

"It's a great parade," Frazier said Friday. "Usually I'm watching, but that was a campaign year so I was campaigning."

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