Riley raising questions about late campaign mail

Some postcards arrived after delegate lost

March 09, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A lawyer representing former Del. B. Daniel Riley, who was defeated in November's election, is raising questions about a political mailer prepared for the Edgewood Democrat but not delivered to area post offices until after Election Day.

Stuart Jay Robinson, a Bel Air lawyer, said last week that his client received a call at work Nov. 6 telling him that 1,050 of the postcards had arrived at the Havre de Grace and Joppa post offices about 6 o'clock that morning.

"It's inexcusable," Robinson said, adding that in a close election, every opportunity to reach voters in the final days is critical. "Who would deliver [campaign] mail the day after the election?"

In District 34A, which includes parts of Harford and Cecil counties, three incumbents were pitted in a race for two spots in the House of Delegates. Riley lost to Democratic Del. Mary-Dulany James by 956 votes and to Republican Del. Charles R. Boutin by 1,186 votes, according to election returns.

Robinson said Riley hired the Mellinger Group LLC, an Annapolis fund-raising consulting business, in early October to design, print and obtain bulk mailing permits for about 12,300 mailers - though Robinson acknowledged that it was an oral agreement and he had no written work order.

According to printing and mailing companies' invoices received so far, for about 6,500 of the mailers, Robinson said, the Riley campaign has paid nearly $6,500 for the work.

"We're trying to figure out what happened to all the pieces and where they all went," Robinson said.

Susan Zuhowski, an Annapolis lawyer representing the Mellinger Group, said her client was hired primarily to design the oversized, full-color postcard, which featured a cartoon and photograph of Riley, as well as his descriptions of his work on key campaign issues, including education, development and job opportunities.

Zuhowski said she provided documents to Robinson showing that the mailer was dropped off at the Baltimore district post office Oct. 31 and has offered to help track down the cause of the late mailings.

"The Mellinger Group did what it was requested to do by Mr. Riley," Zuhowski said, though she acknowledged that she did not have details about the specifics of the work requested.

Robert Novak, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service's Baltimore district office, said, "We're looking into the claim," adding that the Postal Service would have to investigate drop-off dates, preparation of the mailer, and processing and distribution within the post office.

"A few pieces [of other candidates' mailers], I understand, did arrive late," Novak added, but declined to offer details without further investigation.

Robinson said Riley's mishandled mailer should resonate with other candidates "because it could have been them. ... It could have had enough of an effect to potentially change the outcome of the election. Obviously, that makes it even more glaring."

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