Mayoral candidate's day job makes for a hard campaign


August 26, 2005|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,SUN STAFF

USUALLY, WHEN reporters call an aspiring politician with just $400 in the war chest, the candidate is eager to slam the opposing party and boast about his professional contacts - that is, unless the candidate is a federal employee.

Gilbert Renaut, 58, a community leader and lawyer at the Department of Energy, is running for mayor of Annapolis - as an independent. And his day job is certainly cramping his campaign style.

When reached at work, Renaut could not take the call. The Hatch Act prohibits him from campaigning on government time.

Renaut also checked with his boss before announcing his run and sought a legal opinion from the Office of Special Counsel, which prosecutes federal workers for wrongdoing, to make sure the whole enterprise was kosher.

"I told everybody at work, and they think it's pretty zany," said Renaut, who is eligible to retire Sept. 4 and hopes to do so later this year.

But until he does, Renaut cannot accept endorsements from political parties or express a partisan ideology. In 2003, the special counsel's office suspended an air traffic controller running for mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., for 120 days after he called himself a republican (note the lower case `r') in campaign literature.

Renaut, a father of three and president of his ward's residents association, is running on a platform of slow growth, historic preservation and open government. He said he takes the bus to and from his Washington office at L'Enfant Plaza because of horrendous traffic.

After a minimum 1 1/2 -hour commute home, Renaut said that he barely has enough time to cook dinner for him and his son before going to bed. He said that he would like to make campaign calls on the bus, but that would annoy other passengers.

"It would be a breach of bus etiquette," he said.

Campaigning rules

Last year's presidential election generated a lot of political activism among federal employees - and a record number of prosecutions under the Hatch Act.

There is no harm in reviewing the rules now, especially if you are considering joining Renaut's campaign. Federal workers can make speeches supporting a candidate, hand out campaign literature and be members of political parties as long as the work is not done in government buildings, on work time or using office equipment.

Workers at law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, and members of the most elite level of government service cannot participate in political campaigns or parties, but can vote and express opinions.

Presidential appointees have few restrictions, the most important of which is that they not use public money for political purposes.

If you know of a federal worker with a unique post-retirement or second job, we'd like to know about it. Please call or write us at 410-715-2885 or melissa.har ris@balt Back issues of Federal Workers can be read at

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