Amid increasingly bitter bickering among western Howard County Republicans, one GOP candidate for County Council announced his withdrawal this week, shifting his support to Wayne Livesay, the former county police chief.
Jim Adams said he is dismayed by what he termed "dirty politics" practiced by Greg Fox, the third Republican council candidate in District 5, and that Fox's campaign tactics -- particularly telephone polling tactics -- drove his decision to withdraw and back Livesay. Adams' name still will appear on the ballot, however.
Fox and his prime supporter, state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, deny the charges and say that Livesay is flinging accusations in a desperate attempt to salvage a failing campaign.
"I've run on my positives," Fox said. "Am I attacking him if I'm pointing out something on his record? He's running on his record."
Councilman Charles C. Feaga also backs Livesay and said he was asked questions about the retired chief in a recent telephone poll authorized by the Fox campaign that he felt were deceptive and misleading.
But Fox, Kittleman, and New York-based pollster Jim McLaughlin said the poll was limited to 300 people and was intended to learn what issues Republican voters are interested in. He would not provide the exact questions asked.
"We do legitimate survey research. We don't engage in any sort of push-polling," McLaughlin said, referring to a practice of asking voters loaded questions intended to sway their opinions.
Fox said, for example, that those called were asked if they knew that Livesay had once switched parties, and about Livesay's support for speed-enforcement cameras in some circumstances.
But Tim Feaga, Charles Feaga's son, said each question was prefaced with the phrase, "if it were true," followed by a statement about Livesay's record. For example, the younger Feaga said, one question asked whether a respondent would be more or less inclined to vote for Livesay if "you knew that Livesay was opportunistic in switching [political] parties," or "attended fewer than five zoning hearings."
Another question, Tim Feaga said, suggested that Livesay was against the public's right to vote on zoning. At a candidates forum in Lisbon on July 20, the former chief -- like other candidates -- defended the public's right to petition to referendum zoning bills such as the contested Comp Lite bill. But Livesay also said, "I do not agree that voters should decide zoning cases they're not familiar with."
Tim Feaga said some questions were about general issues, but the only ones about a specific political race dealt with the Fox-Livesay council race.
"It was a rather remarkable poll. It was so in your face I really thought it was over the top and not very effective," the younger Feaga said.
Christopher J. Merdon, the Republican County Council chairman who also is running for county executive, was one of those polled and said he was asked whether he would be more or less likely to vote for Wayne Livesay knowing that the county police budget had increased 150 percent, but crime has increased 5 percent during his tenure.
Kittleman said that he and Del. Warren E. Miller paid for the $10,000 poll and said it included some questions about the council race.
"We weren't trying to change anyone's opinion. We wanted to find out what their opinions are," Kittleman said. He, too, denied any attempt to use the poll to sway voters.
"It was a scientific poll," Miller said. "All of those questions were based on factual news stories."
Tension between Fox and Livesay has, until now, centered on Fox's claim to be the true Republican in the race. He has criticized Livesay for changing his registration to Democrat in 2002 and then changing back this year to run for the council.
Livesay has said he switched parties after a lifetime of GOP registration to support County Executive James N. Robey's re-election campaign that year. Robey, a Democrat, was police chief before Livesay and named Livesay chief after his election as executive in 1998.
Adams, 64, addressed the party loyalty issue in an e-mailed statement.
"I have been a Republican for a period longer than Greg Fox and Abe Lincoln combined, and I know a Republican when I meet one," he said. "Both in his heart and mind, Wayne Livesay is a Republican."
But Adams, who said he knew he had a very slim chance of winning the three-way primary, said he was so repulsed by the telephone polling, he decided to take action.
"The greed to win has consumed part of the opposition to the point where they are spreading untruths. I find this personally disgusting," Adams said in a statement issued Monday.
Charles Feaga called the telephone survey "an ugly poll" and said he was asked questions that seemed to imply that Livesay was responsible for huge budget and crime increases.
Livesay, who has never run a political campaign before, said he considers the poll "dirty politics. I think people should run on their record and on the issues, and not beat up on people. I would rather lose the race and be able to look myself in the mirror" the day after the primary.
Brian Harlin, county GOP chairman, said that whoever wins the primary, "Wednesday morning, we'll all be friends. We'll work it out. ... The people decide who takes that seat. Whoever wins, we're behind them."