Mudslinging stains election

Aberdeen vote marked by negative campaign tactics

November 04, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

Aberdeen residents may be tired of checking their mailboxes these days.

In the month leading up to Tuesday's election, residents have received cartoon caricatures of a politician stringing several City Council candidates as marionettes, a fake petition to remove nonresidents from the city's voter registration, and fliers criticizing a candidate of trying to "steal the election."

Hundreds of campaign signs line the streets and several pickup trucks roll through the city with giant signs deriding Mayor S. Fred Simmons.

Amid all the mudslinging in the race involving three candidates for mayor and 10 competing for four council seats, the clashing candidates can agree on one thing: It has been an ugly campaign season.

The volume of negative ads and fliers is "without a doubt, the worst" he has ever seen, said incumbent Councilman Ronald Kupferman, who is running in his 14th City Council election.

"There's lots of mailers going out that are pretty bad," he said of the anonymous mailings. " ... I don't know who's sending them, but it's pretty bad."

The negativity won't necessarily keep voters from the polls, said Gerald Pomper, a specialist in American elections and politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, who co-wrote a book about negative campaigning.

"Contrary to what people often think, negative campaigning does not decrease turnout. It increases turnout, if anything," said Pomper, who researched Senate races from 1992 to 2002.

Negative campaigning tends to be more detrimental when practiced by the incumbent than by the challenger, he added.

"It doesn't work for incumbents," Pomper said. "The incumbents are in trouble and being in trouble, they resort to negative campaigning because there's nothing else. It's a sign of weakness rather than strength."

Last week, residents received a flier accusing mayoral challenger Michael E. Bennett, a retired state police trooper, of cheating on a Maryland State Police sergeant's exam. Bennett said he made a "stupid mistake" 23 years ago by getting questions for an exam beforehand and distributing them to his colleagues.

"They had to go back 23 years to find something," Bennett said. "Could any of them stand that kind of scrutiny?"

He later added: "I'm not under investigation by the special prosecutor," referring to the probe launched earlier this year by the state prosecutor that included a subpoena of Aberdeen government records.

Simmons countered, "There is no message on the other side. There is no positive message ... All I hear is negative Fred Simmons.

"Aberdeen is the safest place on the Route 40 corridor. If you focus on reality instead of hype and innuendo, public safety is in the highest pinnacle in last 75 years. The city is healthy," he said.

Issue-based attacks tend to benefit the challenger and hurt the incumbent, while personal attacks hurt both the incumbent and the challenger, Pomper said.

"A challenger is a challenger," he said. "They're trying to say they're better than the incumbents and that the incumbents have done something wrong in policy terms or personal terms. So it's not surprising that they resort to negative campaigning."

Bennett has allied with the Aberdeen Communities Together, a residents group that has been canvassing the city in a door-to-door campaign against Simmons and his political allies. Simmons said some of the group's members park outside of his home honking their horn at night.

"I've never seen a more negatively motivated ... group in my life," he said. "Their negative message is parking outside my house and stealing signs."

Bennett agrees that the election trail has been "ugly and very nasty." He and Simmons blame each other.

Council candidate Ruth Ann Young said the negative tone of the campaign distracts from the city's pressing issues: water, the Ripken Stadium deal and property taxes.

"It's too bad that some folks feel that it is a necessary way to go about things," she said. "I would've much preferred that we have another candidates night and perhaps just another night to express what we see our issues for the city would be."

madison.park@baltsun.com

ABERDEEN VOTE

Three candidates are running for mayor, and 10 candidates are vying for four council seats. The winners will serves two-year terms.

When:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday

Where:

Aberdeen Senior Center, 7 Franklin St.

Information:

410-272-2222.

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