A report from a group tasked with dissecting May’s controversial election in the Town of Chevy Chase faults Mayor Al Lang and Vice Mayor John Bickerman for not telling the public of a secretive and organized write-in campaign.
The 30-page report from a joint committee of the town’s Ethics Commission and Election Board also criticizes Lang and Bickerman for refusing to discuss the role they played in the campaign. The town provided the report Wednesday.
“If Mayor Lang and Vice Mayor Bickerman continue to refuse to respond to the June 5 letter of inquiry, the Joint Committee requests that the Town Council assess the legal basis for the refusal and consider whether responses should be compelled through legal process or other means,” the report reads.
“Also, Mayor Lang and Vice Mayor Bickerman should be reminded of the responsibility to preserve all records—including electronic communications on office and personal devices and accounts—that may be relevant to further inquiry or legal action,” it continues.
The six members of the Ethics Commission and Election Board were tasked by the Town Council to examine the May 5 election after write-in candidate Fred Cecere beat incumbent Vice Mayor Pat Burda. Cecere supporters urged other supporters to keep the candidacy a secret.
The result pushed Burda, a frequent opponent of Lang and Bickerman, off the five-person council and roiled many in the town who thought the election was uncontested.
Lang approached Ethics Commission Chairman Barry Hager about an hour before the polls closed May 5 to present Cecere’s financial disclosure statement. But, according to the report, which relies on “statements the two have made to other town residents,” Lang and Bickerman were deeply involved in the campaign at least a few days before the election and “Mr. Bickerman gave advice to that campaign as well.”
Over the past few months, some residents have wondered if Lang and Bickerman knew about Cecere’s campaign in April, when the town sent out an official notice of the election announcing that it would be uncontested.
The report cited a 1993 Maryland Court of Appeals case in which the court ruled that elected officials have “a specific legal duty to correct information that a municipality has provided to its residents,” meaning Lang and Bickerman should’ve let residents know about Cecere’s plans if they knew about them.
In a statement provided to Bethesda Beat, Bickerman said the joint committee report is full of errors.
“The majority report is a political document drafted by partisans appointed by and loyal to the faction of the Town that lost in the last election,” Bickerman said. “It is replete with factual errors and is in no way objective.”
He also pointed to a minority report filed by new Election Board member Robert Charrow, who said the joint committee’s recommendation that all write-in candidates file a certificate of candidacy at least 14 days before an election may not be legal.
“The minority report, which is a much more thoughtful discussion of the legal obligations a Town has in conducting an election, does an excellent job of exposing why the majority report should be given very little weight,” Bickerman said.
Lang said he wouldn’t comment on the report until he has read it. On Tuesday, the council held a long public hearing dedicated to the Purple Line. It will next meet Sept. 9 for a regular council session, during which the report could be discussed.
Lang appointed Charrow to the Election Board in May. He replaced Anthula Gross. Election Board Chairman Steve Lawton said in a June council meeting that Gross “got scared and resigned” after being threatened with a lawsuit in a memo circulated by Lang. The Election Board chose not to immediately certify Cecere’s election win.
The five members of the joint committee who faulted Bickerman and Lang are all town residents and include Scott Fosler, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland; Gloria Tristani, the first Hispanic woman member of the Federal Communications Commission; and Lawton—who was married to former state Del. Jane Lawton before her death in 2007.