Montgomery County health inspectors investigated at a Clarksburg restaurant last week after photos on social media showed a group eating inside the restaurant and not wearing masks at an event hosted by attorney and gubernatorial candidate Robin Ficker.
The Clarksburg Tavern, at 23315 Frederick Road, posted on Facebook on Jan. 1 that it was hosting a celebration on Jan. 5 called “USA THEMED PARTY.” The bottom of the invitation stated that the event was hosted by “Robin for Governor.”
Ficker, a Republican, has run often for local, state and federal offices. He announced nearly a year ago that he plans to seek the Republican nomination in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
On Jan. 7, Ficker posted multiple photos on Facebook of him posing with multiple people at the restaurant during the event. One photo shows him shaking hands with people who are gathered around tables and don’t appear to be social distancing. No one in the photos is wearing a mask.
“What an incredible turnout we had with Marylanders who are fed up with not going back to school and back to work. I will be doing plenty more. To me, everyone is essential,” Ficker wrote on Facebook about the event.
In another post, he wrote: “This was an outdoor event at the wonderful family-owned Clarksburg Tavern. All who attended brought their delicious plates and drinks inside to hear me deliver a brief speech to our ESSENTIAL Marylanders. After speaking, we went back outside on their heated patio and enjoyed the live band! Open the schools, open the restaurants, open Maryland, and let’s get back to work!”
Montgomery County banned indoor dining on Dec. 15 due to an uptick in COVID-19 cases and deaths during the winter months. Additionally, face coverings are mandatory across the state in stores and other establishments.
On Jan. 8, Ficker posted a video of himself speaking to people at the event, in which he declares “every Marylander is essential” and says it’s taken “way too long” to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If they’re so good, let’s get them rolled out quickly, so we can get back to 100% strength,” he said.
Ficker, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, declined to answer questions about the event. He referred a reporter to his previous social media postings.
“I have no further comment other than what’s out there on social media. This was eight days ago, OK?” he said.
Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department, said Monday that a health inspector visited the Clarksburg Tavern on Friday to collect information after a Bethesda Beat reporter asked if the county had taken any action over the event.
“That [information has] been provided to the enforcement team. It’s gonna be analyzed and appropriate action will be taken,” she said.
Anderson said there could be a warning, civil citation or closure of the restaurant, depending on what inspectors found.
“Legally, we have to figure out, when was that event? The level of scrutiny is such that we have to figure out that the event happened on the date we think it happened, give them the benefit of the doubt, and then go from there,” she said.
Anderson said that since Friday, the health department has received about a dozen complaints about the tavern. As of Tuesday afternoon, there was no update, she said.
Someone who answered the phone at Clarksburg Tavern on Tuesday afternoon said they would pass a reporter’s contact information to the owner or manager.
The tavern is one of multiple restaurants that took Montgomery County to court over its indoor dining ban.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant upheld the dining ban on Dec. 23 for the time being, but said he planned to schedule another hearing in the matter. As of Tuesday afternoon, no court date had been set because the plaintiffs hadn’t responded to the judge, said Alexandra Mussler, a clerk in Bonifant’s office.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org