I participated in what was mostly an excellent debate last evening, until one candidate brought things to a wacky close with some truly "out there" comments.
Democratic County Council At-Large candidate Hans Riemer cracked under pressure during last night's MoCo Citizens League debate, held at the County Executive Office Building in Rockville. In his closing statement at what had - up to that point - been a substantive debate on fiscal and transportation issues, Riemer suddenly and bizarrely launched into a rant about "racism." He said the Republicans in the race were not "Connie Morella Republicans," and - in an apparent attack on my Republican colleague Mark Fennel - asked the crowd to "think about that for a moment. What would it be like to have a Tea Party candidate on the Montgomery County Council?" And went on to say that, in his opinion, "the Tea Party is associated with racism."
You can read the first mainstream media account of the moment here:
I would disagree that this was merely a "stumble" or "gaffe" by Mr. Riemer. Rather, it was an outrageous attack on Republicans, using one of the most highly=charged rhetorical weapons in the English language: "racism." Nothing remotely related to race had even been discussed during the forum.
In my years in politics, and as a county resident, I've never witnessed a candidate charge another with racism, especially when there was no factual justification for doing so.
This was a firebomb thrown by Riemer, and this sort of inflammatory language is not part of a civil discussion in Montgomery County. I don't know how they debate in California, where Riemer recently relocated here from, but we have some level of civility here in the county.
My personal analysis is that, first of all, this reflects the fact that Riemer is new to the county, and hasn't acclimated himself to politics Montgomery County-style.
Secondly, Riemer's outburst demonstrates something about his character and potential operating style on the council. When a candidate who is - according to the local media - a frontrunner in an election can go off the handle like this when keeping quiet would be the best strategy, that indicates something about his or her judgement. When unsubstantiated charges can be thrown about at whim, that is not the type of level-headed councilmember we need in these challenging times.
This might have become apparent sooner, had Riemer been challenged by the media during the preceding months, or had he had to participate in more debates like this after the primary. Instead, the League of Women Voters and other groups damaged their reputations (and should be in danger of losing their IRS tax-exempt status) to help the vulnerable Democratic candidates get through this election. That is shameful.
I have to say that at least Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal did not stoop to this level of attack. And I commend Mark Fennel for his mature and even response to an outrageous smear by Hans Riemer. He came out the better man of the two in this episode.
Finally, may I suggest that Riemer's trash TV-style attack indicates desperation on his part? Hans Riemer - and Nancy Floreen, who was practically shouting by the end of the debate, for that matter! - are hearing footsteps. It's the sound of myself, Brandon Rippeon and Mark Fennel catching up behind them.
Stay tuned for video from the debate (I don't have video of Hans Riemer's George Allen-style moment, however - thanks to me inviting reporters - we have media witnesses to the incident).
There should be a firestorm of controversy about Riemer's outburst in the closing weeks of this election. This type of behavior is just completely unacceptable in Montgomery County politics. There was booing, hissing, shouting and more from both Democrats and Republicans in the audience. Several attendees got up and left the room in protest when Riemer continued his attack.
I think there will be a bipartisan reaction to this at the voting machines on Nov. 2.