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Confusion Over Campaigning in MoCo

The developer of downtown Silver Spring is increasing training for security guards who wrongly stopped a man from distributing campaign literature Friday on Ellsworth Drive, the developer's lawyer said today.

Chip Py, 44, said a security guard approached him a few minutes after he began handing out campaign fliers for Democratic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the middle of Ellsworth, which had been closed to traffic in the downtown shopping district. Py said two of the security guard's supervisors also told him that was forbidden.

Py led the charge last summer to require the area's developer, Peterson Cos., to acknowledge people's First Amendment rights on public streets after a security guard stopped him from taking photographs on Ellsworth. The county attorney's office ruled in July that the street was, indeed, a "public forum" where Py's rights to free speech were protected.

Following the ruling, Fairfax-based Peterson Cos. said it was devising new rules allowing photography and other activities protected by the First Amendment. Py said he wanted to test those rules Friday by handing out the campaign brochures.

"This shows me they haven't implemented any new policies," Py said yesterday of the security guards stopping him.
Jack Garson, a Bethesda lawyer representing Peterson Cos., said Py's campaigning was "clearly permitted" on Ellsworth and that the developer was sorry he was stopped. Garson said recent turnover in the security staff and property management team may have led to employees being unaware of the new rules. Garson said the developer plans to "redouble" its training efforts in that area.

County attorney Leon Rodriguez said he plans to follow up with the company "to make sure this doesn't happen again," particularly during an election season.

-- Katherine Shaver

By Anne Bartlett  |  February 11, 2008; 2:12 PM ET
 
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