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Praisner Wins in MoCo District 4

Democrat Don Praisner has won a low-turnout special election to serve out the term of his late wife, Marilyn, on the Montgomery County Council.

Praisner defeated Republican Mark D. Fennel with 66 percent of the vote in the eastern county's District 4, where Democrats hold a more than two to one edge in registration.

Marilyn Praisner died in February following heart surgery, after serving 17 years on the council. Don Praisner, a retired CIA analyst, campaigned to protect his wife's legacy as a fiscal watchdog and an advocate for slowing down development.

Praisner will not take office until after the council is scheduled to vote on the county budget for fiscal 2009, according to Council President Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty). The specific date for him to be sworn in has not yet been set.

In the Democratic primary last month, Praisner defeated School Board President Nancy Navarro (Northeastern County) with 44 percent of the vote in a four-way race. Navarro raised more than three times as much money as Praisner, and had the backing of a long list of labor, business and development interests.

But Praisner had the advantage of his wife's deep ties to the district that includes parts or all of Aspen Hill, Burtonsville, Colesville, Derwood, Olney, Silver Spring, Wheaton and White Oak. He was endorsed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and four council members who were often allied with his wife on growth issues. Praisner, 75, has said he will not run for reelection in 2010.

Fennel, 42, pledged to hold the line on property taxes by sticking to Montgomery's charter limit as the county struggles to close an underlying budget gap between revenues and spending. He was the GOP's nominee in 2006, and had hoped to capture support from voters already frustrated by rising costs, such as state taxes and Metro fares.

Voter turnout was light Tuesday, with about 11 percent participation.

By Anne Bartlett  |  May 13, 2008; 10:29 PM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Miller: Re-Election Decision Likely On June 4
Next: How Low Can You Go in MoCo?


Well, it's as good as in the books now and we the people have chosen Mr. Praisner by a margin of 2 to 1. Let's all look forward to the continuation of Mrs. Praisner's great vision for District 4.

We can all rest easy now knowing that an experienced and knowledgeable councilmember will be carrying the flag for us in Rockville!

Posted by: Congratulations to Mr. Praisner | May 13, 2008 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Well, not all of us did. Not that I expected my protest vote to mean much anyway. Sometimes this council makes me harken back to my days living in PG, where at least the council was explicit in making sure that you knew they weren't out for your best interests.

Posted by: Aspen Hiller | May 14, 2008 6:25 AM | Report abuse

Congrats Mr. Praisner!

Fennel put up a good fight, but the odds were too great. Why would anyone run as a Repub in MoCo?

To Aspenhiller, I too am from PG County and I disagree with your assessment of the MoCo Council. A knee-jerk tax-cap in PG called TRIM dating back to the early 1980's pretty much starved and ruined PG county institutions - including the public schools. Similarly, California suffered with proposition 13 a decade earlier.

Artifical and inflexible caps on property taxes sound good and sugar-coated, but they pretty much always starve the municipalities affected and ruin them. MoCo voters are more than intelligent enough to avoid the standard anti-tax bait.

Even Northern Virginia is now having to take their medicine - facing huge deficits and cuts to services.

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Now we turn to see if Andrews and Trachtenberg were just blowing smoke when they said we should stick to the charter property tax limit which was approved by the voters to protect against unfair taxation. If Trachtenberg and Andrews stick to their guns, the charter limit cannot be exceeded. After 20% increases in the state sales tax, 20% increases in car taxes, 18% increases in corporate taxes, up to 52.63% increases in the state income tax, 8% increases in water bills, up to 75% increases in electricity bills, huge Metro fare increases, we cannot afford the largest property tax increase in 20 years to go along with $4 gasoline and milk and record foreclosures.

If Trachtenberg and Andrews vote to exceed the charter property tax limit, passage of our November ballot question making it more difficult to exceed the proterty tax limit will be virtually assured.

We have firemen making more than $200,000, 1097 school administrators making more than $100,000 when students go to school for 8 1/2 months, $145,000 PR men for the County Executive, $65,000 toilets, and 30% raises while social security recipients get a 2.3% increase in 2008.

Bulls and bears make money but pigs get slaughtered and there is lots of pork in Rockville.

One change in law should result from this campaign. Turnout the vote efforts are paramount in special elections. And when a county board of elections can put out a $100,000 turnout the vote mailing it skews the process, especially when that mailing is not required by law and is sent with taxpayer funds. The Montgomery County Board of Elections was a political player in this special election.

Posted by: Robin Ficker, Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Ficker, you guy actually did better than I expected in a Dem-heavy district. However, it is wrong to bash the Board of Elections for correcting election materials. If Fennel did not want it pointed out that he was Repub and Praisner was Dem, he should not campaign as a Repub.

If this is more about the candidate than about party affilation, then what is keeping Fennel from running as a Dem?

Elections in this country have been marred by problems for the last 8 years...the Board of Elections (while not perfect) could NOT ignore an inaccruacy or problem in the election matierals once the problem was exposed. They would be under HEAVY criticism if they did nothing. Also, the election results could then be contested on technicality.

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Ficker,

So after the results are in, you're still not satisfied to just accept what the majority of the people want. I guess your energy now will be spent on bashing others on the Council.

Where was it we were supposed to meet Mr. Fennel for lunch today?

Please pick up your marbles and go home. The other kids don't want you in the sandbox any longer.

Posted by: Sour Grapes | May 14, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I work in the private sector. If any of my staff and managers put out a critical document like that noncompliant sample ballot, I would fire them immediately for incompetence and gross negligence.

Unfortunately in government, firing people for incompetence or negligence is not often possible. So, the error still had to be corrected, or as Donny points out, we would likely have the results contested. More money would be wasted dealing with that, and it probably wouldn't be resolved until the council term was almost over. There really are no winners in that scenario.

For those who think the BOE intentionally mailed a flawed ballot in order to generate turnout with a followup letter - do you REALLY believe that the BOE is capable of following that simple process without screwing it up? Incompetence does not equal corruption.

It is what it is.

Posted by: The BOE - It is what it is. | May 14, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

The only issue in a special election is turnout. The Board of Elections is required to have correct ballots. It is not required to have sample ballots. It is not required to have "corrected" sample ballots. It is not required to have one $100,000 turn-out-the-vote mailing. It is not required to have two $100,000 turn-out-the-vote mailings. Fennel could have gone to court to stop the Board from their get-out-the-vote mailing which was masquerading as a sample ballot correction, but would have drawn only more attention to the matter. To say that election results would have been challenged if the Board did not send out its second $100,000 mailing is complete baloney or fantasy concocted out of thin air.

These expenditures by the Board dwarfed the expenditures by the candidates themselves. They helped turn out Democrats in a 3 to 1 ratio. When push comes to shove, some people cheat rather than play fair. And in this case they cheated using the taxpayers' money. We need legislation to forbid the use of taxpayers' money to turn out voters in special elections. That is the job of the parties and the candidates.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 12:03 PM | Report abuse

With all due respect, sir, I fail to see how the second mailing could be considered "cheating".

I follow you about the added expense (from a fiscal responsibility standpoint), but how is CORRECTLY printing the candidates' respective party affiliations cheating?

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Donny, the ballots were corrected. Anybody going to the polls would have seen the party of the candidates. Sending out a $100,000 mailing to add the parties was not required by law. And attorneys for both the County Board and State Board emphasized this point to me. It was done solely to turnout voters when the Board of Elections knew that the registration heavily favored Mr. Praisner. Mr. Praisner was not inspiring voters to turnout. So the Board decided to spend your money and my money to help him.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that this election was no secret and all registered voters received all of the same mailings. Both Republicans and Democrats.

There is no way to know how many more of either party showed up and voted because of the mailings. Also no way to know how many crossed over and voted for the candidate of the other party. Speculation is just a waste of creative energy, and calling it cheating is pointless because both candidates probably benefitted . The election was ultimately conducted cleanly with no hanging chads that could be litigated.

Time to move on. Go out and pick up those 34,000 white yard signs. That's right, even the ones in PG County.

Posted by: It's over, now quit whining and move on. | May 14, 2008 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Manbe Mr. Ficker believes that encouraging people to turn out and vote for their elected officials is cheating, but I just call that democracy.

It is the job of the Board of Elections to get as many people as possible to register to vote and then come out on election day to actually cast ballots.

That is true in a heavily Democratic district or in a heavily Republican district.

Posted by: that's actually called democracy | May 14, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Well, I just think the election went well and was campaigned cleanly. I would not even consider any "turn out the vote" accusations, because turnout was so low. Eleven percent? Interesting theory.

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

No name-calling from me for Mr. Ficker today. But I do have a point that needs to be made.

Mr. Ficker suggests that the Board of Elections was helping Don Praisner by its corrected sample ballot mailing. He suggests that the Board was doing so because of its desire to help Ike Leggett get his guy elected to the Council.

Two responses. First off, as has been noted, the BOE wants people to vote. That's part of its mandate. So I question the bias claim on that basis.

Second, and more importantly, the County Board of Elections, despite its name, is NOT a county agency. It is a state agency. It does not report to Ike Leggett or the County Council. It reports instead to the State Board of Elections, which in turn is an independent state agency answerable, for the most part, to nobody. Moreover, the lawyer for the County Board, who presumably made the decision to send out the corrected sample ballot, was appointed not by Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, but by Robert Ehrlich, a Republican. I am decidedly NOT questioning the integrity of that lawyer, I am simply pointing out that if he was politically motivated to help anyone, you'd think it would be Mark Fennel, Robin Ficker's guy.

So respectfully, Mr. Ficker, I think you are clearly wrong, and your complaints are classic sour grapes. I actually was impresssed that Fennel exceeded his 2006 performance by almost ten percent. Leave it at that and move on.

Posted by: lefty | May 14, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

The Board was appointed by the Governor. They made the decision, not the lawyer. When one party has a registration advantage of 3-1 anybody can see that a taxpayer funded turn-out-the-vote effort benefits the party having the registration edge. When you have three apples and an orange in a bag, the odds are that you will pull out an apple when you put ytour and in the bag. This was a VOLUNTARY large expenditure by the Board which was not required by law. It was done for political reasons in this case, despite what the reasons may be in some case ten years from now. The ballot had to be corrected. The rest was Praisner get-out-the vote. We expect our elections in America to be fair, not influenced by the state.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The Board was appointed by the Governor. They made the decision, not the lawyer. When one party has a registration advantage of 3-1 anybody can see that a taxpayer funded turn-out-the-vote effort benefits the party having the registration edge. When you have three apples and an orange in a bag, the odds are that you will pull out an apple when you put ytour and in the bag. This was a VOLUNTARY large expenditure by the Board which was not required by law. It was done for political reasons in this case, despite what the reasons may be in some case ten years from now. The ballot had to be corrected. The rest was Praisner get-out-the vote. We expect our elections in America to be fair, not influenced by the state.

Posted by: Robin Ficker Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 2:25 PM | Report abuse


I have heard you numerous times talk about having the people vote and now you are complaining that the BOE actually helped turnout by mailing out a sample ballot and then a corrected sample ballot.

You are wearing two hats and they don't fit at the same time.

We should be encouraging as many people to vote as possible. And that is not just the role of the campaigns and candidates. Unfortunately the more people that turn out the less likely that Fennel wins. And that is the conflict of your argument now and what I have heard you say in public in the past.

Can't have it both ways.

Posted by: Not Lefty; But Left Too | May 14, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Are we now hearing that high voter turnout is a bad thing? At 8.56 percent turnout...I'd say we have some work to do. Praisner would have crushed Fennel under any circumstances. My advice to Fennel would be to distance himself from the GOP. If he can package his message to the Dem majority as a Dem, he has a better chance of winning office. If he cannot, then he would be a poor fit for that electorate anyway. Still, he did better than probably anyone expected.

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I resent Mr. Ficker's assumption that Mr. Praisner didn't inspire anyone to vote. I also resent Mr. Ficker's assumption that I, regardless of my party affiliation, didn't make a choice of candidate based on my feelings about each man and how qualified they each were to represent me as a D4 resident and taxpayer. I can think for myself, Mr. Ficker. I don't care how many pieces of mail show up in my mailbox, they don't influence my decision. If anything, I think name recognition works best, and by the number of yard signs displayed (many of which were illigally situated!) Fennel should have won! Additionally, if having an over-abundance of registered-democrat residents is too dissatisfying for Mr. Ficker or Mr. Fennel, go live elsewhere. It's a free country.... and county, too!

Posted by: Ficker is a Sore Loser | May 14, 2008 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Will you stop at nothing Ficker!!!!
Clerarly mailings have nothing to do with it or Navarro would still be in the race.
How dare you call Praisner a cheater when all you have done for the last few months is make up lies about him!!! Lies that had nothing to do with this campaign!!
You and Fennel are the cheaters by putting up illegal signs, taking down other people's signs, making illegal robocalls and spreading lies on these blogs.
Go home and cry to yourselves and leave Montgomery County alone!!!!

Posted by: GO AWAY FICKER | May 14, 2008 7:48 PM | Report abuse

You guys just don't get it. I have no problem with the Board doing what they are legally required to do--like putting the parties of the candidates on the ballot. The problem is giving a state entity discretion to spend large amounts of the taxpayers' money in one election rather than another at their whim, if it suits their political purpose and if it influences an election. That is what happened here.
It is not the function of the Board of Elections to turn out voters, it is rather their function to run fair elections. Why should they have the discretion to spend 10 times what a candidate is spending IF THEY WANT TO DEPENDING ON WHAT ELECTION IT IS AND WHO IS RUNNING?

This point has nothing to do with what I think of Don Praisner personally. It has to do with political appointees making political decisions---and turning up the turnout was a political decision.

Posted by: Robin Ficker, Broker Robin Realty | May 14, 2008 8:32 PM | Report abuse

In case anyone has forgotten, the person who is alleging cheating and/or corruption on the part of the Board of Elections has been sanctioned by his profession's governing body on several occasions, including this most recent:

"FICKER, Robin K.A.. - Suspended indefinitely for lack of competence, lack of diligence, failure to communicate, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and failure to place an unearned fee in a trust account."

This can be verified at the Maryland Courts attorney grievance site:

THIS is the person who would have had open access to our Council via Fennel if he had succeeded yesterday.

You may recall that this same individual, on these public blog pages, posted a series of false statements about Mr. Praisner, ranging from medical conditions to motivations to false representation of Mr. Praisner's published positions, and all the way to age slurs accusations of stealing yard signs, and the posting of Mr. Praisner's personal home telephone number. This is only weeks after the passing of Mrs. Praisner, his wife. Yet, Mr. Ficker has commented that he (and make no mistake, most of the campaign communications were his) was running a "friendly" campaign. I'd hate to see what a vitriolic or confrontational campaign would be like.

Justice has been served (in many ways).....

Posted by: The person who is calling others cheaters | May 14, 2008 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Well, OK - HOW is a Board of Elections (Repub-led or Dem-led) efforts to maximze voter awareness (so they know an election is actually occurring) a political decision. Isn't that what the board is required to do by charter regardless of party majority?

I'm sure there at least two points of view on this and its hard for any of us to be objective, but I really think this went off fairly.

Posted by: Donny | May 14, 2008 8:54 PM | Report abuse

Here's the bottom line, Robin...

You can complain all you want about whatever you want, but you have no way, short of a magical crystal ball, of verifying what anyone's motivation for anything is. All speculation. All conjecture. All inadmissable.... strike that. You're not in court anymore.

IF your candidate had a chance, and won, I'm sure you'd be singing a different tune about the expense of the ballot communications and the voter turnout. If more Fennel voters turned out to vote, it would have been ok. Right?

Let me speculate that you are MOTIVATED by defeat. And because I say it's so, it must be.

Let me mention, also, that turning up the turnout could have easily benefitted any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, so your candidate just blew it. Sorry for your loss.

Wait, no I'm not.

Posted by: Mr. Ficker Doesn't Get It | May 14, 2008 9:07 PM | Report abuse

We need a law change to take away the discretion of a state agency to spend or not spend large amounts of tax money to turn out voters in low-turnout special elections. The majority party should not be able to affect voter turnout with tax money when they want to. That is called manipulating an election and that is what the politicos on the Montgomery County Board of Elections did. And they shouldn't be able to do it just because Mr. Ficker has had some arguments with some Bar officials.

Posted by: We need a law change | May 15, 2008 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Go ahead and call the State Delegates and get the law change process started if you think it's that important. Remember that the registered voters in this election voted for Praisner by a 2 to 1 margin. Some (including me and others I know) fairly conservative voters crossed party lines to do it because Praisner was the better choice. Really now, do you think a couple of mailings made that big of a difference? Ridiculous.

Meanwhile, there was clearly no manipulation of anything in this election except for lies from a suspended ambulance chasing lawyer who was not even a candidate. The ballot mailings have nothing at all to do with Mr. Ficker's repeated near-disbarments for cause. At issue now is his proven lack of credibility re. how he is portraying the BOE, the county and state attorneys, and the law regarding the mailings. This is not a Bullets game.

Manipulating an election would be like dead people falsely "voting" or blocking certain voters from the polls. At my polling place and others I passed, there were no guards barring Fennel voters from the doors, and nobody was dragged in to vote under protest. "Manipulation" sounds like whining after getting stomped 2:1 in a low turnout election. Even Nancy Navarro isn't doing that.

Posted by: Republicans voted for Praisner too. | May 15, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

You didn't vote against Mr. Fennel who pledged to stick to the charter property tax limit if you were concerned with fiscal issues. Tell the truth now Johnny, your nose is getting longer, just like our bill is getting longer for giving a corrupt Board of Elections $250,000 in play money to spend on voter turnout.

Posted by: Don't believe you nameless | May 15, 2008 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I voted against Fennel because he never was able to show me how he was qualified to handle a local government position. All he ever talked about was limiting taxes, which I would love to see, but any businessman knows that if you don't pay obligations out of current revenues then you have to borrow and pay interest to pay more for them later. Fennel never presented a viable plan to deal with that. I couldn't care less where somebody went to college or whether their wife is an immagrant. I do care about whether my Councilmember can be effective in the morass of Rockville. Fennel was embarrasingly unprepared for that.

If that wasn't enough, he made the decision to allow Robin Ficker to speak for him. While Ficker made a fool out of himself, he made a bigger fool out of Fennel. It was clear that Ficker was doing the thinking and if Fennel was elected, Ficker would STILL do most of the thinking, which is NOT what I want. People are known by the company they keep. The fact that Fennel didn't or couldn't attract a backer with better ethics and reputation than Robin Ficker means that he does not represent my attitudes at all, Republican or not.

Posted by: Johnny knows fiscal issues are more than just taxes | May 15, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Joe McCarthy is alive and well above. Now you know why I didn't vote for Praisner--because of his friends like you.

Posted by: Whaat kind of company are you ? eyo | May 15, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Your comment makes no sense at all. You vote for who you think is best as do I. How is that McCarthyism? I'm not the one who has been repeatedly censured by their licensing authority for incompetence and unprofessional conduct. That kind of thing speaks to character and it really does matter.

Posted by: Struck a nerve? | May 15, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Is the above going to be your defense when the bill to ban discretionary spending to affect turnout has a hearing in Annapolis next winter?

Posted by: Is that what you are going to tell the House Committee? | May 15, 2008 9:41 PM | Report abuse

To whom is this question directed and what does it refer to?

"Is the above going to be your defense when the bill to ban discretionary spending to affect turnout has a hearing in Annapolis next winter?"

Posted by: ???? | May 16, 2008 1:27 AM | Report abuse

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