- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

Republicans and some Democrats are denouncing efforts to persuade Prince George's County voters to switch to the Democratic Party so they can vote for county council member M.H. Jim Estepp, the only white candidate among five seeking the nomination for county executive.

"Consider being a Democrat for a Day! This applies to voters registered as independents also," read a flier Republicans said was posted in Bowie Fire Station 39, according to a complaint received at state Republican headquarters late last month.

"It's an effort to dilute the African-American vote," said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

Observers have speculated that Mr. Estepp could win the hotly contested Democratic primary if he draws most white voters in the county and the other candidates, who are black, split the rest of the vote.

"It's very divisive it's cloaked a little bit, but what it is is a reach out to white Republicans," said Major Riddick, a Democrat also running for county executive.

Mr. Riddick said it shows "there's no real sincerity " behind Mr. Estepp's assertion that he wants to represent and bring together all county residents, more than 62 percent of whom are black, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

The flier does not contain a required "authority line" designating who printed and paid for its distribution. But it does direct readers to go to the Web site www.achievement2000.com for more information.

Mr. Estepp's campaign said it didn't issue the flier or authorize it.

"We can't be responsible for somebody who supports Jim Estepp and did it on their own, thinking it was the right thing," said Jerry Clark, a spokesman for the Estepp campaign.

Achievement2000 is a slate committee raising money and support for Mr. Estepp and like-minded candidates, said Mr. Clark, adding that if the flier had come from an arm of the Estepp campaign it would have contained an authority line.

Mr. Ellington said the flier was forwarded to the Republican Party by someone who spotted it on one of the fire station's bulletin boards.

Representatives of the county's public-safety unions tried to recruit party switchers at the Bowie Republican Women's Club, said club leader Cathy Mannsparger, who declined to discuss details.

Thomas McKeachin, president of the Prince George's County Professional Firefighters Association, said the union was not behind the fliers, although it was considering endorsing Mr. Estepp next month.

Mr. Estepp, who held positions as Prince George's fire chief and public safety director before he was elected to the County Council in 1994, held his formal campaign kickoff at the firefighters union headquarters in Bowie on Wednesday night.

Mr. McKeachin, a member of Mr. Estepp's campaign steering committee, suggested that volunteer firefighters might have distributed the fliers.

Bowie Fire Station 39 is owned by Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad Inc., but supported by taxpayer dollars.

Michael Granados, president of the Bowie volunteer company, said he never saw the flier and would have removed it because such partisan political activity could jeopardize the organization's tax-exempt status.

"I don't believe it was ever there it's not there now," Mr. Granados said.

Other Democrats running for county executive are Delegate Rushern L. Baker III; the county's state's attorney, Jack B. Johnson, and the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, a former state delegate.

No Republicans have filed for the office yet, but Mr. Ellington said the party expects to field a candidate in the general election.

The filing deadline is July 1.

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