Will Former Lawmaker’s Comeback Bid be Marred by Supporter’s ‘Dementia’ Crack?

A supporter of Prince George’s County Council candidate Thomas E. Dernoga (D) is drawing criticism for comments she made about a retiring member of the General Assembly. Barbara Sollner-Webb, president of the West Laurel Civic Association, posted a defense of Dernoga on an online forum, after District 1 residents began receiving literature attacking him. Dernoga previously served on the County Council from 2002-2010. The campaign lit, from the Maryland Alliance for Progress Political Action Committee, which was set up to support Dernoga’s Democratic primary opponent, Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe, quotes retiring state Del. Barbara A. Frush (D), as saying: “We can’t afford to go back to the Jack Johnson/Tom Dernoga style of politics. Prince George’s County citizens deserve better than that.”  Former County Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga  According to information provided by a community activist, Sollner-Webb responded to Frush’s comment on a West Laurel-based listserv: “We just got in the mail (and you most likely did too) a factually incorrect and most nasty anti-Tom Dernoga ad, with a nutty quote from Barbara Frush equating Tom to Jack Johnson. Does she really feel that, is she being mis-quoted, or is it a sign of dementia? Whatever, I sure hope this rotten politicking backfires.” Frush, 73, is retiring from the General Assembly after six terms representing District 21, which covers parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. She is not known to be suffering from dementia. In fact, she is serving as co-chairwoman to the gubernatorial campaign of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). Sollner-Webb’s comment is drawing fire from Frush’s legislative colleagues and others.  “Barbara Frush is a wonderful person who has spent her entire career advocating for the little guy,” said Del. Kumar G. Barve (D-Montgomery). “To make such an insulting, rotten comment is disgusting. A comment like that is unacceptable.” Johnson, who served two terms as county executive, pleaded guilty to evidence tampering and destruction of evidence in 2011 and served more than five years in prison. Dernoga was never charged with a crime, though he was known for asking developers who had projects under consideration in the County Council to make contributions to community programs and infrastructure in his district. The Washington Post endorsement of Moe in this primary notes that Dernoga’s “previous tenure on the County Council is remembered mainly for ethical shenanigans that helped drive away employers and stain the county’s reputation as a haven for pay-to-play politics.” According to the mail piece sent by the pro-Moe group, “Tom Dernoga’s questionable ethical behavior is featured in a highly-regarded ethics textbook that is used on college campuses all across the country.” Current District 1 Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D) is term-limited and is running for a seat in the House of Delegates. Dernoga’s son, Matt Dernoga, is one of her Democratic primary opponents. The Maryland Alliance for Progress PAC has raised $50,000 since its inception earlier this year, all of it from business interests and LLCs. Caleb Gould, vice president of Konterra Realty, donated $10,000.  The firm, a prominent Laurel-based developer, donated another $5,000.   By law, so-called “independent expenditure” groups cannot coordinate their efforts with the campaigns they support. Calls and emails to Dernoga were not immediately returned Friday. Sollner-Webb said in an email that she respected Frush but felt her comments about Dernoga were inaccurate and over the top — especially those comparing Dernoga to Jack Johnson. “Of course, any ethical person would immediately realize that these are the moral opposites of each other, not equals,” she said. [email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.

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