A conservative group that identifies itself with the Tea Party is raising eyebrows among County Council members for what some say are aggressive and offensive lobbying efforts against a bill to increase speed camera use.
In recent weeks, the group, Campaign for Liberty, has criticized Republican Councilmen Todd Huff and David Marks for not being aggressive enough in opposing speed cameras.
On Thursday, the group turned its attention to Democratic Councilwomen Vicki Almond and Cathy Bevins for supporting a pending bill to authorize more cameras.
At the center of the criticism is Patrick Hussey, who describes himself as "one of the key leaders" of Campaign for Liberty.
In an e-mail sent to some Republicans on Thursday, Hussey referred to the freshman councilwomen as wicked witches. Almond was the focus of an additional personal reference in which Hussey called her "a nut" and wrote that she was "flying around on her broomstick terrorizing District 2."
Hussey called the e-mail "tongue in cheek political satire."
"What we're trying to do is to get our friends in the Republican Party to help but so far we're not getting any help from them," Hussey said, adding that he thinks county Republicans are holding a grudge against Campaign for Liberty because it criticized Huff and Marks.
"I wrote the e-mail hoping it would be a way to unify," Hussey said. "Because of the whole kerfuffle, I needed a common foe."
Hussey said the e-mail was not intended to be a personal attack.
But Bevins, a Democrat who represents the 6th District, called the e-mail "offensive" and said its tone concerned her.
"I take it very personal," Bevins said. "When you're reading it, you can't take it any other way. I don't know this person and it's scary to me that someone I don't know has all these strong emotions about me."
Attempts to reach Almond were not immediately successful.
The e-mails come as the in the county. Bevins and Almond are two of the four sponsors on the bill—enough to ensure its passage on Tuesday.
Last month, the group published a YouTube video and articles criticising Marks for supporting speed camera expansion in an attempt to pressure Marks to honor a campaign promise, Hussey said.
"We thought (Marks) was going to flip his position and we took him to task," Hussey said.
Marks, in previous interviews with Patch, initially said he was on the fence about the issue and acknowledged it would pass. He said he believed the bill would pass and said he would consider voting in favor of lifting the 15 camera limit if it meant he could get some amendments on the bill, including giving individual council members the ability to veto proposed camera locations and one that would put money into a dedicated fund.
But on Monday, citing an amendment sponsored by Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. that would allow the county to use mobile cameras.
Emerging political voice
Campaign for Liberty in Baltimore County is a relatively new group, formed about two years ago, Hussey said.
"It started as five angry guys in a bar and grew into something more," said Hussey.
Among its guiding principals are support for smaller government, less government debt and a free market economy. But Hussey also described feeling frustrated and disenfranchised by local, state and federal politics.
"I'm tired of feeling helpless," said Hussey, a self-employed used bookseller who lives in Parkville. "I'm tired of politicians picking away at the carcass of liberty. I'm tired of being what's for dinner."
Hussey could not say how many members were in the county chapter, which is a 501 (c) 4 non-profit—a designation that allows the group to participate in political activity but doesn't require disclosure of funding sources. Hussey said the group is entirely funded by member donations.
"We have no special interests—just concerned citizens," Hussey said.
Last month, the group became more visible when it started efforts to oppose speed camera legislation in the county.
Part of that effort included "articles and a video" about Huff and Marks and the councilmen's positions on speed cameras.
Marks, in an interview, said the group declined to meet with him to discuss the issue—a point Hussey confirmed.
"We talked to him on the phone," said Hussey, who then acknowledged Marks asked for a meeting. "He didn't sound like he wanted to change his mind. He sounded like he wanted to talk us into his his position."
Lobbying or bullying?
On Thursday, Hussey sent an e-mail to members of the county Republican Central Committee in which Bevins and Almond respectively were called the "wicked witch of the east" and "wicked witch of the west." Almond was also called a "nut."
Tony Campbell, chairman of the county's Republican Central Committee, said individuals might help but the party won't. Campbell said that while he opposes speed cameras he disagrees with how Campaign for Liberty is trying to make their voice heard—especially the Almond and Bevins e-mail.
"It's a First Amendment issue—sometimes it can be distasteful, sometimes it's not," said Campbell, adding that he wouldn't have sent the e-mail "and the central committee wouldn't have done it either."
Marks said he, too, was surprised by the e-mail attack on Almond and Bevins because "it was so personal."
"Vicki is one of the warmest people I've ever known and Cathy has spent so much of her career caring for other people," Marks said.
Bevins said the group's attacks on Marks and Huff and then on her and Bevins was confusing.
"You've got a guy attacking me because I'm a Democrat and then the same guy attacks David Marks, a Republican who has worked hard for his community," Bevins said. "What does that say about (Hussey)?"
Bevins said her mind is made up and she intends to vote for the bill.
"He thinks because he's bullying me that I'm going to change my mind," Bevins said. "It's quite the opposite."
This story has been updated to correct an erroroneous statement attributed to an e-mail regarding Campaign For Liberty's door-to-door efforts. Patch regrets the error.