A successful stealth write-in campaign has caused some election drama in the small but vocal Town of Chevy Chase.
Pat Burda, the vice mayor and a leading proponent of the town’s lobbying contract against the Purple Line, was one of two incumbent Town Council members running Tuesday for two council seats.
But when the results were published Tuesday night, Burda came in third with 119 votes—49 votes behind write-in candidate Fred Cecere.
Incumbent councilmember John Bickerman came in first with 228 votes.
On Wednesday, the town’s Election Board held an impromptu closed session about the results. Town Manager Todd Hoffman said the Election Board was seeking legal advice from the town’s attorney related to the conduct of Cecere’s write-in campaign.
The surprise results have some in the town of just more than 2,800 appealing for a recall election.
Cecere declined to comment on the nature of his write-in campaign, but residents told Bethesda Beat they received phone calls on election day from Cecere allies urging them to write in Cecere’s name.
Cecere, a 69-year-old doctor, has not been active recently in Town politics. He wasn’t known to attend Council sessions and isn’t serving on any of the town’s volunteer committees, which are typically the ways residents get involved.
Burda said she didn’t know of the write-in campaign until about an hour before the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
“I’m really saddened by the process and I think that the real victim here is the community,” Burda said. “I certainly don’t see myself as the victim. I think the people of the Town of Chevy Chase are the victims.”
Some said it was apparent the effort was aimed at ousting Burda. One resident said he thought the effort stemmed from a homeowner who lost a building permit case in front of the council, not Burda’s outspoken views against the Purple Line.
Burda said she has stayed out of the Election Board’s review and she doesn’t know much about Cecere’s late write-in effort.
“I’ve heard various things. But it was a very vocal, very savvy group of, I think, younger people in the community,” Burda said. “They just stood outside with their phones and called people to vote.”
Cecere said he expects to be officially installed at the May 13 council meeting and that he believes his write-in campaign was fair. He also said he would be releasing a prepared statement soon.
Burda pushed for the town to spend more than $650,000 on K Street lobbyists to fight against the Purple Line, the 16-mile light rail that the town officially opposes. She drew the ire of Purple Line supporters such as the Action Committee for Transit.
The light rail would run on the Georgetown Branch Extension of the Capital Crescent Trail, which is behind a number of homes in the town.
Burda was also a leading voice against certain high-density development near the borders of the half-square mile town.
Last year, she formed the Coalition of Bethesda Communities, a group of 19 neighborhood organizations and municipalities concerned with increased density that could be a part of the ongoing downtown Bethesda sector plan rewrite.
Burda led the town’s effort to build a park on two Montgomery County parking lots on the town’s western border. The town hired a land use attorney and a planner to come up with a concept and implementation plan for a 2.6-acre park to present to county planners.
“I assume that this new council will take over those responsibilities,” Burda said. “I think it would be ineffective as a non-councilmember to be involved. I think that part of the import of what we were doing is that the council is doing this work.”
Stephan Lawton, chairman of the town’s three-member Election Board, said it will soon submit its recommendations to the council.
“The Town Council will decide when and how to alert town residents and the public as matters progress,” Lawton said.
The three members of the Town Council whose terms come up next year didn’t reply to requests for comment on the election. Bickerman said he had no comment.