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Board hears filing appeal, will reveal its decision today

February 01, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown's Board of Elections Supervisors met Monday to decide whether Merrill "E.J." Fuller Jr., who filed late to run for City Council, will be allowed on the ballot.

The board made a decision, but agreed not to announce it yet, said Eve McGrory, the board's president. The decision is to be released in writing today, she said.

At a board hearing Monday, Fuller testified that he misunderstood the deadline.

City and county election officials testified that Fuller received a calendar showing the deadline, with enough time to meet it.

If the city's Board of Elections Supervisors rejects Fuller's appeal, that would leave 15 candidates for City Council and five candidates for mayor.

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The primary election is March 8. The general election is May 17.

The deadline for candidates to file to run in the city election was Jan. 21.

At Hagerstown City Hall, before the deadline, Fuller filed a certificate of candidacy, the first step in running for office. But, he didn't file the remaining paperwork with the Washington County Board of Elections until Jan. 24.

Fuller and his campaign manager, the Rev. LeRoy J. Guillory, told the city's Board of Elections Supervisors that there was confusion over the deadline, which they thought was Feb. 7.

Guillory suggested that both a reluctance to "challenge the status quo" and racial tension were obstacles Fuller, who is black, faced in trying to run for office.

Fuller said he stopped at the county board of elections a few times. He said he tried to file the last paperwork with the board of elections on Jan. 14, but hadn't lined up a treasurer for his campaign committee, as required.

He testified that when he later called the board of elections, he was told the deadline was Feb. 7.

The election officials at Monday's hearing said they did not recall telling Fuller that deadline.

Dorothy Kaetzel, the county's election director, testified that someone in her office might have said Feb. 7 is the filing deadline for candidates unaffiliated with a political party to run for office through a petition. But even for those candidates, the deadline to file a declaration of intent to run is Jan. 21, she said.

On Nov. 29, Fuller registered to vote as a Republican, Kaetzel said.

Guillory said at the hearing that in the days following Fuller's unsuccessful Jan. 14 attempt to file to run for City Council, a racist letter came to an office Guillory is using on West Franklin Street.

He said he and Fuller were dealing with the letter the following week, so the election became a lesser priority.

Guillory said that Avery Carey, another possible black candidate for office who missed the final filing deadline, decided not to fight to get on the ballot "because of a threat made to his mother."

Carey - who did not attend the hearing - filed the same initial paperwork to run for office as Fuller, but also didn't meet the Jan. 21 deadline to file the rest.

Carey told The Herald-Mail at the time that he was disappointed when he found out he had missed the deadline.

Guillory spoke on Fuller's behalf during the hearing. Early on, William Nairn, a city attorney directing the proceedings, asked Guillory to stop coaching Fuller.

In the end, Fuller thanked the city's Board of Elections Supervisors for giving him time to present his case.

"Whatever the board decides, I'll go with it," he said.

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