Politics Magazine

06.21.18 Unger Campaign Manager Caught on Video Stealing and Discarding Rivals’ Campaign Materials

Posted on the 21 June 2018 by Keith Berner @leftyview

I didn’t write the headline on today’s post – it comes from the blog A Miner Detail. Here are headlines and links to:

Bethesda Beat’s article is he most detailed and hard-hitting of the three.

See the video of the deed itself (total length 3:27; the thief first enters @ 1:33).

Yes, D20 delegate candidate Darian Unger has fired campaign manager John Rodriguez. Three hours ago, Unger posted this statement on his Facebook page:

I learned today that one of my campaign workers trashed the campaign literature of some of the other candidates. I fired him immediately. I consider such behavior to be completely unacceptable.

I reached out to the affected candidates to apologize for his actions, which run counter to my values, and the values of the other candidates, whose efforts I respect tremendously. I also offered to compensate their campaigns for the cost of their materials.

We do not stand for that kind of behavior. Takoma Park and Silver Spring are wonderful places, which we can improve by working together with respect. [emphasis added]

No one so far has suggested that Unger ordered Rodriquez to commit this act of sabotage. So, does the firing and apology mean that Unger should be off the hook? I think not and here’s why:

  • The candidate is responsible for his campaign and certainly for hiring a campaign manager. An inability (or unwillingness) to assure good ethics in one’s staff is an indication of how that candidate can be expected to behave in office. An I-didn’t-directly-order-the-misdeed excuse is weak.
    • Rodriguez has a shady past, as documented in this City Paper article. Unger is either incompetent or malfeasant in not having considered this history disqualifying. According to Bethesda Beat: “This hasn’t been my first run-in with the Unger campaign manager,” D20 Senator Will Smith said. “Not only did John Rodriguez destroy our campaign materials, he’s made numerous veiled threats and insinuations.”
    • A staff member at a prominent labor union posted this comment on Del. David Moon’s Facebook feed: “I can also tell you Rodriguez was overbearing and rude when he called our office repeatedly. He acted like we owed his candidate an endorsement. I speak with a ton of candidates and staff, but none who behaved that way.”
    • As Unger dealt with the fallout today, he referred to Rodriguez once as a “campaign consultant” and – in statement above – as a “campaign worker.” This man was the campaign manager whom Unger hand-picked. Attempting to downgrade Rodriguez’s importance is just plain sleazy. (Consider Trump’s habit of pretending aides caught in wrongdoing had no significant role.)
  • Unger is an exceptionally eager candidate. Eagerness can be a good thing. It can also lead to an end-justifies-the-means ethos. Just as the candidate is responsible for senior campaign staff, they also set the tone for their entire campaign. If the candidate chooses, they can certainly establish ethics as a fundamental principle.
  • What the union staffer attributes to Rodriguez, I have observed directly in Unger’s own behavior:
    • I was on the Progressive Neighbors Steering Committee (PN, PNSC) and directed the candidate endorsement process this year. Unger had served as co-chair for the organization until he stepped down last December to run for office. Until the bylaws were changed to require this, Unger had previously misused his position to secure PN’s endorsement at the same time as he campaigned for office. (The bylaws were changed, in large measure, due to this.)

The PN endorsement process this year was exhaustive, including outreach to about 130 candidates, with nearly a hundred returning our questionnaires. We invited our large mailing list to provide input on candidates and on our tentative recommendations.

Out of all those candidates:

Only one called PNSC members to persuade us to endorse him (90% of other candidates wouldn’t have had our phone numbers).

Only one wrote to PN’s main email address to advocate for himself (no one else did it at all – this person did it at least twice).

Only one distributed PN’s email address to people who were not on PN’s mailing list and had nothing to do with the organization, so that they could send endorsements back to the Steering Committee. As a result, we received a deluge of endorsements (far more than for any other candidate at any level) – most without any substance – for that person.

Guess who that was? Darian Unger, who misused his inside information about PN to try and give himself a leg up.

Sadly, his tactics worked: I ended up quitting the PNSC in protest when the organization was unable to step beyond its history of interest conflict involving Unger and gave him a co-endorsement (alongside Jheanelle Wilkins.)

    • At a meet-n-greet for a different candidate (not an opponent) earlier this spring, Unger planted himself a the front door and collared every attendee on their way in or out, to pitch his own candidacy and distribute his lit. I have never seen another candidate do this.
    • A credible source in another campaign has pointed out that Unger has falsely claimed to have received endorsements from Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and from NARAL.

Darian Unger has a record of stretching limits. Even if the examples I have provided are hardly against the law (prior to today: Rodriguez’s actions were clearly illegal), they are beyond norms that other Montgomery County Candidates follow by instinct. In this context, it is reasonable to assume that campaign staff felt empowered to do whatever they thought necessary to win. Beyond doubt is Unger’s incompetence or bad judgment in hiring as campaign manager known for dirty tricks. And Unger’s attempts today to claim that Rodriguez was anything other than his right-hand man are nauseating.

I call on Darian Unger to resign this campaign and I call on Progressive Neighbors to withdraw their endorsement. I don’t expect either of these things to happen, so I call on you, Dear Reader, to vote only for candidates of unimpeachable ethics, especially in the D20 delegate race.

©2018 Keith Berner

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