Homeless campaign recruits pass out ‘untruthful’ fliers

Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Groups of men from a Philadelphia homeless shelter said they were brought to Prince George’s County early Nov. 7 by Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele’s campaign and told to pass out fliers publicizing information that county officials say is misleading.

Three men stood at the front entrance of the University Park Elementary School precinct wearing Steele T-shirts and hats, passing out pamphlets titled, ‘‘Ehrlich-Steele Democrats.” The pamphlets had pictures of Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, former county executive Wayne Curry and former Democratic Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume. At the bottom, it read, ‘‘These are our choices.” The flier says it was authorized by both the Steele and Ehrlich campaigns.

Neither Steele nor Ehrlich has returned telephone calls.

‘‘Here we have today a piece of literature that really, to say the least, is untruthful,” Johnson said Monday. ‘‘I’m offended ... and I’m angry about it.”

Two of the men, Gary Swimpson and Leon Watson, told The Gazette that volunteers from the Steele campaign came to their homeless shelter in Philadelphia in the wee hours of Tuesday, offering $100, donuts and coffee for anyone willing to work the polls on Election Day. Swimpson said several buses left for Prince George’s with about 500 men.

‘‘We’re just down here trying to make some money,” said Swimpson, 47, adding he had not heard of Steele before Tuesday.

‘‘I don’t even know if this cat’s a Democrat or Republican,” Swimpson said, pointing to Ehrlich’s picture on the back of the pamphlet.

Watson said he and others at the shelter were confused when buses pulled up early in the morning.

‘‘It does seem strange. ... Why would they come all the way [to Philadelphia] when they could have gotten guys from down here?” he said.

University Park Councilwoman Margaret Mallino (Ward 1), a former town mayor, said she expected poll workers from various campaigns, but was surprised when she showed up at the school Nov. 7.

‘‘I haven’t seen anything to this extent,” said Mallino, a county resident for 40 years. ‘‘[University Park residents] have been scandalized, but they are treating [the homeless men] with respect. ... This is not the kind of politics we see in Prince George’s.”

Watson said one voter took a trash bag full of the pamphlets and left the precinct, while others ripped the fliers in half or threw them away before entering the elementary school.