The usually humdrum Montgomery County Council District 1 election recently got more colorful.
Jim Kirkland, who also goes by Jim Strychnine, and who is challenging incumbent Democrat Roger Berliner (Potomac-Bethesda), publicly opined that Jewish people are responsible for most local code enforcement complaints prior to launching his campaign.
“In my personal experience, a lot of the complaints are made by Jewish folks,” Kirkland repeated in a long, meandering and, at times, hostile interview with Washington Jewish Week. “The county has become what I call a sterile, nerd-zone … a sterile nerd-zone devoid of quirkiness and visual variety.”
Kirkland’s views first came to light on Oct. 15, when The Washington Post published a story about the candidate. While speaking to Kirkland for a standard county council candidate profile, something Kirkland said reminded the reporter of an email he received on Feb. 5, in which the same man complained about a fine his 86-year-old mother received for incomplete repairs on the roof of her house in North Bethesda.
“The obvious complainant is usually Jewish,” Kirkland wrote. “We have concluded that this amounts to an unacknowledged (Jewish) policy of forcing blue-collar residents out of the county. Sounds harsh? MAYBE IT’S TRUE!”
Kirkland called the Post’s article a hatchet job and branded it “journalistic malpractice” on the reporter’s behalf to focus only on his anti-Semitic comments.
“I wrote that email before I began my campaign. You get that? B-E-F-O-R-E. Before I filed and ran my campaign. However, obviously not everybody making these complaints are Jewish, so during the campaign I elected to use the terminology ‘intolerant, upscale, elitists,’ or some variation of that theme: ‘luxury elitists, real estate elitists.’ So it did vary, but I didn’t use any ethnic terminology once I began my campaign.”
Although Montgomery County Republicans immediately disavowed Kirkland and his campaign, the incident highlighted the often difficult task for local parties to find viable competitors for nearly futile local races in counties where that party is in the minority.
Michael Higgs, chairman of the Montgomery Republican Central Committee, said he was blindsided by Kirkland’s statements and only found out about his views after being contacted by the Post reporter.
“Nobody else who I’ve spoken to said that they knew about this or anything like that. This came as a complete shock to all of us,” said Higgs. The party official, who was installed as chairman only a month before the filing deadline, also said that there were many spaces to fill for contestants on the Montgomery County Council ballot and that at the time of Kirkland’s selection, they were involved in a recruitment drive for GOP candidates in as many seats as they could possibly convince somebody to run. Vetting the candidates was not part of the process.
Higgs said that there was no candidate for the district at the time and since Kirkland attended a few of their meetings and expressed strong opinions, he encouraged Kirkland to run.
“He had an interesting take on local issues and was very concerned about zoning and code enforcement back then. He just didn’t mention to me that he blamed a Jewish conspiracy for enforcement of code violations in Montgomery County,” said Higgs. “Had he mentioned that, I certainly would have had nothing to do with him and done my best to discourage him from running.”
When Higgs and the rest of the central committee board heard of the email from the Post reporter, they immediately scheduled a meeting and decided to drop their support for Kirkland’s candidacy – taking his name off their website and sample ballot. Yet, Kirkland will still appear on the ballot as there is no method for the party to take him off so close to the election.
Berliner, who is Jewish, told WJW that he never gave his opponent any serious thought and did not spend any money running against him.
“I’m pleased that the Republican Party pulled their support from someone who clearly has no place in our political community,” said Berliner. “However, I do regret that they encouraged this individual to run given that any serious conversation with this person would have revealed that he came from a very extreme and fringe element of our community.”
Kirkland, who lists his occupation as a part-time lawn worker, supports the relaxation of drunk driving enforcement which he claims hurts businesses and discourages social drinking for young people. He further calls for the adoption of late work shifts for young workers, saying that young people should have the option of working late so that they can socialize at night without worrying about getting up early to go to work the next morning. A retro rock enthusiast, he can be seen in a 2007 YouTube interview calling himself “D.C.’s biggest 60s rock fan,” and giving viewers advice for success: “Don’t get up early. Don’t get professional haircuts. Don’t wear shorts to clubs.”
[email protected] @dmitriyshapiro