Board certifies Herring as AG
Finally tally: 165 votes give Democrat the win; Obenshain can appeal Change in recount law opens the door for GOP challenge
The D.C. fire department has hired a polarizing former Prince George’s County chief to its No. 2 spot in charge of the department’s operations.
A special order from Chief Kenneth B. Ellerbe named Eugene A. Jones, who served about two years as head of the Prince George’s County fire department, to the position of assistant fire chief effective Monday.
As an outsider who came up through the ranks of the county fire department, the D.C. firefighters union says Mr. Jones has his work cut out for him.
“D.C. is absolutely a whole different world than PG,” said Edward Smith, president of the D.C. Firefighters Association. “We have different operations. He’s got a tough job ahead.” Mr. Jones led the Prince George’s County department from early 2009 — returning to the department after retiring as a major with 25 years of service — through December 2010 when incoming County Executive Rushern L. Baker III opted to replace him. But in the short time he headed the department, Mr. Jones routinely found his policies and cost-cutting measures the target of union scrutiny.
“While Eugene Jones served as chief of the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department, we endured many challenges under his leadership,” said Andrew Pantelis, president of the Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association. “In his short tenure, we witnessed a significant reduction in staffing which resulted in station closures, increased response times and dangerous work practices.”
While Mr. Smith said he was not familiar with allegations made by the county union about Mr. Jones, he questioned the decision to hire from outside the city and the department.
“It’s just strange because when the confirmation hearings were held for Ellerbe, the city was all about hiring from within. It seems a little hypocritical to me that with One City-One Hire, that they went outside,” Mr. Smith said, referring to a program promoted by Mayor Vincent C. Gray to encourage employers to hire D.C. residents.
Public records indicate Mr. Jones lives in Beltsville and has registered his consulting business, Systems Emergency Preparedness Consultants, there. D.C. officials did not respond for comment about whether Mr. Jones would move into the District as a condition of his employment.
Under Mr. Jones’ leadership in Prince George’s County, the department reduced overtime costs, but union officials derided the measures used to do so — which included hefty reliance on volunteer firefighters after the department removed all career personnel from some of the county’s fire stations. Unlike the D.C. fire department, which is solely staffed by career firefighters and medical personnel, the county fire department is a combination force relying on the help of approximately 1,100 volunteers to supplement coverage.
On one occasion, labor accused Mr. Jones of retaliation against a lieutenant colonel who had filed a grievance with the union.
“The unfortunate fact is that the Fire Chief has used a grievance as a convenient excuse to take an action that he has longed to execute for some time,” wrote Mr. Pantelis in a 2010 letter to union members about the termination of Lt. Col. Victor Stagnaro.
Officials from the D.C. fire department and the
The Virginia State Board of Elections on Monday declared Mark R. Herring the winner of the state’s attorney general’s race in the closest contest in state history despite concerns expressed by the board’s chairman about the canvassing process.
The three-member board unanimously certified the results of the Nov. 5 election, which gave the Democrat a 165-vote advantage out of more than 2.2 million ballots cast, during a morning meeting in Richmond.
Mr. Herring, who declared victory Nov. 12, said in a statement he was “gratified” by the results and that he looked forward to serving Virginia residents and laid out a broad plan for when he takes office.
“Our guiding principle will be to put the law and Virginians first, instead of adherence to extreme ideology,” he said. “In the areas of public safety, veterans services, civil rights, consumer and small-business protections, and ethics in our public sphere, significant progress can and will be made for Virginians.”
Republican candidate Mark D. Obenshain did not immediately say whether he planned to call for a recount. Mr. Obenshain is entitled to a recount because the margin was less than 1 percent of the vote. He has 10 days to make the call.
In a statement, his campaign pointed out that in the past 13 years four statewide elections in the country have had margins of fewer than 300 votes, and in all four of those elections “the results were reversed in a recount.”
“Margins this small are why Virginia law provides a process for a recount,” Obenshain campaign manager Chris Leavitt said. “However, a decision to request a recount, even in this historically close election, is not one to be made lightly.”
When a recount is called, the State Board of Elections first sets the standards for the handling, security and accuracy of the tally. A three-member “recount court” is formed in Richmond and is headed by the chief judge of the Richmond Circuit Court. Two additional circuit court judges are appointed to the board by the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court.
The recount court sets the standards for determining the accuracy of the votes and certifies the election results. Its ruling is final and cannot be appealed, according to Virginia law.
Paper ballots are recounted by hand, the printouts from electronic voting machines are reviewed, and the optical scan tabulators are rerun through a program that counts only the votes for the race being scrutinized.
Mr. Obenshain could also choose to contest the election — a process that would put the race before the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
During Monday’s meeting, elections board Chairman Charles Judd voted to certify the results “with
RICHMOND | A law championed by a Democratic state senator who lost a narrow race for attorney general in 2005 could give Republican Mark D. Obenshain the tools to erase Mark R. Herring’s 165-vote lead in this year’s contest.
R. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat who came up 360 votes short in his bid against Republican Bob McDonnell in 2005 subsequently authored legislation expanding the scope of recounts.
In 2005, the ballots were only rerun in precincts that had identified problems. But the Deeds legislation required all optical scan ballots be rerun in the event of a recount and that ballots containing write-in votes, under votes or over votes be hand-counted.
Around the nation, statewide recounts between 2000 and 2009 resulted in an average margin swing of 296 votes between the frontrunners, representing 0.027 percent of the statewide vote in those elections, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy.
Mr. Herring’s margin of victory, certified
office of the deputy mayor for public safety and justice did not respond to requests for comment about Mr. Jones’ hiring.
But while the policies put in place by Mr. Jones in Prince George’s County rankled the union, volunteers there said he helped quell animosity between fire department leadership and the volunteer companies.
“He was able to bring the budget under control and we were able to get the supplies we needed as volunteers,” said John Alter, chairman of the Prince George’s County Fire Commission. “He was accessible and we could talk with him about our needs.”
In between his stints at the county fire department, Mr. Jones worked as the exercise and training officer of the county’s Office of Homeland Security and currently serves as a member of Maryland’s State Fire Prevention Commission.
“We advocated for his replacement because he was not the right person to lead our department,” Mr. Pantelis said. “Perhaps he will be a better fit for the District of Columbia.”
Virginia’s State Board of Elections Chairman Charles E. Judd (left) and secretary Don Palmer meet Monday in Richmond to certify the Nov. 5 vote for attorney general and declared Democrat Mark R. Herring the winner by 165 votes. Mr. Judd added that his decision was “with question” for concerns about the “integrity of the data.”