I don't say you have to be crazy to be a politician, but displaying a little screwball logic - “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” - can solidify your base. On the other hand you don't want voters suspecting you might be completely loony - like President-of- the-Moon Newt Gingrich. Now, navigating a path between those two alternatives can be tricky at times. For example, in the 1980's a 5'1” tall combative fire cracker named Ruthann Aron used her obsessive-compulsive drive and her pugnacious combative nature to make a fortune in real estate development. She didn't make a lot of friends, of course. Her urologist husband Barry admitted, “She gets in people’s faces in a very straightforward way and doesn’t tap dance too much.” Still the lady had big dreams, even of becoming a United States Senator. Ruthann's first attempt resulted in defeat, but that was not unusual. She could have recovered. But then she became the first candidate on record to actually sue her opponent for slander. Equating political mud slinging with slander - that was when Ruthann went from being odd to being out to lunch, And then she went from erratic to homicidal. Perhaps we should review the details of her story, so any would-be politicians out there can take notes.
Our lesson begins in the “D.C.” adjacent enclave of Montgomery county, Maryland, one of the richest and best educated counties in America. Everybody here, it seems came from some place else – the county was even named for a Revolutionary War hero who never set foot in the state. This is one of those big ponds where little fish either get eaten or grow big And it has not voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan retired. And, as Barry Rascovar noted for the Washington Post in mid-August of 1994, “...the last time there was a truly contested GOP Senate primary was in the early 1960s.” It was here that our diminutive mother of two faced her first test when, after just two years on the County Planning Board, Ruthann Aron decided to run for the United States Senate as a Republican.
It was a clever move. The dysfunctional Maryland G.O.P had little hope of beating the popular Democrat, Paul Sarbanes who had held the seat since 1976 and seemed a shoe-in for re-election .But even if she lost the primary, Ruthann could still lay a foundation for a future in politics. The only drawback was that there were seven candidates vying for the Republican nomination, so Ruthann decided to stand out, to concentrate in attacking her best known opponent, multimillionaire candy heir and ex-Senator from Tennessee, the handsome Bill Brock III.
Ruthann spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of her own money buying radio ads, in which two “hillbillies” laughed about the way Maryland voters were being fooled by the “tax-raising, carpetbagging, career politician”, Senator Brock. The ex-Senator chose to not even mention Ruthann in his few radio ads. No since giving the little lady free publicity. Then, a poll released Labor Day weekend found Brock leading, as expected, with 23% of the vote. But in second place and well within the margin of error for a tie was Ruthann, at 20%.
With just two weeks to go before the primary, Brock decided he could no longer ignore the tiny upstart, and called an afternoon press conference for Thursday, September 8, 1994, on the Rockville courthouse square. As the Baltimore Sun noted, “The minutes preceding yesterday's news conference had the feel of a mock thriller....About 2 p.m. the (Ruthann) Aron camp entered...About 10 minutes later, Mr. Brock arrived with his contingent of sign-wavers.” The Washington Post observed, “As reporters and photographers soaked up the awkward silence, the two camps stared mutely, and the whirring of (film) cameras was all that was heard.”
According to the Post, the biggest bomb shell at the press conference was dropped by a Brock supporter, former U.S. representative Marjorie Holt, who mentioned “...the aura of fraud and breach of contract that constantly surrounds the other candidate.” After that the press conference devolved into two competing impromptu press conferences, during which Brock built on Holt's charge. According to the Post, “She has been convicted by a jury of fraud, more than once," (Brock) told reporters, who bounced between the two candidates like pin balls.” Brock backed up the theatrical press conference with $220,000 in new radio ads, claiming that Ruthann had been convicted of fraud “more than once”, and had to pay “hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines”. Said his narrator, "Before Ruthann Aron starts attacking anybody, maybe she ought to look in the mirror.”
On Tuesday, September 13, Ruthann lost the primary by 50,000 votes. Even worse, a poll released just before the election showed that rather than laying a foundation for her future, her campaign style had left her in a hole by raising her negative ratings to 16%. Her reputation was not even helped when Block was easily beaten by the Democrat Sarbanes in the November general election. So, finding herself in a hole, Ruthann decided to keep digging. She sued Brock for defamation of character. Nobody had ever done that before.
It took over a year for what the Sun called Ruthann's “frivolous lawsuit” to work its way to trial, which it did in early 1996. “Jurors have been schooled”, wrote the Sun, “in subliminal suggestion...the role of Russian composer Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky in an effective campaign commercial....harked to the tonal difference between a major chord and a slamming jail door, listened again and again to the definition of "Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment" (Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican) and been told that staff members look at members of Congress the way undertakers look at corpses.”
Chief witness for Brock was Arthur G. Kahn, lawyer in a 1984 suit against Ruthann's real estate company, Research Incorporated. Kahn testified his clients had invested in a shopping mall Ruthann was promoting. The mall had never been built, but she still sold the rights to buy the project to a third party for $200,000, and kept the money herself. The jury awarded her partners $175,000, which Ruthann paid only after Kahn agreed to request the judge vacate the verdict from the record. It had been a civil suit, and she had lost, but there was no conviction, and the verdict had been vacated, so technically there was no record, so technically what Brock had said at the press conference had been untrue ...but the new jury decided that was splitting hairs, and, besides, they just did not like Ruthann very much. Who did? They found for Brock. Ruthann had lost again. And now she was really, double-dog-done in politics
And that should have been the end of Ruthann's public activities, unless she had thrown herself into charity work or earned a Nobel Peace Prize or something. Instead, on June 7, 1997, Ruthann Aron was arrested for hiring a hit man to murder her old nemesis Arthur Kahn, and, as an afterthought, her own husband Barry Aron, as well. They had her on tape with an undercover cop spelling out the victim's names. They had video of her dropping the down payment off at a hotel. It was an open and shut case.
Ruthann insisted at both of her trials (the first jury hung, 11-1 for conviction) that she was crazy. And it's hard to disagree with that. The why and whereof is irrelevant for purposes of this discussion. Let's just say she was nuts and let it go by saying the jury found her guilty anyway. At her sentencing Ruthann's lawyer pointed out what her career in politics had cost the little lady. "She's lost her credibility, her reputation, her family as she knew it, her dignity, her lifestyle, her husband, almost everything she had”, he said She also got three years in jail with a suspended sentence of ten more years hanging over her head.
Barry the urologist not only filed for divorce, he sued Ruthann for $7.5 million, and she counter-sued him for $24 million. Some people never learn. But it could have been worse. Just before her arrest, Ruthann had been considering a switch to the Democratic party. And wouldn't that have been an interesting second career. And the lesson from our little tale is that if you sleep with a politician, you may not find love, but you will defiantly get screwed. Those people are nuts.