Surrounded by friends at a fire company banquet earlier this month, Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins was stunned when his phone lit up with a searing text message sent by one of the people in the crowd.
“You have no power. Get used to it,” stated one of the texts, according to the sheriff.
“You are such a wimp and phony,” said a follow-up text message that Jenkins read to The Frederick News-Post several weeks later.
The messages came from an unfamiliar number but were clearly sent by someone in the room since they mentioned a banner near Jenkins, he said.
Stunned, Jenkins said he started scanning the crowd to pinpoint his unknown enemy. He was confused. The Vigilant Hose Co. banquet was celebratory, complete with a catered meal, alcohol, live music and awards for company members.
“I was thinking, ‘Who in the room was a Chuck Jenkins hater?’” the sheriff said.
Jenkins later learned the author of the text messages was none other than the chairwoman of the county’s legislative contingent to Annapolis, Delegate Kathy Afzali.
Afzali acknowledged writing the text messages that Jenkins read to The News-Post. However, she was initially reluctant to speak further about the exchange.
“My comment is: I have no comment. If the sheriff would like to speak to me, he can call me. He has my number,” Afzali said Tuesday.
But on Wednesday, Afzali provided a written statement.
“On January 3rd, reacting out of hurt and anger, I sent Sheriff Jenkins a text message that I probably should have just kept to myself. I was reacting after he went on a local radio show and attacked me and other elected Republican officials calling us juvenile names,” Afzali stated.
Sen. Michael Hough said the sheriff had sounded off on him and Afzali on a WFMD radio program called “Frederick’s Forum.” The show’s participants accused Hough and Afzali of pushing the local GOP central committee to overlook former Mount Airy Councilwoman Wendi Peters as a nominee for an open District 4 delegate seat.
Jenkins said that by passing over Peters, the central committee had “thumbed their nose at the voters” who had supported her unsuccessful bid for the District 4 post last year.
Also during the program, the nickname “Icky” was used to refer to Afzali, and the moniker “Power Ranger” was used for Hough. While Hough said he heard Jenkins use the nicknames, a review of the show’s online recording indicated that the host, Pattee Brown, was the only person to employ them.
Hough, R-District 4, said after the radio show aired, Afzali was upset and vented her frustration via text.
“I guess when you mess with the little bull, you get the horns,” he said of Afzali, referencing her petite stature.
But in attacking Jenkins, Afzali took aim at the man some have dubbed the most popular Republican in Frederick County. Jenkins bagged almost 63 percent of the vote in last year’s general election and about 75 percent in the GOP primary.
Many of the sheriff’s Republican supporters hail from District 4, the area that Afzali represents, and the sheriff said Afzali wronged her constituency by lashing out.
“She represents a lot of voters in this county, and I think her comments were inappropriate and misguided,” Jenkins said.
In her written statement, Afzali conceded that she shouldn’t have sent the text.
“While I am still disappointed in the Sheriff’s behavior and name-calling — two wrongs don’t make a right,” she wrote.
The Jan. 3 fire hall banquet that set the stage for the text exchange took place at the Mother Seton School in Emmitsburg. The first text message Jenkins received mentioned a school banner that discouraged students from bullying, he said.
“Maybe some wise words for our sheriff to learn,” the text message stated, according to Jenkins. “You have no power. Get used to it.”
Jenkins searched the crowd for the sender, but with his investigation coming up empty, he turned back to his phone to craft a reply.
“I don’t threaten, intimidate or bully anyone. Never implied I have any power,” the sheriff says he wrote.
He added that he does have the trust of about 49,000 voters who elected him into office.
“If you’re interested in a conversation, we can certainly have a conversation. Don’t know what your beef might be, but I would like to hear. Open line always,” Jenkins said he concluded.
A short time later, Jenkins received a reply from the text sender:
“Figure it out and call me if you have the guts. You are such a wimp and phony. Just keep endorsing losers. That’s all I ask.”
Later, a couple of Jenkins’ friends confirmed that the messages had come from Afzali’s cellphone number, he said.
Hough said at least Afzali contacted the sheriff one-on-one rather than airing their dispute publicly.
“As elected officials, we need to treat each other with respect and agree to disagree, and I think the last place this should play out is … in the newspapers and the radio,” Hough said.
Afzali indicated that she wasn’t anticipating her texts would be widely seen.
“My expectation that my venting to him was in private was incorrect, as he has chosen to make my text public,” she wrote. “At this point I am going to do what I should have done in the beginning, and what I tell my daughters to do … ignore people who call you names.”
Jenkins said he didn’t initially intend to broadcast the text exchange. He related it to The News-Post upon request and discussed the exchange Tuesday on WFMD.
Brown said she doesn’t remember Jenkins referring to Hough and Afzali by nicknames during her Jan. 3 show. In fact, off the air, Jenkins refused to use the epithets, she said.
She said she dubbed Afzali “Icky” because her show had received a nasty email from the delegate. She coined Hough’s nickname because she believes he is power-hungry.