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The national sporting and political spotlights both shone on Robin Ficker last week.
Ficker, still the world’s most famous sports heckler though years past his prime, sat ringside at the Hasim Rahman–Al Cole fight at Michael’s 8th Avenue. The bout capped off the first nationally televised live card from the Glen Burnie wedding hall, longtime site of the increasingly popular “Ballroom Boxing” series. Rahman, a brief heavyweight champion whose biggest legacy might be that he was the last man to beat Lennox Lewis, won a dubious but unanimous decision over Cole.
Ficker, an incredibly youthful 60, has been a season-ticket holder at Ballroom Boxing for years, and he’s used his apparently boundless heckling energies on unknown pugs at the outta-the-way venue since giving up on the Bullets/Wizards and the NBA several years ago.
“I love going to the fights there,” he says. “Where I sit, I can really feel the impact of the punches. I can get close enough to the fighters to get hit with sweat or even blood. It’s quite exhilarating.”
With the Comcast cameras rolling on fight night and in front of the biggest crowd in Ballroom Boxing history, one could have expected Ficker to be as publicly disagreeable as he once was at the Capital Centre, where he had season tickets just behind the visitors’ bench. There, loss after loss, year after year, he goaded behemoths such as Charles Barkley and Kevin Duckworth into verbal, and occasionally physical, spats and generally made himself a center of attention.
Ficker gave up the seats and resigned from the self-appointed Sixth Man role when the Wizards moved downtown to the MCI Center, but he’s still considered a go-to authority on heckling: “I think Davis Love sounds like a wimp,” a Canadian publication, the National Post, quoted Ficker as saying after golfer Love whined like a, well, golfer when heckled at a PGA event a few weeks ago. “Davis Love III should be glad he never had to deal with Robin Ficker,” read the lead of an article on ESPN.com about the episode.
But Ficker, a Bethesda-based attorney, wasn’t his old self from his ringside seat last week. He waved and smiled nicely at Bob Ehrlich when the governor and that special hairdo got into the ring before the main event for a formal introduction. And once the bout started, he screamed only encouragement between rounds to Rahman, a Baltimore native. The only negative verbiage came with a lone shout of “Out Cole!”—as in “out cold”—when Cole was within a few arm-lengths of Ficker.
Perhaps Ficker was still recovering from the beating he recently suffered in his other high-profile playground: politics. In the Republican primary for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District, he lost to Charles “Chuck” Floyd by more than 2-1. One of the few bright spots of his latest run for office came at a debate with Floyd on WTOP, during which Ficker’s son, continuing a family tradition, asked his father’s latest opponent if he “knew Pink Floyd.”
Ficker should by now be used to taking it on the chin while ballot-boxing: He has run for so many different offices—local, state, and national—on so many occasions that even he can’t remember exactly how many. “Not enough times” is how he answers when asked how often he’s been up for office. Ficker has tasted defeat every Election Day but one—he captured a seat in the Maryland state legislature in 1978, and he held it for a single term. He’s also collected enough signatures to put 19 initiatives, most dealing with state or county tax issues, on the ballot since 1974. Three of those have passed.
This latest loss, however, has hit him harder than all the others. He appears to have been, well, out-Fickered by Floyd.
Ficker accuses Floyd’s campaign of such low-grade dirty pool as absconding with his campaign literature.
“I was working the polls at Leisure World on election day,” says Ficker campaign volunteer Linda Payne, “and I see Chuck Floyd, the actual candidate himself, pick up Robin Ficker’s literature off a table and put it in a brown bag. I went up to Mr. Floyd and confronted him, and he denied doing it right to my face. So later I went through and rifled through their papers, and lo and behold, there’s Robin Ficker’s brochures. I’d never seen anything like that before.”
Reached at his campaign headquarters and asked about the alleged Leisure World heists, Floyd denies removing any Ficker paraphernalia. “Absolutely false,” Floyd says when told of Payne’s charges.
Whether the flier-filching happened or not, surely Ficker had experienced worse during all those forays in the political arena. He’d been accused of questionable campaign tactics, too; one year he was asked to change a brochure that featured a photo of him walking along the C&O Canal with a U.S. Supreme Court justice, because it gave the false impression that the judge, who had no idea who Ficker was, was backing him in the election.
“Ficker’s liability,” said WTOP political analyst Blair Lee while handicapping Ficker’s run for statewide office in 2002 for the Maryland News Service, “is that he’s Ficker.”
But for all his experience, during the 2004 run, Ficker felt he’d been slugged below the belt when, Ficker says, Floyd “stole my name.”
Ficker’s allegation of what he also calls “identity theft” stems from his receiving a bulk mailing from Floyd at his home titled “Why Robin Ficker Is Not Fit for Congress.” The mailing contained all sorts of damaging accusations, some of which were hilariously false: “Ficker gets into fistfight with Orioles’ mascot!” the pamphlet read, as if quoting a headline from a Washington Post article. For more information about the alleged bout with a mascot and assorted other Ficker malfeasances, voters were told to visit the Internet address www.robinficker.com.
For all his outrageous behavior at sporting events, Ficker had never squared off with a mascot. But, as things turned out, the Floyd campaign took the damaging headline not from a news story, but from a tongue-in-cheek year-in-review quiz that ran in the Post on Dec. 31, 1998.
“But people who type my name in on their computer and see that on the Web site don’t know that this never happened,” says Ficker. “They think I really got into that fight.”
Ficker says the Floyd campaign initially told him that their candidate had nothing to do with the site. Ficker says he then hired a private investigator to find out who had ownership of www.robinficker.com, and learned it was registered to a John Tuohy.
Tuohy, as Ficker found out, is a paid consultant to the Floyd campaign.
“Politics is a rough game,” laughs Tuohy. “I just don’t know about ‘identity theft.’ It’s not my intention to steal the man’s identity; you’re dealing with a fellow who is active in the county and has run for office something like every two years for 30 years. The idea was to shut him down. The thing is, should you run against me, I’m going to buy every [Internet] address I can to shut you down. Hopefully you will do the same. This is politics.”
Ficker went to federal court to try to get an injunction to regain the rights to his domain name in time for the election. But in what is now being hailed as a precedent-setting ruling, U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said that the First Amendment guaranteed Tuohy and any other citizen the right to buy up any site relating to a race for public office.
“Arguments in this case took about 10 minutes,” says Tuohy, “during which Robin Ficker called me ‘vicious,’ ‘vile,’ and ‘evil.’ I’d never been called evil before. From what I hear, this is a big deal, a precedent-setting case. We’re getting calls from reporters all across the country now.”
Ficker, much like Rahman, is already looking at making a comeback. Floyd, according to Tuohy, has reached out to Ficker in hopes of healing whatever wounds were opened in the primary. Ficker’s not ready to accept any olive branch. He says Payne has, in retaliation, bought up a lot of Floyd-related domain names that can be used against him in the upcoming campaign, in which Floyd hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Chris Van Hollen. (Payne says she now owns “about a dozen” such addresses.)
“This guy Floyd, he made one big mistake,” says Ficker with a giggle of his own. “If he’s going to play dirty, he should play dirty with somebody who doesn’t have a forum. I now have an expanse of about eight months in front of me that I thought I was going to use for campaigning and meeting the people. I don’t have that now. I need an activity. He picked the wrong guy.” —Dave McKenna