Skip to Content
SHADY GROVE, MD - SEPTEMBER 26: Robin Ficker, a Republican candidate for Montgomery County Executive, speaks during a County Executive Candidates debate on September 26, 2018 in Shady Grove, MD. (Photo by Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Oliver Contreras/Washington Post via Getty Images|

Ficker during a 2018 debate.


Portrait Of The Asshole As An Old Man

Robin Ficker runs it back one more time.

I saw a campaign sign for Robin Ficker on an Eastern Shore roadside a month ago. I giggled thinking about how he’s still running for office. Of course he is.

“I’m keeping busy,” Ficker, 81, tells me. “I’m a hustler."

By Ficker’s count, he’s either personally run for state or local office, or introduced a referendum or initiative on the ballot, for every election cycle in Maryland since the early 1970s. For 2024, he’s entered the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ben Cardin (D). Ficker was a Democrat when started his political career over a half-century ago, but this time around he’s trying to position himself as the staunchest pro-Trump candidate in a state where everybody but GOP diehards despises the former president. Ficker's campaign ads show him flaunting all the lowbrow attributes required to play such a character. The hustle continues.

I’ve been entertained and pretty much in awe of Ficker for several decades, entirely because of the hustle. I have even used him as an example to my kids as a guy who never wasted a day in his life. Then again, I’ve never been on the business end of his relentlessness. A lawyer by trade but a gadfly by nature and a heckler by reputation, he’s done lots of cool things, which I focus on, while trying to ignore the uncool things that have increasingly dominated his public presence over time.

A sampling of the cooler parts of Ficker’s overstuffed bio: He lobbied Congress in 1972 against the NFL’s blackout rule, which forbade local television broadcasts of games, and got a nod from former Commissioner Pete Rozelle when the ban was lifted. The Nixon administration used him as a pawn by surreptitiously funding Ficker’s aggressive pro–Ted Kennedy efforts during the 1972 presidential campaign, a chapter that earned Ficker a mention in the Final Report of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (also known as the Watergate Report). He was appointed by Rosa Parks as general counsel of a group called the National Caucus on the Black Aged. He trained with Muhammad Ali and even slept in The Greatest’s bed during stays at Fighter’s Heaven, Ali’s boxing compound in Deer Lake, Penn. He ran steps with Len Bias at Cole Field House. Charles Barkley paid for Ficker’s travel and courtside seat for the 1993 NBA Finals with orders to yell nonstop at Michael Jordan; Ficker got arrested during the series for not obeying cops' orders to shut the hell up. 

Barkley became aware of Ficker the same way most folks in the DMV did: from his heckling of visiting players during Washington Bullets games. “I used to tell Charles Barkley, ‘You have guts! Two of them!’” Ficker told me recently. ”He used to put notes on my chair, ‘Robin, please don’t give me a hard time tonight!’ Then he’d give me the game ball.”

Ficker at a 1992 Bullets game. Photo by Mitchell Layton/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images.

His behavior from a $200-per-game seat behind the visitors' bench at the Capital Centre caused the NBA to institute a ban on heckling teams during timeouts, known as the Ficker Rule. It also brought him incredible amounts of local notoriety. In a 1994 article about the arena in the Washington Post, Michael Wilbon wrote, “Besides owner Abe Pollin and former signature player and coach Wes Unseld, the best-known person associated with the place is Robin Ficker.” 

Wilbon wasn’t trying to flatter either the building or Ficker, though for an OG heckler there’s no such thing as bad press. And he’s gotten lots of that. His past political and legal behaviors show all the relentlessness of his sports antics, with none of the whimsy. In 1971 alone, he got arrested while campaigning for a seat in the U.S. Congress for trespassing at a shopping mall while handing out political fliers in a Santa suit, and was cited by Montgomery County, Md., for posting “My Friend Ficker” campaign signs in violation of local ordinances. The trespassing count was dropped, but he paid a $10 fine for the littering. 

By 1980, his political stunts had already made him worthy of a Maureen Dowd takedown. "Often the butt of jokes," Dowd wrote in the Washington Star, "Ficker is denounced by many of his fellow delegates as a 'demagogue,' 'gadfly,' and 'publicity hound' who is 'crazy,' 'embarrassing,' 'unscrupulous' and 'ineffectual.'”

Dowd, via email, recalls breaking the story that Ficker left his own wedding to be in a televised debate, which she calls her “favorite political anecdote ever.” "His name is Dickensian," Dowd said upon learning that Ficker is making yet another attempt at elected office in 2024. "To Ficker: To run against all odds like your life depends on it.”

Running ain’t winning, alas. For all his campaigns, Ficker has held elected office just once, when he won a seat in the Maryland state legislature in 1978. He lost when he first ran for reelection, and every campaign since.

Ficker was disbarred in 2022, during a failed run for governor of Maryland. Specifically, he lost his law license for his failure to appear at a DUI trial of one of his clients. But in handing down the penalty, state legal authorities made clear the punishment was a career achievement award. A portion of the opinion handed down by a panel of judges announcing Ficker’s disbarment: “In all, three generations of Bar Counsel have brought charges and 27 members of this Court have deliberated whether a particular sanction for Mr. Ficker’s repeated infractions would deter further such practices and thus protect those who seek out his services. The Court’s prior deliberations resulted in private reprimands, public reprimands, and indefinite suspensions of Mr. Ficker from the practice of law.”

Getting bum-rushed from the bar didn't prevent Ficker from continuing to run for office. So his campaign for governor continued. He got less than three percent of the vote in the Republican primary.

Whenever Ficker runs, he runs hard. I called him in 2010, to ask how things were going in his effort to land a seat on the Montgomery County Council. He told me he’d spent the day campaigning on a bike alongside his daughter, world-class triathlete Desiree Ficker. I got tired just hearing his itinerary.

“We did 60 miles going from White’s Ferry, Poolesville, Dickerson, Barnesville, Boyds, Germantown, Montgomery Village, Clarksburg, Damascus, Laytonsville, Brookville and Olney,” Ficker said. 

He lost that race by 19 points.

Ficker in 2018. Photo by Oliver Contreras/Washington Post via Getty Images

Ficker says he’s campaigning at the same pace in 2024. The Cole Field House is gone. To stay in shape these days, he gets on a rowing machine in his living room whenever he turns on the television. He expects his Parks, Ali, and Barkley ties, all of which he brings up at most campaign appearances, will win support from the state’s black Republican voters. And that the anti-Trump rhetoric from former governor Larry Hogan (R) will serve Ficker well come primary day. 

“I’m gonna win,” he said.

According to 538, Ficker trails Hogan by 60 points. 

Apart from the Ali and Barkley references, Ficker doesn't tout his sporting past all that much on the trail. He’s shown up outside the stadiums in Baltimore to pass out fliers and shake hands with tailgaters, but heads home come game time. “I don’t go inside anymore,” he said. 

The only professional sports events he's attended in the last several years, he said, are on the other side of the country, where son-in-law Matthew Berry is director of player personnel for the Seattle Seahawks. Ficker said Berry gives him sideline passes for Seahawks home games whenever he’s in the Great Northwest. Sort of like what Barkley did for Suns–Bulls series all those years ago, only Ficker’s marching orders are different this time around. 

I asked him if Berry tells him to behave on game day. 

“Yeah,” Ficker says. “Yeah, he does.”

Already a user?Log in

Welcome to Defector!

Sign up to read another couple free blogs.

Or, click here to subscribe!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter