6 Candidates Vying for Appointment to State Delegate Vacancy in District 20

Decision to be made Jan. 9; candidate forums slated next week in White Oak and Silver Spring


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A half-dozen candidates have jumped into the contest for the appointment to a state delegate vacancy in Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20 created by former Del. Will Smith’s elevation earlier this month to succeed U.S. Rep.-elect Jamie Raskin in the Maryland Senate.

And more aspirants could get in before the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) decides Jan. 9 who will fill the empty delegate seat: The deadline for applying for the post is 5 p.m. Jan. 8. In the meantime, the MCDCC, in conjunction with a half-dozen Democratic Party-affiliated clubs, announced just prior to the Christmas holiday that it will sponsor two candidate forums for the District 20 opening: one on Jan. 3 in White Oak, followed by another Jan. 5 in downtown Silver Spring.

According to the forums’ sponsors, the six candidates who have so far indicated they will seek the delegate appointment plan to appear at those sessions. Of the six, four have filed formal applications that had been posted to the MCDCC Web site as of the beginning of the week. Two other contenders have announced via social media that they plan to seek the opening in Montgomery County’s 32-person delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

The six are:

Yvette Butler, founder and president of GapBuster, an organization that seeks to close the so-called “achievement gap” in Montgomery County public schools; Butler also serves as the Maryland state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Lorig Charkoudian, executive director of Community Mediation Maryland, which develops ways to use mediation to address social challenges and works with state agencies to implement these approaches; Charkoudian was a candidate for Takoma Park City Council in 2011.

Amy Cress, director of communications for the Easter Seals organization in the Maryland/ Virginia/District of Columbia region; Cress has been active in gun control efforts in recent years.

Daniel Koroma, who works for the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships as outreach manager to the African and Caribbean communities; according to Koroma, he would, if appointed, be the first African-born member of a state legislature anywhere in the United States.

Darian Unger, an associate professor at the Howard University School of Business who has been involved with several political and civic groups, most recently as president of the East Silver Spring Civic Association; Unger sought a District 20 delegate seat in the 2014 primary election.

Jheanelle Wilkins, a field manager at the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Wilkins currently serves on the MCDCC, which will determine who is appointed to serve out the final two years of the term to which Smith was elected in 2014.

Meanwhile, three others who had earlier indicated they were considering seeking the District 20 delegate appointment have taken themselves out of the running.

Former Obama administration official Will Jawando, who narrowly lost a bid for a delegate seat in the 2014 primary, said via Facebook last week that he would not seek the appointment, and threw his support behind Koroma. Added Jawando, “I am keeping an open mind about electoral opportunities in 2018 when voters will have their say.” Jawando, who also ran unsuccessfully in this year’s District 8 congressional primary won by Raskin, acknowledged recently that he is considering a run for County Council in 2018, among other options.

Yet another candidate for delegate in the 2014 primary, attorney Jonathan Shurberg, said Friday via his politics blog, Maryland Scramble, that he is not seeking the appointment. Shurberg also is said by sources to be considering a run, possibly for County Council, in 2018. In addition, Debbie Spielberg, an aide to at-large council member Marc Elrich, said Monday she has decided against applying for the District 20 vacancy.

Under the Maryland constitution, the MCDCC will make a recommendation to Gov. Larry Hogan for filling the delegate seat, with Hogan then having the power to make the appointment. But the governor’s role is considered little more than a formality: Although a Republican, Hogan is mandated by the constitution to name someone of the same political party that previously held the slot. Only in extraordinary instances have governors declined to follow the recommendations of a county political committee in making such appointments.

The clause in the state constitution that gives the 28-member MCDCC the power to fill state legislative vacancies—rather than throwing it open to a special election—stirred controversy in the recent contest to fill Raskin’s Senate seat that resulted in Smith’s Dec. 7 selection. Unger sought the Senate appointment vowing to be a “caretaker” and not run for a full term in 2018, thereby setting up an open seat race without an incumbent. But he failed to attract any votes for the Senate vacancy from within the MCDCC.

In his bid for delegate, Unger indicated that, if appointed, he would not rule out a run for a full term in the 2018 election.

“Although I believe a caretaker approach is democratic, the MCDCC indicated its preference to appoint candidates dedicated to making a long-term difference in Annapolis,” Unger said in his application. “I respect that decision and find that I still want to serve the people of District 20.”

Referring to the 2014 primary, during which he finished fifth in a nine-way race for three delegate nominations, Unger added, “I offer my candidacy because I believe there is a democratic value to appointing a popular runner-up who brings a strong record of connection to the community.”

If Wilkins is appointed, the decision would mark the second time in less than a year that the MCDCC named one of its own members to fill a legislative vacancy—which could become an issue in the jockeying for the seat. Del. Pam Queen, then a MCDCC member, was appointed last February to fill a General Assembly vacancy after her predecessor, Craig Zucker, was appointed as state senator for District 14 in the county’s northeastern section.

Identity politics could also be a factor in the forthcoming contest. Among the contenders, Butler and Wilkins, as well as Koroma, are African-American. Although nearly 20 percent of Montgomery County’s population is black, there are currently only three African-Americans—Smith, Queen and Del. Al Carr of District 18—in the 32-member county legislative delegation.

By comparison, nearly one-third of the 28 MCDCC members who will have a vote on filling the delegate seat are African-American.

Next Tuesday’s candidate forum for the District 20 vacancy will be held at the White Oak Recreation Center Community Room at 1700 April Lane, near the junction of Columbia Pike and New Hampshire Avenue. The Jan. 5 forum takes place in the Great Hall of the Silver Spring Civic Center at 1 Veterans Plaza. Both get underway at 7 p.m.

The MCDCC meeting at which the appointee will be chosen will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 9 in the cafeteria of Silver Spring International Middle School, 313 Wayne Ave.

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