Update – Thursday 12:05 p.m. – When then-state Sen. Karen Montgomery decided to resign her seat late last year, members of the District 14 legislative delegation, in consultation with County Executive Ike Leggett—a District 14 resident—quickly came up with what they hoped would be a plan for a smooth transition.
The District 14 delegation and Leggett quickly endorsed then-Del. Craig Zucker to succeed Montgomery as senator, and then anointed Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) member Pamela Queen as their choice to succeed Zucker as delegate. The selection of Queen, a professor of finance at Morgan State University, was intended in part to add a minority group member to a four-person legislative delegation representing a jurisdiction that is currently nearly 25 percent African American.
The first phase of the gambit came off smoothly: Late last month, the MCDCC recommended Zucker to succeed Montgomery by a 25-2 margin over former Del. Herman Taylor. But the maneuvering over the delegate vacancy left by Zucker’s elevation to the Senate has now turned highly contentious, with Taylor mounting an aggressive lobbying campaign to regain the delegate seat he occupied from 2002 to 2010, when he left to run unsuccessfully for Congress.
The contest to fill the delegate seat in District 14—which extends north from Silver Spring along the county’s eastern border to include Burtonsville, Damascus, Laytonsville and Olney—has put Leggett at odds with at least three members of the County Council. It also has divided Democratic organizations whose membership is drawn from several of the county’s leading minority groups.
The sniping escalated late Wednesday when Odessa Shannon, political chair of the county chapter of the NAACP, wrote to MCDCC members complaining that the committee has been requesting information from Taylor that it is not seeking from other candidates, including a copy of his drivers’ license and proof of certain years of home ownership. “This action can easily be argued as harassment based on race and possibly sex, a federal and local civil rights issue,” Shannon, who earlier endorsed Taylor for the vacancy, declared.
MCDCC Chairman Darrell Anderson said he had requested a copy of Taylor’s driver’s license to verify residency in District 14 after a check of Maryland voter registration rolls had shown Taylor, as of December, registered to vote at an address in neighboring District 20. Taylor indicated to Anderson he has since changed his voter registration to a residence he owns in District 14. Anderson denied that Taylor had been singled out, noting that all candidates applying for vacancies are checked against voter registration rolls to verify residence. “All I’m trying to do is my due diligence [under state law] that the person lives in the district,” Anderson said.
The matter will be decided at a Thursday evening meeting of the MCDCC, which will make a recommendation to Gov. Larry Hogan on who should be appointed to the seat, pending the next regular election in 2018. Although a Republican, Hogan, under the Maryland Constitution, is obligated to name someone of the same party that previously held the seat. It is extremely rare for a governor to reject the recommendation of a local party committee in such cases.
Three candidates—Queen, 56, Taylor, 49, and Mark Feinroth, 57, a long-time local party activist who is currently an Annapolis-based lobbyist—filed to be considered for the MCDCC recommendation by the Monday night deadline. Feinroth, a former state official and congressional aide, is seen as something of a longshot: Queen and Taylor are both African-American, and there has been pressure to add a minority to a District 14 delegation, which has been all white since Taylor gave up his delegate slot more than five years ago.
Yet another possible contender, MCDCC member Chris Bradbury, was pursuing the opening until earlier this week. But he did not file for the vacancy by the Monday deadline, while also indicating he was planning to resign from the MCDCC itself. But the status of his resignation from the MDCC was unclear as of late Wednesday, sources said, and resolving that matter will determine whether 27 or 28 committee members cast ballots in Thursday evening’s voting.
Council members Craig Rice and Nancy Navarro, the only African-American and Hispanic-American members of the council, respectively, this week wrote to MCDCC members backing Taylor—and putting them at odds with Leggett’s support of Queen. Both Navarro and Rice cited Taylor’s prior experience in Annapolis as an asset, with Rice—a member of the General Assembly before his election to the County Council—saying, “I served with Herman for four years as a state delegate and always found him to be thoughtful and pragmatic, passionate about issues affecting Montgomery County, conscientious and diligent.”
They were joined in endorsing Taylor by council member George Leventhal, who appeared to take a swipe at the manner in which Leggett and the District 14 legislative delegation had lined up early behind Queen.
“The central committee’s process is—correctly in my judgment—being criticized for failing to give District 14 voters a voice,” Leventhal declared. “Herman was elected by those voters twice already, in 2002 and 2006.”
The effort by the District 14 legislative delegation—Zucker as well as Dels. Anne Kaiser and Eric Luedtke—and Leggett to try to clear the field for Queen may have backfired politically: There has been widespread grumbling about giving Queen a head start in her bid for the job before Montgomery’s resignation was disclosed in early December. But Queen also could be benefitting from controversy over Taylor’s voting record during eight years in the House of Delegates on issues related to abortion.
In a late January letter to MCDCC Chairman Darrell Anderson, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Chairman Edward Terry charged that Taylor, in his first campaign for delegate in 2002, “misrepresented his opinions on women’s reproductive health and received an endorsement from our organization.”
During his subsequent service in the House of Delegates, Taylor “made votes that contradicted the positions” expressed in a 2002 questionnaire from NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Terry charged. He cited several votes in subsequent years in which Taylor voted for budget amendments to block Medicaid funding for abortions for low-income women, as well as Taylor’s opposition in 2006 to state funding for stem cell research.
Taylor attempted to defuse the issue in a letter Monday to MCDCC members, in which he acknowledged, “I am aware of the apparent concern being expressed about votes cast that relate to women’s reproductive rights during my tenure, many years ago, while serving in the Maryland House of Delegates.”
He added, “Although I, like many others, have at one time early in my career struggled with the difficult and painful issues associated with abortion, I do not believe, as a matter of public policy, that the government should in any way dictate to women how they should cope with this most private of issues. Please be assured that if I have the opportunity to be appointed to fill the District 14 vacancy, my votes will reflect that I am a firm and staunch supporter of women’s reproductive rights.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland remains unconvinced. “Any representations by [Taylor] or his supporters that we have ‘resolved’ our differences over his anti-choice legislative record are false,” Terry said in a follow-up letter to Anderson this past weekend.
The Clubs of Color Caucus—a coalition of the county’s African-American, Latino, and Asian-American Democratic clubs—have endorsed Taylor, saying in a letter that Taylor “has assured us that he is 100% pro-choice.” But the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County has endorsed Queen, with sources saying some club members were concerned about Taylor’s answers on stem cell research and parental consent on abortion during a recent interview session.
The Muslim Democratic Club—which estimates District 14 is home to about 24,000 Muslims, about 20 percent of the district’s total population—contended the appointment of Queen, who would be the only African-American woman in the 32-member Montgomery County state legislative delegation, would “send a message to countless young minority women who aspire to public office in Maryland.”
The club also lauded Queen for “a long and noteworthy relationship of engaging our community…where she has time and time again visited mosques within the district to conduct voter registration drives.”
But, according to sources, the backing of the African-American, Latino and Asian-Americans for Taylor was motivated in part by a belief that Queen had done little to assist minority group members seeking office in the county.
In addition to his prior experience in Annapolis, “we also considered important Taylor’s commitment to creating a pipeline for candidates of color and ensuring that communities of color are adequately represented in all aspects of political life in the county and state,” the Clubs of Color endorsement letter read.