Jonathan Shurberg Credit: Credit: Kevin Gillogly

Jonathan Shurberg—whose involvement in Montgomery County politics included roles ranging from election law attorney to candidate to political activist and blogger—died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore after a series of illnesses. He was 54.

Shurberg was first hospitalized in early March for a viral infection, and was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to local political consultant Kevin Gillogly, a close friend. Shurberg’s medical condition was complicated further by a series of cardiac arrests this spring.

“The guy wouldn’t give up without a fight,” Gillogly said of Shurberg’s recent battle with multiple medical issues. “He fought like that on issues that he cared about. He was always on the side of the person who needed the most help from government. He fought for tenants for their rental rights. He did the same for people to be able to marry regardless of gender.”

A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Temple Shalom, 8401 Grubb Road, Chevy Chase. Interment will be at the Garden of Remembrance Memorial Park, 14321 Comus Road, Clarksburg.

Shurberg—a Montgomery County resident for a quarter of a century, most of that time in Silver Spring —was known for an aggressive style that made him controversial among some in local Democratic politics. “He could be combative, but he wasn’t mean or vicious,” Gillogly said. “The worst you could say about him was that he was snarky. I have found many people who said, ‘I was on the opposite side of Jon on an issue, but I always respected his opinion and his passion,’ because Jon never made it personal.”

Shurberg ran a Silver Spring-based solo law practice for the past two decades, from which he handled numerous election law disputes in recent years.

His last major case was in late 2016, when he represented opponents of a ballot referendum aimed at imposing term limits on Montgomery County elected officials. His efforts in court to have the measure thrown off the November ballot were unsuccessful, and the referendum was ultimately approved by voters. Four years earlier, his legal services had been retained by the Maryland Democratic Party and the Montgomery County government for similar purposes—to challenge whether referenda overturning legislative decisions on redistricting and police bargaining rights, respectively, should appear on the ballot.   

One of his notable court victories came in 2008, when a case he brought resulted in the Maryland Court of Appeals restoring the right of 17-years-olds to vote in primary elections if they turned 18 by the general election. The decision affected an estimated 50,000 Maryland voters.

But perhaps Shurberg’s most high-profile political moment was not as an attorney but a candidate: In 2014, he spent $400,000 from his own pocket in an unsuccessful effort to win nomination for the House of Delegates in Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 20.

Asked prior to the primary election what had prompted him to invest this level of personal assets in seeking a part-time job that, at the time, paid $43,500 annually, Shurberg replied: “It’s never been an economic calculus in terms of my decision to run. It’s always been about a desire to continue serving my community. It’s what I want to do, and so I’m doing what I need to do to try to win.”

In the wake of his loss that year, Shurberg started a blog, Maryland Scramble, in the spring of 2015 to regularly report and comment on Democratic politics at the national, state and local level. He regularly videotaped local candidate debates and other county political events for viewing on the blog.

Born in Philadelphia, Shurberg grew up in Wethersfield, Conn., and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1992 after earning an undergraduate degree at Georgetown University and a law degree at American University’s Washington College of Law. He clerked for a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and worked for a couple of law firms before opening his own practice in 1996.

During law school, Shurberg met his future wife—fellow attorney Rebecca Lord, who later worked as an aide to two current members of the County Council, Roger Berliner and Nancy Floreen. Lord died of thyroid cancer almost exactly five years ago, in July 2012. Shurberg and Lord are survived by two sons, Eli and Ethan.

In 2006, Shurberg and Lord went to work for the insurgent campaign of American University law professor Jamie Raskin, who went on to oust long-time Sen. Ida Ruben in that year’s District 20 primary. Shurberg served as the counsel for the Raskin campaign, which was managed by a young political operative, David Moon.

Around the same time, Shurberg provided pro bono legal assistance to 30 families in the Silver Spring area facing eviction from their residences, according to Gillogly, and worked with Raskin to delay eviction proceedings. In 2009, when Moon managed the special election campaign of now-County Council member Nancy Navarro, he brought in Shurberg to serve as legal counsel as a possible recount loomed in Navarro’s narrow primary victory over Del. Ben Kramer. (Shurberg also represented future U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards in vote count proceedings, following Edwards’ narrow 2006 primary loss to then-Rep. Albert Wynn.)

But Shurberg and Moon found themselves on a political collision course in 2014, when two House of Delegate seats opened in District 20, thanks to Democrat Heather Mizeur’s run for governor and Democrat Tom Hucker’s decision to seek a council seat. Moon announced for delegate in the Democratic primary, and Shurberg, after initially chairing Mizeur’s gubernatorial campaign, relinquished the latter post to run in District 20 as well.

Complicating Shurberg’s candidacy was the late 2012 suspension of his license to practice law by the state Court of Appeals, arising out of a complaint about the handling of about $16,600 in funds held in trust for clients. Court documents at the time said none of the funds had been “intentionally misappropriated” and a memo accompanying the suspension noted that Shurberg had been distracted during the period involved due to his wife’s terminal illness.

Shurberg moved successfully to have his law license reinstated before announcing his candidacy for delegate, but the episode continued to hamper him politically. And his mostly self-financed campaign suffered another blow when, weeks before the primary, Raskin embraced a candidate slate that included Moon and another former campaign manager, now-state Sen. Will Smith. In doing so, he passed over Shurberg, severely straining the relationship between Raskin and his one-time campaign counsel.

Smith and Moon were both nominated for delegate in the 2014 primary, as Shurberg—although far outspending the competition—finished sixth in a field of nine candidates. But he continued to eye future opportunities for elected office, and was mulling another run for delegate or a bid for the council in 2018 when he was taken ill earlier this year.

“I am considering a number of possible options,” Shurberg said at the time. “The question is what I can do to make myself useful, to put my talents to work in the best way.”

Said Gillogly: “I am going to miss the late-night phone calls with him … and I am going to miss his passion. He was always fighting for the person who did not have power.”