Candidates Facing a Three-Week Sprint to Capture Delegate Seat
Nine Jockey For Democratic Panel's Recommendation for District 15 Slot
With autumn just days away, most Montgomery County contenders for state and local office are preparing for a nine-month marathon that will take them through next June’s Democratic primary.
But for those eyeing a vacant state delegate seat in District 15, the normally drawn-out electoral process has turned into a three-week sprint, culminating in an Oct. 8 vote by the 24-member Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. At latest count, nine candidates are running or may run, with several intensely lobbying committee members – whose recommendation to Gov. Martin O’Malley will determine who gets the appointment.
The vacancy was created late last week when O’Malley, following the lead of the Democratic Central Committee, appointed then-Delegate Brian Feldman to fill the Senate seat vacated by Rob Garagiola. That process was accompanied by some blowback from minority group representatives who felt that they had been overlooked, ratcheting up the pressure on the committee to name a minority group member to fill Feldman’s former delegate seat.
Such an outcome appears increasingly likely, given the field of candidates: Of the nine contenders who have stepped forward, six are members of minority groups, including four of Asian descent. District 15, which extends from Potomac to the Frederick County line, is nearly 40 percent minority, with Asian-Americans accounting for nearly half of the latter population.
With a crowded field and the prospect of multiple ballots when the committee meets in a little less than three weeks, the outcome of the District 15 delegate derby is far from determined. But three contenders appear to have a leg up in the early going:
**Saqib Ali, 38, who served a term as delegate from neighboring District 39 – which includes North Potomac – before losing a 2010 primary bid to oust District 39 Sen. Nancy King. Ali, who is Muslim and has taken up residence in District 15, knows a number of Democratic Central Committee members from a 2007 faceoff, when the panel narrowly chose King over him to fill a Senate vacancy. Ali has declined repeated requests for comment, but last Friday filed with the state Board of Elections to run in next June’s primary; some have taken that as an implicit threat that he will run for the delegate seat in 2014 regardless of whether he receives the committee’s recommendation next month.
**David Fraser-Hidalgo, 43, who was born in Ecuador and grew up in Montgomery County, where he served on the police force prior to going into business. Fraser-Hidalgo unsuccessfully sought a District 15 delegate seat in 2010, and his activities on behalf of the local party since are said to have won him points with party activists. If appointed, he would be only the second person of Hispanic descent in the county’s 32-member state legislative delegation.
**Venattia Vann, 65, who is black, and is the current vice chair of the Democratic Central Committee. Vann declined requests for comment – but she has formally applied to be considered for the appointment. African-Americans comprise about one-third of the membership of the committee, and Vann is said to enjoy significant support among this contingent.
Ali is one of three Muslims eyeing the appointment. Also actively running is Hamza Khan, 25, whose parents were born in Pakistan. Khan, who grew up in Potomac, is a former chair of the Maryland Federation of College Democrats who has worked as a political operative. In addition, Anis Ahmed, 57, who works for the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights, said he is “still considering” whether to run. Ahmed, a native of Bangladesh, is a former secretary of the Montgomery County Muslim Council.
Meanwhile, Jinhee Wilde, 55, who heads an immigration law practice in Rockville, said she is “90 percent there” in terms of a decision to seek the vacancy. Wilde, a Potomac resident who emigrated from Korea as a teenager, is a former member of the Democratic Central Committee and ran for a delegate seat in 2002.
There are three non-minority candidates pursuing the seat, including Kevin Mack, 44, a Gaithersburg-based staffer for U.S. Rep. John Delaney. He said he is working through some issues related to his current post before making a final decision. “I’m in a unique position since I’m working for a congressman,” said Mack, who grew up in Rockville and returned to Montgomery County three years ago after living in California.
Rounding out the field are Lori Askinazi, 54, of Potomac, a Democratic precinct official whose husband, William, is a Republican who in the past has run against both Feldman and Garagiola; and Tony Puca, 65, a North Potomac-based insurance agent and civic activist who has run for state legislature on three occasions, most recently for delegate in 2010 in neighboring District 39.
Two other potential candidates have taken themselves out of the running for the delegate slot. Timothy Whitehouse, vice chair of the District 15 Democratic Caucus, instead plans to seek a seat on the Democratic Central Committee. Timothy Hwang, 21, a former student member of the county’s Board of Education, said he is currently busy setting up an Internet firm designed to make tracking of state and local legislation more accessible.