9 Winners–and Losers–from Tuesday’s Primary
Incumbency was a winner, but few could be cheered by widespread voter apathy
From left, Susan Lee and Jamie Raskin
There were the obvious winners in Tuesday’s primary, e.g., Chevy Chase Sen. Brian Frosh, who capped a three decade-long political career with a come-from-behind victory for the Democratic nomination for attorney general. Barring something totally unforeseen, he will easily be elected to that post in the November general election.
Then there were the obvious losers, notably the man whom Frosh is likely to succeed–Bethesda resident Doug Gansler. The current attorney general not only got crushed statewide by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, he lost to Brown by 18 percentage points here in Montgomery County. At age 51, Gansler doesn’t have an obvious path forward in electoral politics.
But there also were a host of less obvious winners and losers in Tuesday’s voting in Montgomery County, many of them involving names and trends that didn’t appear on the ballot. Here’s a look at nine of them as the primary returns are still being made official:
1. Incumbency. Not a single incumbent seeking re-election to state or local office in the county was toppled Tuesday: District 17 Del. Jim Gilchrist came the closest, although he was ahead of former Rockville Mayor Susan Hoffmann by 113 votes for the third delegate slot in that district, according to unofficial returns. All four at-large incumbents won renomination to the County Council: In the three prior Democratic primaries for council, stretching back to 2002, an at-large incumbent had been ousted in each.
2. Minorities. There’s still a way to go before the minority representation in the county’s 32-member state legislative delegation reflects the county’s recent status as a majority-minority jurisdiction – but there were some noteworthy gains in gains Tuesday. Barring surprises in November – and, in several legislative districts, the Democratic nominees have no general election opposition – the number of African-Americans in the county’s House delegation will increase from one to two with the addition of former Homeland Security Department official Will Smith in District 20; the number of Latinos will jump from two to three (there was only one Latino in the delegation as recently as a year ago) with the addtion of Marice Morales, a former aide to Sen. Roger Manno in District 19, and the count of Asian-Americans will remain at four. Plus, the county is likely to have its first minority group member in the state Senate, with the nomination of Del. Susan Lee, who is Chinese-American, to take the seat being vacated by Frosh.
Nonetheless, minority group representation in the nine-member County Council is expected to drop to two from three next year, as Del. Tom Hucker is poised to take over the District 5 Council seat formerly occupied by Valerie Ervin, who is African-American.
3. Business Groups. The county’s business sector, which has long decried what it regards as an anti-business sentiment in the County Council, had a reason to smile. While there have complaints in recent years that the County Council has lacked a representative with a business background, that will change next year: Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz, who spent 43 years running his family’s department store, won the Democratic nomination to succeed departing District 3 Councilmember Phil Andrews, and is assured of election in November given the absence of Republican opposition. Katz emphasized his business credentials during the campaign, arguing he would bring a different perspective to the council.
And while Hucker, who has strong labor union ties, will apparently be moving to the County Council, business support of Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board Chair Evan Glass enabled him to finish a close second in unofficial returns. (Glass, who trails by just over 200 votes, this morning said he was not conceding pending count of about 1,000 absentee ballots.) Glass benefited from an independent expenditure campaign underwritten by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, which several observers said enabled Glass to run a highly competitive race despite his disadvantage to Hucker in fundraising.
4. Jamie Raskin. Raskin was unopposed in his state senate primary race, and faces only token opposition in November from an independent candidate. But he came out a big winner Tuesday by exercising his political clout in the closing weeks of the campaign – organizing an informal slate of Del. Sheila Hixson, Smith, and campaign operative David Moon that captured the nominations for the district’s three delegate seats. Moon, who is Korean-American, and Smith will bolster minority representation in a majority-minority district currently represented by an all-white General Assembly delegation.
Raskin’s exhibition of influence at home is likely to enhance his status in Annapolis, where he is hoping that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will name him as the next chair of the powerful Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, a post that Frosh has occupied for more than a decade.
5. Unions. A couple of the county’s major public employee unions took some hits Tuesday as they tried to swing the primary their way. UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents the bulk of the employees at county agencies outside the school system, did back Hucker in his narrow victory for District 5 Council. But MCGEO’s big push for former Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg in District 1 was to no avail, as Trachtenberg went down to a 4-1 defeat to incumbent Roger Berliner – despite former long-time MCGEO executive director Robert Stewart managing the Trachtenberg campaign. The news for MCGEO was little better in District 3, where its candidate, Gaithersburg Councilmember Ryan Spiegel, finished a distant third. In the at-large council race, MCGEO hoped that challenger Beth Daly would dislodge one of the incumbents. But Daly was unsuccessful, even though MCGEO’s other endorsed candidate in the at-large contest – incumbent Marc Elrich – ran first.
The Montgomery County Education Association, whose “Apple Ballot” has long made it a power in county elections, also took some lumps. It did endorse Berliner’s successful campaign, along with the re-election bids of Elrich and incumbent Hans Riemer. But it joined MCGEO, with whom it has had a strained relationship in recent years, in embracing Spiegel’s unsuccessful bid, and it angered Hucker early on by endorsing the District 5 candidacy of Board of Education member Christopher Barclay. It ultimately dropped Barclay following controversy over the latter’s use of a Board of Education credit card, and decided to remain neutral in the race – even though MCEA President Doug Prouty did end up making a personal endorsement of Hucker in the closing days. The MCEA also lined up behind a couple of challengers who lost their bids for General Assembly seats: attorney Bennett Rushkoff in District 15, and health policy advocate Hrant Jamgochian in District 16.
6. Self-Funded Candidates. The part-time job of state delegate now pays $43,500 per year, a salary slated to rise to a little over $50,000 over the next four years. But several candidates in Tuesday’s primary wrote themselves checks for more than that – in some cases, several times that – to no avail. At the top of the list was attorney Jonathan Shurberg pumped at least $270,000 of his own assets into his District 20 bid for House of Delegates, only to finish sixth in a nine-person field. Jamgochian, making his second bid for delegate after an unsuccessful run in 2010, invested more than $120,000, and both Dana Beyer and Del. Luiz Simmons pumped in about $85,000 each in personal funds into their respective Senate races in Districts 17 and 18. Rushkoff was not far behind with a $75,000 personal investment in his campaign. Physician/attorney Hugh Hill spent $50,000 of his own money in challenging Lee for the District 16 Senate seat; his late-starting campaign garnered 14 percent of the vote to Lee’s nearly 85 percent.
7. Trees. Even as County Council members try to outdo one again in proclaiming the need for a greater tree canopy in the county, they – along with their state legislative counterparts – contributed mightily to the demand for dead trees in recent weeks. The blizzard of mail fliers landing in county mailboxes became the visual equivalent of background noise, with differences among the candidates often indecipherable to those who didn’t simply toss the mail pieces aside in frustration. Yes, there were a couple of winners here: the U.S. Postal Service and the consultants who charged big bucks to design, print and distribute these mailings. One firm, New York-based BerlinRosen – which engineered New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s come-from- behind victory last year – took in about $250,000 from four different Montgomery County candidates, with about half of that amount from Shurberg’s self-funded effort.
8. Voter Engagement. Official numbers are not yet available, but – based on the total vote in the county executive race—it appears about 23 percent of the county’s more than 354,000 eligible Democrats cast ballots Tuesday. That is actually down about 3 percentage points from the 2010 primary, when there was no competitive races for governor, attorney general or county executive. Looked upon another way, since the Democratic primary is usually tantamount to election in this overwhelmingly Democratic county, barely 13 percent of the county’s total eligible electorate of more than 630,000 is determining who runs Montgomery County. The solution for engaging more voters is anything but clear – except that it doesn’t appear to lie in more mailings (see previous item).
9. Punditry. Those who suggested that a low turnout benefited Doug Duncan – this writer included – were wrong. Incumbent Ike Leggett beat Duncan handily in the Democratic county executive primary, despite the low turnout. While conventional wisdom held that Duncan attracted an older voter all but certain to turn out, it appears that Leggett – whose career in county politics dates back to 1986 – also has a similar base of older, committed supporters.
The good news for local political writers and pundits: Leggett, 68, expected to handily win a third term in November against Republican James Shalleck, is all but certain to call it quits after the end of a third term in 2018. That means the political parlor game of predicting who will run for county executive four years hence will soon be underway in earnest.