Politics Roundup: Vignarajah ‘Supremely Confident’ She’s Eligible to Run for Governor

Politics Roundup: Vignarajah ‘Supremely Confident’ She’s Eligible to Run for Governor

Plus: Two potential District 16 delegate candidates out; Elrich, Leventhal tap public campaign fund for additional money; Trone supports Baker for governor

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Krishanti Vignarajah

Campaign website screenshot

Vignarajah reaffirms her confidence on eligibility question

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Krishanti Vignarajah maintained Thursday that she is eligible to run for governor in Maryland despite having an apartment and voting in Washington, D.C., from 2010 to 2014.

Under Maryland law, candidates for governor must have been a resident of the state and registered to vote here for the five years before the November election.

Vignarajah, a Gaithersburg resident, told Bethesda Beat in an interview after a gubernatorial forum in North Bethesda Thursday that she is eligible to run.

“We feel supremely confident that I will be on the ballot and we’re looking forward to having that confirmation,” Vignarajah said, reaffirming a stance she has expressed the last few months. She worked for the state department and as an aide to Michelle Obama during the years she voted in the District.

Vignarajah noted that the parties are filing motions in a lawsuit she filed to have an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge confirm her eligibility. She named Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign committee and Mary Wagner, the state’s voter registration director as defendants in the lawsuit, and claimed the campaign and Wagner’s past statements have cast doubt on her eligibility to run for governor.

Last month, state attorneys representing Wagner filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case because Vignarajah has not formally filed to run for governor and no one has filed a lawsuit challenging her ability to run.

The state Attorney General’s Office was previously asked by staff at the Board of Elections to examine whether Vignarajah would be eligible to run.

Andrew Metcalf


Westward ho: Two potential Dist. 16 contenders not running due to cross-county moves

Bethesda residents Wendy Cohen and Mindy Kursban—both of whom had been considering a run for a state delegate seat in District 16 in recent months—have taken themselves out of the running.

The reason: Both are leaving the area and moving west, due to job changes by their husbands.

Their exit leaves four non-incumbent candidates filed or announced in Bethesda-based District 16, with at least one other potential contender mulling the race in advance of the Feb. 27 filing deadline.

Cohen has been a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee since 2014, and was the committee’s secretary until late last year. In 2013, she was a member of the first graduating class of Emerge Maryland, which provides training for Democratic women interested in seeking elected office.

Her husband, Jeffrey Cohen—now an English professor at The George Washington University—next summer will become dean of humanities at Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, just east of Phoenix.

Wendy Cohen, currently a vice president of the Bethesda-based American Gastroenterological Association, plans to leave that post, and said she is considering her next career move.

Kursban is vice president and general counsel of Family & Nursing Care, a Silver Spring-based home health care firm founded by her mother nearly 50 years ago. She is moving to San Diego, where her husband has accepted a new position.

She declined to say what he will be doing, but said she plans to remain involved in the management of Family & Nursing Care on a telecommuting basis. Kursban added in an email that she will be “flying back to [Maryland] regularly and staying involved in local and state politics.” She has been a board member of the Democratic Business Council of Maryland since last June.

With Cohen and Kursban out, the non-incumbent candidates in the District 16 Democratic primary for delegate include civic activist Jordan Cooper, attorneys Joseph Hennessey and Sara Love, and teacher Samir Paul. Real estate agent Bonnie Casper, immediate past president of the Maryland Association of Realtors, is considering running.

They are eyeing the opening created by Del. Bill Frick’s decision to seek the Democratic nomination for county executive. The district’s other two incumbent delegates, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman, are running for re-election.

Louis Peck


Elrich, Leventhal boost their totals from county’s public campaign fund

At-Large County Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who were the first candidates out of the gate for the 2018 Democratic nomination for county executive, during the past month have added to their haul from the county’s new public campaign finance system.

In November, Leventhal filed paperwork to qualify for his fourth allocation of public funding since July—reporting nearly $6,100 in eligible private donations that, in turn, qualified him for another $26,300 in public subsidies. That brought Leventhal’s total to date to a little less than $259,300—not far behind Elrich, who, as of the end of November, had received $272,000 in public funding.

However, Elrich last week filed for an additional $43,900 in public financing, based on qualifying private contributions of about $10,100. Pending formal approval of this latest request, Elrich has now realized a total of nearly $316,000 in public subsidies. Both Elrich and Leventhal are Takoma Park residents.

A candidate for county executive is eligible for a maximum funding of $750,000, putting Leventhal one-third and Elrich more than 40 percent of the way there with six months until the June 26 primary. To initially qualify, an executive candidate must raise at least 500 donations in increments of $150 or less, aggregating to a minimum of $40,000.

Leventhal officially served notice of his intent to use public financing in late 2016, and Elrich did so this past February. The third Democrat seeking to tap into the system, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow, entered the race last month, and has yet to qualify for funding.

The three remaining Democrats in the race—District 1 Council member Roger Berliner of North Bethesda, businessman David Blair of Potomac and Del. Bill Frick of Bethesda—have chosen to rely entirely on private contributions. Under Maryland law, those raising money privately can accept a maximum of $6,000 from an individual; the same limits apply to donations from a business entity or political action committee (PAC).

Candidates who opt into public financing are barred from receiving donations from businesses or PACs.

The only Republican in the race, attorney Robin Ficker of Boyds, also has chosen to participate in the public financing system. But he will not be eligible for such funding until the general election, unless another Republican challenges him in the primary prior to the Feb. 27 filing deadline.

Photo: Marc Elrich, left, and George Leventhal, right

Louis Peck


MoCo Democratic committee changes rules for electing members in 2018

When local Democrats choose among candidates for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) during next June’s primary, they will face an altered set of rules for electing members of the panel.

In the past, a Democratic voter has been asked simply to choose two committee members to represent the legislative district in which he or she resides (for a total of 16 members representing the county’s eight districts). Voters have then been asked to choose among candidates to fill eight at-large seats.

In 2018, Democrats instead will be required to vote for one male and one female member from a given district, while also electing at-large members along gender lines—with four men and four women to be chosen.

The change—the result of a 17-5 vote, with two abstentions, at the MCDCC’s November meeting—is aimed at unintended consequences arising from the party’s so-called “gender balance” rules

The gender balance rules are mandated by the national Democratic Party to ensure equal representation of men and women on committees throughout the party structure. In Montgomery County, while there were 24 members of the MCDCC elected in 2014, the committee has since mushroomed to 34 members to achieve gender balance.

“One reason to do this is the committee will stop growing. It will always be at 24 members … evenly divided—12 men and 12 women,” MCDCC Chair Dave Kunes said in a phone interview.

Due to a rules change adopted by the MCDCC in 2014, gender balance members of the committee were given full voting rights even though they were appointed rather than elected. The revised system for choosing members is “is just more democratic,” said Kunes, who has been advocating for the change since assuming the chairmanship a year ago.

Another complication of the gender balance rules is geographic disproportion, with five members of the current MCDCC residing in one legislative district and just two in another district, Kunes said.

The Maryland Democratic Committee last month voted to require most county committees to revise their rules for electing members prior to the 2018 primary. Due to a quirk in state law, Montgomery County was not required to comply until 2022, but Kunes said the MCDCC decided to implement the changes sooner.

There is expected to be significant turnover in the MCDCC selected next year: Six current members, about 20 percent of the present committee, are leaving to pursue election to the County Council, Board of Education, or state House of Delegates.

Louis Peck


Former County Executive Duncan endorses Friedson

Andrew Friedson, a former aide to Comptroller Peter Franchot who is running for the District 1 County Council seat, has netted the endorsement of former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

Duncan described Friedson, a Bethesda resident, as a “change-maker and problem solver.”

“In rapidly changing times, we need new leaders, with new perspectives, and new ideas on the County Council,” Duncan said in a statement issued by Friedson’s campaign Thursday.

Duncan and his wife, Barbara, are scheduled to host a birthday fundraiser for Friedson Jan. 9 at The Edgemoor Club in Bethesda.

Friedson, 31, is running for elected office for the first time. Duncan was county executive from 1994 to 2006.

District 1 includes the Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac areas. The other candidates pursuing the seat include Democrats Ana Sol Gutierrez, Pete Fosselman, Meredith Wellington, Reggie Oldak, Bill Cook, Dalbin Osorio and one Republican, Richard Banach. Incumbent Council member Roger Berliner has to step down from the seat due to term limit and is running for county executive.

Andrew Metcalf


Manno, Jealous announce union endorsements

State Sen. Roger Manno (D-Silver Spring) announced Tuesday he received the endorsement of LiUNA Baltimore-Washington Laborers’ District Council in his race for the 6th Congressional District seat. The labor union is a coalition of four local unions that represent about 7,000 members in construction, environmental mediation and manufacturing jobs.

The service employees unions 32BJ SEIU and Local 500 SEIU also endorsed Manno in the congressional race this week. The unions represent more than 30,000 workers in Maryland, including “thousands of members” who work and reside in the 6th District, according to a 32BJ SEIU spokeswoman. Manno has been racking up union endorsements in the race, in which he’s facing off against Democrats David Trone, Del. Aruna Miller (D-Darnestown), Andrew Duck, Chris Hearsey and Nadia Hashimi in the June primary.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Benjamin Jealous, a former NAACP president, announced Thursday that he secured the endorsement of the Communications Workers for America. Jealous’ campaign wrote in a statement that the union represents about 4,500 Marylanders.

Image above left via Roger Manno's campaign website

—Andrew Metcalf


David Trone backs Baker

Sixth District Democratic Congressional candidate David Trone, the co-owner of Total Wine & More, said on Twitter he’s supporting Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker for Maryland governor. Trone is a prominent Democratic donor, who like Baker, is engaged in a competitive primary.

Trone wrote on Twitter that he and Baker “connected over our families’ shared experiences with Azheimer’s disease.” Baker’s wife, Christa Beverly, was diagnosed with the disease in 2010 and Trone’s father died from it.  

—Andrew Metcalf

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