Town of Chevy Chase Council member Joel Rubin said Wednesday that he will enter the race for the Democratic nomination for state delegate in District 18—the fifth non-incumbent contender to take aim at two open seats in next June’s primary election.
He said he expects to file his candidacy with the state Board of Elections shortly after Thanksgiving, with a formal campaign kickoff to follow in early to mid-January.
Rubin resigned as a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration in the fall of 2015 to make an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination for the 8th District congressional seat. He was elected unopposed last May to his current position in Chevy Chase.
“People want change—and they’re looking to government and they’re frustrated with government,” Rubin, 46, said in a phone interview, adding: “Annapolis is a place where things do get done. And it’s a place where there are a lot of smart, passionate effective legislators.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a great group [of legislators] from Montgomery County and from District 18. I’m cognizant of the high standards—and I want to continue to help build on that, and be part of that.”
Among Montgomery County’s eight state legislative districts, the 2018 turnover is likely to be the greatest in District 18, which extends from Bethesda through Chevy Chase to Silver Spring, and includes Garrett Park and Kensington, as well as portions of Rockville and Wheaton.
State Sen. Richard Madaleno of Kensington—whose position as vice chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee has given him significant influence in Annapolis—is leaving his position to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Three-term Del. Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington is running to succeed Madaleno, in a primary contest in which he is opposed by political activist Dana Beyer of Chevy Chase.
With Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, first elected in 2002, running for County Council in next year’s primary, only Del. Al Carr of Kensington from District 18 is seeking re-election—leaving two delegate seats open.
In the Democratic congressional primary in the spring of 2016, Rubin finished eighth among nine candidates in a race won by now-U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin. But Rubin’s exposure during that race to Democratic voters—including those in District 18—could benefit Rubin in the coming contest for delegate.
Rubin is not the only non-incumbent candidate for delegate to have appeared on the ballot in recent years. Emily Shetty, a Kensington resident who is vice chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, is running again after finishing fourth in a seven-way 2014 primary race, in which the three incumbents were renominated.
Besides Carr, Rubin and Shetty, the field in next year’s June 26 Democratic primary for delegate includes Mila Johns of Chevy Chase, a project manager at the University of Maryland; Helga Luest of Rockville, a victims’ rights advocate who currently works for a Bethesda-based public affairs firm; and former congressional aide Jared Solomon, a Chevy Chase resident.
With a contested primary race for the District 18 Senate seat, some in the current field of delegate candidates could end up running on rival slates.
Beyer acknowledged late last month that she has been in discussions about forming a slate—which she preferred to describe as a “leadership team”—but she noted that such talks were only in the early phases. Waldstreicher, meanwhile, has not ruled out a slate, which allows candidates to pool financial resources and share the costs of campaigning.
Rubin spent nearly a decade at the State Department, culminating with his role as deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs—in which he was responsible for a connection between the department and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since the 2016 congressional primary, he has started a foreign policy advisory and consulting business, and has made frequent appearances on MSNBC to discuss foreign policy and national security issues. He also is teaching at the Washington, D.C., branch of the Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon Graduate School of Public Policy, where Rubin earned a master’s degree in public policy and management before working for the federal government.
But Rubin emphasized his service on town committees since moving to the Town of Chevy Chase in 2006, along with his run for Congress and recent tenure on the town council, in discussing his decision to enter the delegate race.
“My experience during the last couple of years has been actively engaging the community here and in the broader district,” he said. “I do see the link between the federal and the state and local, but I have been fortunate to really get engaged in the local work.”
Rubin pointed to his experience as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, where he was involved in environmental education; as a federal government official, when he handled budget issues while working in the Energy Department; and as an aide on Capitol Hill. He said he hoped to focus on these topics if sent to Annapolis.
“For me, budget and environment are [matters] I’m really passionate about,” he said. “Those would be areas I would feel very comfortable getting into right away. I love the budget process, as strange as that may sound.”
Rubin added: “Budgetary tradeoffs will drive decisions in the county and at the broader state level. Maryland is going to have some difficult budget choices if the federal government continues to threaten our state. We’re going to have to stand up and make some hard choices and fight back, too, and that’s something I’m experienced in doing, and ready to do from day one.”
Rubin raised close to $300,000 during his eight-month run for Congress in 2015-2016, and said he hopes to raise in the “low hundreds” of thousands for his coming delegate bid.
The cost of delegate campaigns in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area has escalated sharply in recent elections. In terms of “what it takes, I’ve had some candidates tell me $75,000, others say $200,000,” Rubin said.
“I’m going to make it a priority to raise what I need,” he said. “But my real hope is that this is an election ultimately about being on the ground, getting to talk to people and not spending all day long on [fundraising calls]. That is a big failure of our political system.”
Recalling his run for Congress, he added: “I know firsthand what it’s like to sit there for six straight hours and do [fundraising calls], but I hope I’ll be able to get on the road a lot more than being in the back office.”
Some of the money raised during the congressional race went into “robocalls” in the weeks prior to the primary, in which voters heard Rubin receive a celebrity endorsement from actor Michael Douglas. Their connection goes back to when Rubin was a staffer on arms control issues for the Washington-based Ploughshares Fund, and Douglas was on the group’s board.
Can District 18 voters expect another round of recorded messages from Douglas next spring?
“We shall see,” Rubin replied with a chuckle.