Del. Jeff Waldstreicher has been accused by a local candidate of trying to entice her to join the District 18 state Senate race to potentially make the race more difficult for Waldstreicher’s primary challenger, Dana Beyer.
Helga Luest, who is running for one of three District 18 delegate seats, posted Friday on Facebook that in December Waldstreicher (D-Kensington) suggested she do him a “favor” by joining the Senate race instead of running for a delegate seat.
“I was shocked, offended, and felt disrespected,” Luest wrote on Facebook. “The request—presumably made to split the vote and make it tougher for his then only opponent, Dana Beyer— wasn’t a joke and neither of us laughed.”
Waldstreicher denied Luest’s allegations in a statement sent to Bethesda Beat, but would not comment further.
“These claims are false, defamatory, and born of actual malice,” Waldstreicher, who has served as a delegate since 2007, said in the statement. “When they go low, I go high—standing up for our community’s progressive values, leading the fight for $15 minimum wage, investing in our schools and resisting the Trump administration at every turn.”
However, Luest pushed back against Waldstreicher’s denial.
“That’s absolutely incorrect and he knows it,” Luest told Bethesda Beat Monday. “He’s going to say what he wants to say. I know the truth. It says even more to me that he isn’t being honest about it.”
She said he pitched the idea when the two met at Java Nation in Kensington on Dec. 22. She also shared with Bethesda Beat a Dec. 22 Facebook message conversation with a friend in which she discussed Waldstreicher’s offer. She wrote to the friend who, she described as her "brother," that Waldstreicher said she should focus on being a third vote for people in the Senate race because he believed it would help her politically.
Luest said Waldstreicher did not offer anything specific to her in exchange for running for the Senate instead.
Luest, 49, is a Rockville resident and victims’ advocate who has lobbied the Maryland House of Delegates on behalf of crime victims. She previously headed Witness Justice, an organization she founded in 2001 after she was severely beaten by two assailants while visiting Miami when she was 24.
Waldstreicher’s likely leading challenger in the Senate race is the political activist Beyer, a Chevy Chase retired eye surgeon. Richard Madaleno, the incumbent in the Kensington- and Wheaton-based district, is stepping down to run for governor.
In 2014, Beyer ran unsuccessfully against Madaleno in the state Senate primary, a race in which she loaned her campaign about $311,000. She also ran unsuccessfully for state delegate in 2006 and 2010. If she were to win, Beyer would be the first transgender person in the country to win a state Senate seat.
At the time that Luest said Waldstreicher tried to entice her to join the state Senate race, Beyer was Waldstreicher’s only challenger. Just before last month’s filing deadline, however, Rockville small business owner Michelle Carhart joined the race.
In January, the politics blog Seventh State reported that Beyer rejected a request from Waldstreicher to drop out of the Senate race and instead run for delegate in District 18. Two of the three delegate seats are open in the district because Waldstreicher is running for Senate and another incumbent, Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, is running for the District 1 County Council seat. The blog reported that if Beyer moved to the delegate race, Waldstreicher offered to run on a slate with her to help her win.
Beyer confirmed Monday in an interview with Bethesda Beat that Waldstreicher attempted to get her to drop out of the Senate race.
“I got it from a political perspective,” Beyer said about Waldstreicher’s request. “But I also felt it was demeaning to me because of the presumption he should be the senator and I should be a delegate. After all, I ran for the Senate four years earlier and I did pretty well and people noticed that.”
Beyer finished second with 5,238 votes to Madaleno’s 7,320 in the 2014 Democratic primary in the district.
After the Seventh State post ran, Luest said she reached out to David Lublin, who wrote the blog post. She said she told him about Waldstreicher’s suggestion she enter the Senate race.
Lublin said Monday he tried to learn more about the alleged political maneuvering, but Waldstreicher would not comment on the record to him about Luest’s allegation.
Luest said she also reached out to Beyer after reading the Seventh State post, which was the first time the two spoke to each other.
“I have every reason to believe Helga’s story,” Beyer said. “The underlying principle is, I trust women.”
The day after the Seventh State post was published, Luest said Waldstreicher contacted her to discuss their conversation. She shared with Bethesda Beat text messages exchanged between her and Waldstreicher about arranging to talk by phone on Jan. 13. During the call, she said, Waldstreicher asked her to reframe their conversation at the coffee shop as “a joke.”
“I told him I had no intention of reframing anything,” Luest said.
She said she decided to go public with her version of events because she felt the need to be transparent.
“The way men are treating women, or using their power is really significant,” Luest said. “To keep a story like this silent doesn’t help anyone.”
Luest, a first-time political candidate in Maryland, is facing seven other Democratic candidates in the District 18 delegate primary—incumbent Del. Al Carr of Kensington, Wheaton government contractor Ron Franks, former terrorism researcher Mila Johns of Chevy Chase, public health official Leslie Milano of Chevy Chase, Town of Chevy Chase Council member Joel Rubin, Kensington health care professional Emily Shetty and former congressional aide Jared Solomon of Chevy Chase.
Update – This article was corrected to clarify that the Facebook conversation between Luest and her friend was not with her brother, but a close friend who she described as a "brother."