Less than a week after Del. Andrew Platt announced he would not seek another term in District 17, the district’s two other incumbent delegates disclosed Monday that they’re forming a slate with Rockville City Council member Julie Palakovich Carr in advance of this year’s Democratic primary.
The move by Delegates Kumar Barve and Jim Gilchrist passes over Montgomery County Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski, who—following Platt’s withdrawal from the race—said last week that she was dropping a bid for County Council at-large to run for Gaithersburg/Rockville-based District 17 delegate.
“This was never meant to denigrate any other candidates who might run,” Barve—currently second in seniority among the county’s 32-member delegation in Annapolis—said in a phone interview. “It’s a positive statement about Julie. Jim and I find her compelling as a candidate.”
Smondrowski, serving a second school board term that runs through 2020, responded in a statement: “While I understand Kumar and Jim’s decision to form a candidate slate, even before the [Feb. 27] filing deadline, I place my utmost confidence with District 17 voters to analyze this race independently and assess each of the candidates’ individual strengths and experience.”
Palakovich Carr, first elected to the Rockville council in 2013, launched her campaign for delegate last July—preparing to take aim at the three incumbents who, until Platt’s withdrawal, had planned to slate together for re-election.
“I think our [District 17] delegation has had some successes in recent years,” Palakovich Carr said in an interview with Bethesda Beat at the time she announced. “However, when I look at the breadth of issues that they’ve been personally involved with, I don’t think they’re completely representative of the district.”
Asked about that comment Monday, Barve replied, “I obviously don’t agree with that, but I think having her on the team certainly broadens our experience and broadens what is already a very strong team.”
Palakovich Carr holds a master’s degree in biology and works for the Washington, D.C.-based American Institute of Biological Sciences, a nonprofit organization that promotes policymaking grounded in science.
“She’s got a background in science that is incredibly rare in politics,” Barve said. “We need more people with backgrounds in science.”
Barve also cited Palakovich Carr’s service on the Rockville council as a factor in the decision to slate with her.
“She’s a municipal elected official, which is really important for District 17 because somewhere in the region of 95 percent of the constituents live in Rockville and Gaithersburg, and that perspective is really important,” Barve said.
On the Rockville council, which is elected on a nonpartisan basis, Palakovich Carr is serving a term that runs through the end of 2019. She is a member of the Team Rockville slate of council members that includes Virginia Onley and Mark Pierzchala. The three have been at odds at times with the policy proposals of Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton.
Gaithersburg and Rockville are the largest incorporated cities in the county, as well as the third and fourth largest municipalities, respectively, in Maryland—although the two remain very close in population.
The fact that Barve, Gilchrist and Palakovich Carr are all Rockville residents could become an issue in the run-up to the June 26 Democratic primary.
Smondrowski, a Gaithersburg resident, signaled as much, declaring, “I think an important element of having a strong team includes having representatives of the entire district.”
She added, “Their slate encompasses only Rockville representatives, and yet, the city of Gaithersburg makes up half of the district.”
The departing incumbent, Platt, is a Gaithersburg resident.
The slating effort, formally the District 17 Democratic Team Slate, does not include a third incumbent from the district—state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Rockville resident.
“Filing is not for another six weeks, and there are several other talented candidates who are considering a run,” said Kagan, referring to the prospective field of Democratic delegates candidates. “And I am not planning to endorse yet.”
No Republicans have filed in the district, where Democrats enjoy a more than 3-1 edge in voter registration.
Of the county’s eight state legislative districts, District 17 marks the second instance during the current campaign in which incumbents have chosen among non-incumbent contenders in a contested primary.
In District 39, which extends from North Potomac through Germantown to Clarksburg, the Democratic incumbents—Sen. Nancy King and Dels. Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson—last summer opted to slate with Lesley Lopez, who is chief communications officer for the organization Run for Something.
In both District 15, which stretches from Potomac to the Frederick County line, and District 16, based in Bethesda, the incumbent state senator and delegates seeking re-election also have formed slates—while so far avoiding adding a non-incumbent candidate.
In each of those districts, there is a multi-candidate battle for an open seat: one held by District 15 Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown, who is running for Congress, and the other by Del. Bill Frick of Bethesda, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County executive.
Being part of a candidate slate can be advantageous to both incumbents and non-incumbents, allowing them to closely coordinate campaign efforts and share many of the costs. But incumbents in some districts are leery about including a non-incumbent on the slate, fearing that some voters will regard such a move as heavy-handed.