2018 | Politics

MCGEO Pulls Back on Support of Two of Its Endorsed Candidates as Campaign Closes

Late controversy also erupts over District 39 contender's claim to firefighter union endorsement

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District 39 delegate candidate Gabriel Acevero, left, and District 17 candidate Julian Haffner

Provided photos

In the run-up to Tuesday’s Democratic primary, a major union in the county has pulled back on efforts to elect two state legislative candidates it earlier had endorsed.

While Gabriel Acevero and Julian Haffner—running in competitive primaries for House of Delegates in District 39 and District 17, respectively—retain the formal endorsement of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, union president Gino Renne confirmed reports that MCGEO had halted canvassing and voter outreach on behalf of the two candidates in the closing days of the campaign.

MCGEO represents a majority of the county government’s employees. The flap arose in the wake of the county’s Association of Black Democrats—of which Acevero and Haffner are president and vice president, respectively—making several endorsements late last month that Renne characterized as “contrary to the interest” of MCGEO members.

In separate telephone interviews, Acevero and Haffner defended the Association of Black Democrats’ endorsements process as “membership-driven”—in Acevero’s words—and contended that, as officers, they had no power to alter the endorsement choices reached by rank-and-file members.

It is not the only 11th-hour endorsement-related controversy in which Acevero has become ensnared.

The president of the Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters/IAFF Local 1664, Jeffrey Buddle, this weekend called out Acevero for inaccurately claiming to have that union’s backing in a recent mail piece and on his website. The IAFF logo has since been removed from Acevero’s website, although Acevero contended that he had earlier received a “verbal commitment” from Buddle of an endorsement—which Buddle disputed in an email early Monday.

The unhappiness with Acevero and Haffner on the part of MCGEO goes back to the end of May, when the Association of Black Democrats released a list of endorsements that included former County Council member Valerie Ervin for governor (Ervin subsequently dropped out of the race); current council member Roger Berliner for county executive; Del. Aruna Miller of Darnestown for the District 6 congressional nomination; and state Sen. Cheryl Kagan of Rockville for re-election. MCGEO has had past differences with those four office-holders over issues relating to collective bargaining rights, privatization of the county’s public liquor control system—or both.

In a telephone interview, Renne also expressed irritation about not being informed of the Association of Black Democrats’ endorsements until “after the press releases were issued”—pointedly noting that Acevero works as a field organizer for MCGEO.

“I made a decision, and it was unanimously supported by our executive board, that those endorsements [by the Association of Black Democrats] were contrary to the interest of our members,” said Renne. Alluding to Acevero, he continued: “He was the president of the organization that made those decisions. So, in my opinion, it was a conflict for us to continue to support his candidacy. We did not un-endorse him, but we did take him off our literature, and stopped door-knocking [for him]. And we stopped any support for Julian [Haffner] as well.”

Haffner said there is a “fundamental misunderstanding” by those outside the Association of Black Democrats about how the group’s endorsement process works.

“I just want it to be clear … that our endorsement process is one that is determined by the membership, and neither I nor Gabe or any member of our executive committee has any ability to kind of sway the endorsement process one way or another,” he said.

Declared Acevero: “Our organization is an independent organization, and our endorsement process has been around for many years. My role as president of the organization has been to ensure that the process, which is membership-driven, and the will of our membership—which is made up of black Democrats in the county—are respected.”

He added: “I would hope that anybody who may not necessarily agree with our endorsement process, regardless of who you are, would respect the fact that our members voted on those endorsements.”

While Acevero confirmed that he had discussed the Association of Black Democrats’ decisions with Renne, Haffner said, “I have not had the conversation with [Renne] regarding the fallout.” He said he had “not heard” that MCGEO was pulling back its support of him, adding: “If anything, I think our relationship is still strong. In fact, my daughter is interning with MCGEO this summer.”

Acevero said he remains in MCGEO’s employ, but twice sidestepped a question about whether he plans to remain with the union. “I am focused on my campaign and getting out the vote on Tuesday,” he said.

The delegate primaries in which Acevero and Haffner are involved Tuesday have been among the most contentious in the county this year.

Haffner, an attorney, is one of a half-dozen candidates for three delegate seats in Gaithersburg/Rockville-based District 17. A slate headed by veteran Del. Kumar Barve also includes Del. Jim Gilchrist as well as Rockville City Council member Julie Palakovich Carr for the open seat of retiring Del. Andrew Platt. Kagan is backing Barve and Carr, but has refused to endorse Gilchrist and has swung behind Haffner instead. Also in the Democratic contest are county Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski and physician Esam Al-Shareffi.

Just to the north in District 39—which stretches from North Potomac to Clarksburg—there has been sniping since the incumbents, Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery Village and Dels. Kirill Reznik of Germantown and Shane Robinson of Montgomery Village, added communications/public relations specialist Lesley Lopez of Germantown to their slate a year ago. Lopez was slotted for the seat opened up by Del. Charles Barkley’s decision to run for the council.

Early this year, County Executive Ike Leggett responded by endorsing Acevero, a Montgomery Village resident and accusing King, Reznik and Robinson of engaging in “smoke-filled room” tactics. Other non-incumbent contenders in that contest include marketing/communications consultant Bobby Bartlett of Germantown and attorney Andy Hoverman and real estate agent Clint Sobratti, both of Montgomery Village.

On June 13, the Career Fire Fighters/IAFF Local 1664 issued a list of endorsements that included King—who is unopposed in the primary—as well as Reznik, Robinson and Lopez. While Acevero’s website continued to claim the IAFF endorsement until this weekend, it was said to be a recent mail piece claiming the union’s backing that particularly angered Buddle, the IAFF Local 1664 president.

“Gabe Acevero did not receive our endorsement and does not have permission to use our IAFF organization logo on any campaign materials,” Buddle said in a Saturday email to Bethesda Beat.

In an interview Sunday, Acevero said: “I don’t claim endorsements that I haven’t received a verbal commitment on. But my policy moving forward is that endorsements must be in writing, since verbal promises of endorsements are not always substantial enough to withstand the winds of political machines.”

Acevero also contended, “When Jeff and I spoke earlier this year, I was told the firefighters were with me.”

In an email early Monday, Buddle responded: “Mr. Acevero’s statement is entirely inconsistent with our endorsement process. All endorsements require the approval of both our executive board and membership, and those are done at our monthly meetings.”

Buddle also said that Acevero, in his mail piece and the now-removed endorsement claim on his website, was “not using the version of our organization’s logo we authorize candidates to use for endorsements. Rather, it appears he simply copied it from our website without approval or permission to do so.” He added the IAFF “will be exploring options … to file a formal complaint with the Maryland State Board of Elections” in the matter.