Waldstreicher’s Opponents Accuse Him of Hiding on Campaign Trail
Delegate running for state Senate has missed three District 18 candidate events over the past two weeks
Dana Beyer and Michelle Carhart, center, at the Monday morning forum at the Tastee Diner attended by about 40 people. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
State Del. Jeff Waldstreicher’s two opponents in the District 18 state Senate race are questioning his dedication to his campaign after he missed three District 18 candidate events over the past two weeks.
Waldstreicher, who has served as a delegate in the district since 2007, is running against Michelle Carhart, the owner of Dynamite Gymnastic Center in North Bethesda, and Dana Beyer, a former eye surgeon, for the Democratic nomination in the district that includes Kensington, Chevy Chase and part of Silver Spring.
Waldstreicher did not show up for a Monday morning forum for the state Senate candidates hosted by the District 18 Democratic breakfast club at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring. Sheldon Fishman, a county resident who attended, said Waldstreicher told him that he was sick Sunday night and went to Washington Hospital Center that morning for an unplanned doctor’s appointment.
Waldstreicher also missed a meet-and-greet for candidates held by the Town of Chevy Chase on June 7. He told organizers he had a Jewish Community Center board meeting that night. He also missed a candidate forum in Kensington on May 30, saying he had legislative duties to attend to in Annapolis at the time.
Carhart said Monday she is concerned about Waldstreicher.
“I think it’s absolutely horrible,” Carhart said. “It’s been one thing after another… . I just hope he’s OK. I don’t know why he hasn’t been coming. I think it would be nice for the voters to hear what stands for and I guess we can rely on his record, but I don’t understand why he’s not coming.”
“At least he’s consistent, consistently absent,” Beyer said Monday. “It shows a lack of political courage, which I think is unbecoming. It is an ongoing pattern at this point.”
Waldstreicher did not respond himself to a request for comment about his absences Tuesday from Bethesda Beat. His campaign issued a statement Tuesday morning saying that he had an urgent medical incident Monday related to his Crohn’s disease and went to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for treatment.
“At doctor’s request, he then transported himself to Johns Hopkins Sibley Memorial Hospital for further testing,” the statement said. “He is now home, resting and recovering, and hopes to return to the campaign trail as soon as he is able.”
Carhart and Beyer weighed in on a number of local issues such as their support for redistricting at the hour-long forum at the diner Monday, but it seemed Waldstreicher’s absence was on attendees’ minds.
“I think it hurts democracy when you don’t show up,” said Susan Heltemes, the organizer of the breakfast club.
Silver Spring resident Laura Stewart, who attended the forum Monday and said she has not decided who she will vote for in the race, said she is concerned by his absences.
“People just want to hear him answer some of the allegations,” Stewart said. “I’d like to hear him defend himself.”
Stewart was referring to reports about Waldstreicher’s political maneuvering and lack of attendance in Annapolis that have recently dogged his campaign.
Helga Luest, a Democratic District 18 delegate candidate, said that Waldstreicher met with her in December to encourage her to run for state Senate instead. She said he wanted her to change races to make it tougher for Beyer, his only opponent at the time, to win.
Waldstreicher responded to Luest’s allegation by calling it “false, defamatory, and born of actual malice” in a March statement to Bethesda Beat.
Carhart said that Waldstreicher may be avoiding forums so he won’t have to respond to Luest’s allegations. Luest has since said that Waldstreicher is lying and trying to cover up his meeting with her.
“Maybe that’s keeping him away, but that’s speculation,” Carhart said. “It would be nice to kind of figure out between the three of us where our differences are. It’s rather difficult to do that when you don’t have him sitting up at some of these forums.”
Beyer has said Waldstreicher also tried to get her to run for delegate and offered to run on a slate with her to try to improve her chances of winning that office. She declined, pointing out that when she ran for state Senate for the first time in 2014 against incumbent state Sen. Rich Madaleno, she received 42 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary—a number she believes she can improve on this year with Madaleno stepping down from the District 18 seat to run for governor.
Beyer has also accused Waldstreicher of “a failure of leadership” for only holding one meeting of the House Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse that he has chaired for the past eight years. The committee is supposed to meet between General Assembly sessions based on a schedule set by the chair.
Waldstreicher’s campaign spokeswoman said in response to the accusation that the committee is not a standing committee and therefore doesn’t meet regularly. Waldstreicher did not respond himself to Beyer.
“For Jeff to not show up, he’s making my point,” Beyer said. “He’s delegate no-show. He just doesn’t show up for controversial issues.”
At the forum Monday, Beyer was asked whether she considers herself a negative campaigner for criticizing Waldstreicher.
“Negative does not mean being critical,” Beyer said. “If you cannot criticize the voting record of an elected official, then there’s really no point in having an election.”
Carhart, a political newcomer, was also asked whether Waldstreicher had encouraged her to enter the race, given she filed her candidacy just before the February deadline and has raised most of her campaign funds from out-of-state donors.
She said she chose to run to try to help people who are adversely affected by state policies. After the forum, she said she didn’t think the question was unfair, but again said that Waldstreicher did not encourage her to run.
“I don’t think there’s a voice for people that are marginalized and I want to be that voice,” Carhart said.
Beyer said she believes her candidacy provides an opportunity for voters to make history—to elect the first transgender person to a state Senate in the U.S. She said she wanted people to be able to “internalize the American ideal that everyone is capable of doing something and it doesn’t matter what their identity is.”