Thursday’s announcement that the African-American Democratic Club of Montgomery County had voted to support state Sen. Jamie Raskin in the District 8 congressional race roiled some rival political camps—amid questions over the degree to which the endorsement reflects the sentiments of the county’s sizable bloc of black Democrats.
At a meeting the evening prior to the announcement of the endorsement, club members voted by a 20-12 margin to support Raskin, a Takoma Park resident, over former Obama administration Will Jawando, who is black. One vote went to Del. Kumar Barve of Rockville, who is Indian-American. The club has a total membership of 117, according to African-American Democratic Club President Laurie-Anne Sayles.
“It appears that the vote was not representative of the club’s membership or the African-American community,” Jawando said today when asked for comment. “That’s unfortunate for all parties concerned.”
Sayles acknowledged that Wednesday’s outcome was determined by proxy votes sent in by those who did not attend the meeting at which ballots were cast. She said Jawando had come out on top by 11-8 among those actually present. However, 12 proxies were received favoring Raskin, as opposed to just one for Jawando. “If proxies had not been sent in, [Will] would have won,” Sayles said.
But she dismissed as “totally incorrect” the suggestions in some party circles that the proxy votes had been in large measure cast by white members of the African-American Democratic Club. White members comprise about 20-25 percent of the group’s dues paying members entitled to vote in the endorsement process.
“More than half of the people who sent in proxies were non-white,” she said.
Jawando is currently a board member of the African-American Democratic Club. While Jawando recused himself from participation from this year’s endorsement process, “he has access to our bylaws,” Sayles said. “He has more insight than any other candidate, but he didn’t take advantage of the strategy to have people send in proxies in their absence, which is clearly stated in our bylaws.”
The controversy over the endorsement process underscores the importance of the black vote in the nine-way Democratic contest to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the Democratic-dominated 8th District, which is centered in Montgomery County but also includes parts of Carroll and Frederick counties.
While about 18 percent of Montgomery County is African-American, according to the latest census figures, only 11-12 percent of the overall District 8 population is black. However, estimates suggest that 20 percent of the registered Democratic voters in District 8 are African-American. Jawando—who has lagged well behind Raskin, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase and Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac in campaign resources—has been hoping for a breakthrough by targeting his candidacy to minority voters.
Among those who have endorsed Jawando’s candidacy is the political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus. At 33, he is the youngest candidate in the race, and is pitching to millennials as well.
Sayles said that in addition to holding a District 8 Democratic candidate forum in Silver Spring in early February, the African-American Democratic Club had an endorsement information meeting last month at which candidates were asked to send representatives. Five members of the club were subsequently designated as members of an endorsement committee, and questionnaires were sent out to all nine congressional candidates. “We definitely wanted to ensure that the process was transparent,” Sayles said.
Jawando, while a club board member, did not participate in either the selection of the endorsement committee or the formulating of the queries included in the questionnaire, she said.
In addition to Raskin and Jawando, three other congressional hopefuls sent back completed questionnaires: Barve, Matthews and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase. Besides Trone, the candidates who did not return the questionnaires included former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda, former State Department official Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase and David Anderson of Potomac, an official of a Washington-based seminar and internship program.
“Out of the congressional campaigns, they settled on two candidates, Jamie Raskin and Will Jawando,” Sayles said of the club’s endorsement committee. The ballots distributed listed the name of all five candidates who had responded to the questionnaire, with notations next to Jawando’s and Raskin’s names that they had been recommended by the club.
Asked if she feels the club’s endorsement accurately reflects the sentiments of the county’s African-American Democrats, Sayles said, “[Speaking] as the leader of the African-American Democratic Club, we are fighting for reflective representation. However, not only is it important that someone who looks like us represents us, it’s more important that the person we endorse or elect as our representative represents our issues, is accountable to our issues and is responsive to our needs.”
She added, “That is what we hold as the priority over the color of anyone’s skin, which is why we have such a diverse membership.”
Reacting to the club’s backing, Raskin said Thursday, “This is an important and especially meaningful endorsement for me, as I’ve worked closely with the [African-American Democratic Club of Montgomery County] over the last 10 years to ban assault weapons, abolish the death penalty and pass sweeping criminal justice reforms like decriminalizing marijuana and the Second Chance Act.”
The African-American Democratic Club also voted Wednesday to endorse Van Hollen in his Senate bid, where he is opposed by Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince Georges County, who is African-American. Those present at Wednesday’s session voted 17-3 in favor of Van Hollen, a margin that expanded to 34-4 when proxy votes were tallied.