Lesley Lopez, who has served as director of communications for several Washington-based trade and advocacy groups, has been tapped by the incumbent legislators in District 39 to join their slate in next June’s Democratic primary.
The move effectively gives Lopez the endorsement of the three incumbents — state Sen. Nancy King and Dels. Kirill Reznik and Shane Robinson — to succeed veteran Del. Charles Barkley, who is leaving the General Assembly after two decades to make a run for the Montgomery County Council. “I’m very excited she’s joining the team,” Robinson said Wednesday of Lopez. “I think she brings a lot to the table, and I’m looking forward to the District 39 community getting to know her better.”
But the slating decision has created blowback among other candidates seeking to succeed Barkley in the district, which extends from North Potomac through much of Germantown, and includes Montgomery Village, Washington Grove, and a portion of Clarksburg,
Hamza Khan, a former president of the county’s Muslim Democratic Club, who had been seeking the seat for months, has decided to drop out of the race in response to the slating decision. Khan declined immediate comment, but sources said he is now considering joining the increasingly crowded contest for Montgomery County Council at-large, where three seats are opening up due to term limits.
Meanwhile, Gabriel Acevero, who is president of the Montgomery County Association of Black Democrats, plans to announce his candidacy Saturday for a District 39 delegate seat. Acevero is said to be talking to other candidates about forming a rival primary slate to the one that will include the incumbents and Lopez. “I’ve spoken to quite a few folks in the district who are interested in running for some position in District 39, but right now I’m focused on my race,” Acevero replied when asked about this late Tuesday.
Of the incumbents’ move to slate with Lopez, Acevero said in a phone interview: “We have one of the most diverse districts in the country…and for a district as diverse as ours, I’m disappointed that our electeds chose not to reflect that.”
His comments refer to District 39’s status as one of the county’s four majority-minority state legislative jurisdictions, District 39 has a white population of less than 40 percent; African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans each comprise about 20 percent of the district’s residents, with the remainder comprised primarily of Asian-Americans. With Barkley’s departure, there has been pressure to include a minority group member in a district delegation that is currently all-white.
While Lopez is a former communications director of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and has a stepfather who is Hispanic-American, the fact that she herself is not Hispanic by birth has prompted grumbling among some rival camps about a lack of diversity on the slate. “I’m from a blended family, like many millennials,” Lopez said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “I don’t use the word Latina to identify with myself and my experiences. But I’m proud of being from a Hispanic family and having that heritage.” She said her stepfather also was her adoptive father, and had raised her from childhood.
According to sources, the incumbents’ decision to place Lopez on the slate was influenced more by gender than by race or ethnicity: If she and the incumbents are elected, the District 39 delegation would have a 50-50 split in terms of gender. The incumbents were motivated by a desire to narrow the gender gap in the General Assembly, where only about 30 percent of current legislators are female.
Lopez, 33, is currently communications director of the U.S.-China Business Council, and, prior to that, served in a similar capacity at the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which seeks to promote and support the election of the party’s state legislative candidates nationwide. A Germantown resident, she officially filed to run in District 39 Wednesday morning.
While he will formally announce this weekend, Acevero, 27, filed to run in April. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, he is currently a field representative for UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents a majority of the 9,000 Montgomery County government employees.
“Over the past 10 years, I've been advocating on a number of progressive issues as well as being involved in my community,” he said. “For me, this was an opportunity to continue my advocacy.” Acevero was an organizer in the 2012 referendum campaigns for same-sex marriage and the so-called Dream Act for young immigrants, and, more recently, has been involved in lobbying on criminal justice reform issues and on behalf of a $15 minimum wage.
His candidacy will likely guarantee that the future of Montgomery County’s public liquor control regimen, over which the General Assembly has the final say, will be an issue in the forthcoming primary campaign. Reznik has been a sponsor of legislation to privatize the current system of distribution and sales, while Acevero’s current employer, MCGEO, strongly opposes privatization.
“The stakeholders should certainly have a voice, but I do firmly believe in protecting good union jobs, and there are lot of good union jobs at the [Department of Liquor Control,” Acevero said. “And we have to talk about the impact that this will have on their families, on working families.”
Lopez also has ties to a major local union: As an adjunct professor of communications at George Washington University, she belongs to SEIU Local 500, which also represents about 12,000 support staff in the Montgomery County public school system.
“I have some real successes under my belt as a legislative staffer and as an advocate,” Lopez said. “I’m someone you can judge based on my performance, and not just my potential.” Lopez pointed to her work in 2013 in helping to pass an immigration reform bill through the U.S. Senate, as well as reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act,as that law was expanded to include protections for undocumented immigrants. At the time, Lopez was a staff member for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and, later, the National Immigration Forum.
The Violence Against Women Act had a personal angle for Lopez; she says she is a survivor of domestic violence, arising from a relationship in which she was involved in her 20s. “That had a lot to do with my deciding to pursue a life of public service,” said Lopez, who earlier had pursued a career in journalism.
Lopez, along with King, Reznik and Robinson, will run a coordinated campaign under the Team 39 slate committee. This will allow them to pool financial resources and share the costs of campaigning.
Besides Acevero and Lopez, at least two other Democratic primary candidates are taking aim at the delegate seat being given up by Barkley, although neither has formally filed. One, Bobby Bartlett of Germantown, helped to launch the Washington Spirit women’s professional soccer team. The other, Andrew Hoverman, a Montgomery Village attorney, is an official of the District 39 Democratic Club.
In addition, Grace Rivera-Oven of Germantown, a member of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said late Tuesday, “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t considering running for the delegate seat.” But Rivera-Oven, citing her membership of the election board, said she has not yet taken any steps to start a campaign. “If anything happens, it’s not going to happen anytime soon,” she said.
Rivera-Oven, owner of a public relations business who also sits on the board of the Strathmore Music Center, acknowledged that she has been urged to run for state Senate, but added, “That’s not going to happen.” She cited a long relationship with King, going back to when the latter ran successfully for the county school board. “So I have very high respect for Nancy,” she said.