Former Delegate Gareth Murray, who represented Silver Spring-based District 20 in the Maryland General Assembly nearly a decade ago, is eyeing a political comeback – on the other side of Montgomery County.
Murray, 65, who moved to Potomac in 2008, confirmed he is “considering running” in next June’s Democratic primary in Bethesda-based District 16, which encompasses portions of Chevy Chase and Potomac as well. If he runs, Murray would be the fifth announced candidate for two vacant delegate seats in District 16, and the first minority group contender to enter that contest.
While saying racial diversity “is not my main reason for running,” Murray – currently associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring — did add, “Yes, it is important for the Montgomery County [legislative delegation] to reflect the population that exists here within the county.” While District 16 is about 80 percent white, Montgomery County as a whole is now majority-minority.
Murray’s comments came as the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend the appointment of Delegate Brian Feldman to fill the vacancy in neighboring District 15 left by the Sept. 1 resignation of state Sen. Rob Garagiola. Feldman’s appointment is subject to approval by Gov. Martin O’Malley – but that is considered a certainty, and likely to come within the week.
Meanwhile, Democratic Central Committee Chair Gabriel Albornoz announced a Tuesday, Oct. 8 meeting to fill Feldman’s soon-to-be-vacated delegate post, for which there is likely to be significant pressure to appoint a minority group member. The district extends north from Potomac to the Frederick County line.
Alluding to the three-month long, sometimes contentious process of filling the Senate seat – in which several minority group representatives charged they had been ignored, prompting them to briefly recruit a candidate to take on Feldman – Albornoz said, “I think it has sparked an important conversation going forward, about the representation across the board of the fast-growing demographic changes we have here in the county.” He said the Democratic committee is dedicated “to ensuring that we try as hard as we can to maintain a fair and transparent process” when handling future vacancies.
The number of candidates eyeing the delegate seat Feldman will be leaving is approaching double-digits, with a half-dozen of those contenders members of minority groups.
Two interested candidates were in the audience for Tuesday night’s Democratic committee meeting: Jinhee Wilde, a Rockville-based attorney who is a former chair of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, and Tony Puca, a North Potomac insurance agent who ran for delegate in 2010. Also at Tuesday’s session was another potential candidate: Democratic Central Committee Vice Chair Venattia Vann.
Murray considered running for an open delegate slot in District 15 in 2010, but decided against doing so after party leaders coalesced around now-Delegate Aruna Miller. Redistricting has since relocated his residence from District 15 to District 16.
Murray was elected to the House of Delegates in 2002 from District 20 – the first African-American to represent that constituency, which is majority-minority. But he did not win renomination to a second term second term in 2006, finishing last in a field of seven candidates for three delegate slots.
Murray failed to gain the politically powerful backing that year of the local teachers’ union, the Montgomery County Education Association, following a stint in the General Assembly that some criticized as lackluster – even though the MCEA’s statewide parent organization lined up behind him.
“There were some strategic decisions made that didn’t give the desired results,” said Murray, alluding to the MCEA’s move. He otherwise declined to discuss in detail the reasons for his poor showing at the polls, saying, “It’s politics, and people do what they need to do – and that’s what happens.”
After leaving the legislature in 2006, Murray did a stint as director of legislative affairs for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, adding: “I have remained engaged in the political process; I was just in a different role…I still have a desire to serve, which I think is key.”
In District 16, Murray – who said he expects to make a final decision on a run in the coming days – would join a field of candidates that currently includes former General Assembly aide Jordan Cooper; attorney and healthcare policy advocate Hrant Jamgochian; attorney Marc Korman, a member of the Democratic Central Committee; and political operative Kevin Walling.
District 16, Delegate Ariana Kelly is seeking re-election next year, but Delegate Susan Lee is running for the state Senate slot now occupied by Brian Frosh, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. The district’s other delegate, Bill Frick, is also running for the attorney general nomination.