2013 | Politics

Legislature’s First Hispanic Woman Member Unsure About Running Again

As Gutierrez Mulls Her Future, Several Non-Incumbents Eye Dist. 18 Race

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Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, who in 2002 became the first Hispanic-American woman elected to the Maryland General Assembly, has been sending mixed signals about whether she will seek re-election next year – while keeping several would-be successors guessing in the county’s District 18.

Gutierrez, 71, said this week she is “still undecided” about her political future. “I was 50-50 a couple of weeks ago,” she said, adding, “I’m now 70-30 [in favor of] going back.” But she said she has no firm timetable for deciding.

With the Feb. 25 filing deadline for the 2014 election less than four months away, at least three non-incumbent aspirants said they have had little choice but to move ahead with their campaigns absent a firm decision by Gutierrez.

District 18 extends from east Bethesda through Chevy Chase to Silver Spring, and includes much of Kensington and Wheaton. Besides Gutierrez, the district’s current delegation includes Delegates Al Carr and Jeff Waldstreicher; Carr has filed for re-election, and Waldstreicher said he plans to do so shortly.

Gutierrez, a native of El Salvador, has been a long-time fixture in Montgomery County politics; she was a member of the county school board prior to mounting her first campaign for General Assembly.

“There are so many issues that are hot that I’ve been working for many years on,” she said in discussing what may prompt her to seek re-election.

But Gutierrez also made clear that the limited number of Hispanic-Americans in elected office is a factor in her thinking.

The county is now 17 percent Hispanic, up sharply from 11 percent a decade ago. Until the recent appointment of David Fraser-Hidalgo to fill a District 15 delegate vacancy, Gutierrez was the only Latino member of the county’s 32-member state legislative delegation.

“I have to weigh that as a primary part of my decision,” she said. “I want to make sure Montgomery County does have a voice representative of our Latino community.”

Of the three non-incumbents who say they are now running in District 18, one is of Hispanic heritage: Natali Fani-Gonzalez, 33, a former lobbyist for CASA of Maryland, an advocacy group for low-income Latino residents.

Also running are Rick Kessler of Silver Spring, a long-time congressional aide who is vice chair of the District 18 Democratic Caucus, and attorney Elizabeth Matory, a Silver Spring resident who currently works for a Rockville entertainment distribution firm.

Kessler, 48, and Matory, 33, have opened campaign committees, while Fani-Gonzalez said she plans to file for the seat in December. Another potential candidate, Emily Shetty, 29, a member of the county’s Democratic Central Committee, also has registered a campaign committee. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Also in the mix is Dana Beyer, who ran competitive bids for District 18 delegate in the 2006 and 2010 Democratic primaries. Beyer, a onetime aide to former County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg, said she is thinking about a run for County Council as well as another bid for District 18. Asked if her decision would be influenced by whether Gutierrez runs again, Beyer said, “It’s a factor, but it’s not a determining factor.”

Declared Kessler, “I am running for delegate.” Referring to Gutierrez, Kessler, who heads a Washington-based government relations firm, acknowledged: “Had there not been talk from one of the candidates about not running, I’m not sure I would have looked at it. But I couldn’t wait until Feb. 25 to see if there was an opening. I decided I had to get moving.”

Matory, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Maryland, said she met with Gutierrez prior to filing a committee. “I appreciate her situation [and] she will choose whenever she chooses,” Matory said. While saying she is in the race to stay, Matory acknowledged it will be an “extreme uphill battle” if all three incumbents run.

Matory has gotten an early boost thanks to endorsements from Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman and Kensington Council member Paul Sexton. Insiders see Fosselman’s move as aimed at Gutierrez; the two have had a rocky relationship since they ran against each other for delegate in 2002.

Fani-Gonzalez, a native of Venezuela who now runs a local public relations firm, has lived in Montgomery County since 1999, but only recently moved into the 18th District – when her family bought a home in Kensington in July.

But she disputed reports that she was running largely at the urging of Gutierrez. Fani-Gonzalez acknowledged that Gutierrez “is somebody I am very close to – she has been a mentor to me since I was a teenager.” But she added, “I am running regardless of Ann Sol.”

Declared Fani-Gonzalez: “It’s not just about electing a Latino person.  It’s about electing a progressive.”