2016 | Politics

MoCo Democratic Panel Recommends Del. Zucker To Fill Seat Of Former Sen. Montgomery

Decision sets off scramble to fill empty House of Delegates seat, to be decided next month

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Del. Craig Zucker

via Craig Zucker's campaign website

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) Thursday night overwhelmingly recommended that Del. Craig Zucker be appointed to succeed former Sen. Karen Montgomery, who last month resigned from the District 14 seat she had held for the past five years.

The 40-year old Zucker, first elected to the House of Delegates in 2010, had the backing of both Montgomery and County Executive Ike Leggett, a District 14 resident, in his bid to move to the Senate. Zucker defeated former Del. Herman Taylor by a 25-2 vote of the committee, with one abstention; Taylor served in the General Assembly from 2002 to 2010 representing District 14, which extends north from Silver Spring along the county’s eastern boundary to include Burtonsville, Damascus, Laytonsville and Olney.

The MCDCC recommendation of Zucker now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan, who has 15 days to act on it. While Hogan is a Republican, the state constitution gives him no choice but to appoint a person of the same party as the prior occupant of the seat. Only in a handful of unusual instances have recent governors ignored the recommendation of the local party committee in filling such vacancies.

Ironically, one of Zucker’s first acts once appointed to the seat would be to vote to override a Hogan veto of legislation granting voting rights to felons who are on parole or probation. The General Assembly voted Thursday to override five other vetoes that Hogan executed at the end of the 2015 session, but the Senate postponed a vote until Feb. 5 on the so-called “Second Chance” bill—with Senate leaders awaiting Zucker’s arrival to ensure they have the three-fifths supermajority needed to override.

Closer to home, Zucker’s all but certain elevation to the Senate seat could set off a scramble to fill his House seat. In conjunction with its bylaws, the MCDCC plans to begin advertising for applicants early next week, with the goal of holding a vote on filling the vacancy at its next regularly scheduled meeting Feb. 9.

Pamela Queen, 56, a MCDCC member who is a professor of finance at Morgan State University in Baltimore, has the backing of Leggett and Montgomery, as well as District 14 Dels. Anne Kaiser and Eric Luedtke, to succeed Zucker. But Mark Feinroth, 57, a long-time local party activist who is a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Realtors, said this week that he plans to run as well. Feinroth, an attorney who previously ran for a House of Delegates seat in neighboring District 19, is touting a resume that includes stints as an assistant secretary of the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and prior to that, as an aide to former Rep. Michael Barnes, D-Md.

In addition, the 49-year old Taylor—who left the General Assembly in 2010 to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress—did not rule out making a bid for the delegate slot, notwithstanding his loss to Zucker. “I’m not sure. I was trying to see how this would go. It’s been a challenging process,” Taylor said following Thursday’s vote. Also not ruling out a bid for delegate is MCDCC Vice Chairman Arthur Edmunds, 57, of Laytonsville.

Meanwhile, one of the MCDCC’s younger members, Chris Bradbury, 31, said he is “still talking to folks” about the delegate opening. “A big goal of mine is to represent my district in this way,” said Bradbury, a Burtonsville resident who works in real estate.

The 80-year old Montgomery in early December disclosed her decision to resign just a year into her second Senate term, citing mounting problems with her eyesight. Before her decision was publicly announced, an agreement was reached among Montgomery, Leggett and the three District 14 delegates—Kaiser, Luedtke and Zucker—to back Zucker for the Senate seat and Queen for the House seat. (Kaiser, while senior to Zucker in the General Assembly, had little interest in giving up her role in the House leadership—she was appointed majority leader a year ago—to shift to the Senate.)

In part, the arrangement appeared aimed at adding a minority group member to the four-person District 14 legislative delegation. Queen is African-American, and there has not been a minority group member of the District 14 contingent since Taylor’s departure in 2010. That situation has created some political tensions in a district that is nearly 24 percent African-American—the second highest percentage among the county’s eight state legislative districts.

However, the effort to predetermine the line of succession has sparked complaints from numerous quarters, including the local NAACP.

“As an organization that believes in expanding participation in the democratic process, we are very uncomfortable with long-term negotiations that have resulted in a pre-arranged slate,” Linda Plummer, president of the county’s branch of the NAACP, declared in a letter last month to the MCDCC. “Any such slate serves to prevent public discourse on all potential contenders.”

The NAACP complaint has been disputed by sources close to the District 14 delegation, who say the move to back Zucker was not the result of “long-term negotiations”—but rather a decision reached barely 24 hours before Montgomery’s resignation was publicly disclosed Dec. 3.

However, there also has been some grumbling from potential contenders for the delegate opening, who believe their opportunities to compete were undercut by the delegation’s early endorsement of Queen.

“It sucked a lot of air out of the room,” one possible candidate complained.

Such complaints notwithstanding, it appears that Queen’s backing by Leggett and the District 14 delegation have made her the frontrunner in the jockeying for the MCDCC’s support. But sources suggested her selection is less than a certainty: Several veteran members of the committee are said to have reservations arising out of problems that arose when Queen served as MCDCC treasurer for 2013 and the first half of 2014.

A failure by the MCDCC and Queen to file a year-end report on the committee’s finances with the Federal Election Commission in 2013 resulted in a $1,090 fine being assessed by the FEC. The FEC set the original fine at more than $6,000, but reduced it after a belatedly filed report showed that MCDCC receipts and disbursements for the last half of 2013 had been overestimated.

In an interview, Queen attributed the episode to a “miscommunication” within the MCDCC that resulted in her not receiving timely notification from the FEC on when reports needed to be filed. “We worked very much with the FEC in making sure that was corrected,” she said. “I personally paid the fine, so there wasn’t any kind of impact to the committee. And we tried to put some things in place so that wouldn’t happen to anyone else.”

“That has never happened in anything I’ve done in my personal life,” Queen added of the episode. “Anybody who knows me and knows the work I’ve done … as a manager for various large organizations—knows that I’m very big on getting things [ready for] delivery.”

With a doctorate in business administration and a master’s degree in computer science, Queen has worked as a project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and IBM. In her bid for delegate, she is making the argument that she would “complement” the District 14 delegation due to her background and as a military spouse; her husband is a retired Navy officer.

If she gets the post, Queen would become only the third African-American in a 32-member Montgomery County legislative delegation that represents a jurisdiction in which nearly a fifth of all residents are African-American. Several of the other potential contenders—including Bradbury, Edmunds and Taylor—also are African-American.

But Taylor’s anti-abortion views, which apparently played into his defeat in Thursday’s Senate voting, are likely to be an impediment as well in seeking the House appointment from the same group of voters—the 28 MCDCC members. This was evident during a question-and-answer session Thursday evening, when a couple of committee members questioned Taylor about his positions on the related issue of stem cell research.

Edmunds, if he runs, could face obstacles due to his cool relationship with the current members of the District 14 delegation—rooted in what sources said are both philosophical and personal differences. When he sought re-election to the MCDCC in 2014, state legislators from District 14 lined up behind Brian Anleu, 26, now an aide to County Council member Tom Hucker, in an unsuccessful bid to oust Edmunds. Anleu said this week he considered running for the forthcoming delegate vacancy, but added, “I’m not going to pursue it right now.”