The Maryland General Assembly’s District 20, centered in Silver Spring and Takoma Park is arguably the most liberal pocket of the state’s most liberal county, and has never suffered from a shortage of political activism.
Now, with the likelihood of a vacancy in at least one of the district’s delegate slots – due to Heather Mizeur’s pursuit of the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year – a wellspring of pent-up political ambition is evident, more than a year prior to the June 2014 primary.
The number of aspirants eyeing the expected opening is already in double digits, and could climb further. The interest in District 20 also appears fueled in part by speculation about a second potential opening if 80-year old Delegate Sheila Ellis Hixson were to retire. But Hixson said this week she plans to seek re-election to the General Assembly, where she has served since 1976 and chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
The field of contenders includes five African-Americans in a district where a majority of residents are either African-American or Hispanic-American, and which contains the largest black population – 32 percent – of any of Montgomery County’s eight state legislative districts. (All four of District 20’s current state legislators are white, and there is presently only one African-American among the county’s 32 state legislators.)
Also in the running are two veterans of county and District 20 politics: political consultant David Moon, 34, and attorney Jonathan Shurberg, 50, who chairs Mizeur’s gubernatorial campaign committee. Moon and Shurberg worked in the 2006 effort that first elected state Sen. Jamie Raskin, while another contender, former Obama administration official William C. Smith, managed the 2010 re-election bid of the District 20 slate that included Raskin, Mizeur, Hixson and Delegate Tom Hucker.
Both Moon and Smith already have filed campaign committees with the state Board of Elections in anticipating of running. “I’m leaning towards it, but I have not made a final decision yet,” said Smith.
Said Moon – whose political clients have included County Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Hans Riemer and state Sen. Richard Madaleno – “it’s hard for me to see the scenario where I’m not running.” But he added he is waiting to see if Mizeur firmly commits to running for governor rather than seeking re-election. Moon, who also publishes the “Maryland Juice” political blog, expects to finalize his plans by Labor Day.
Shurberg, who has done legal work on recent ballot referenda for both Montgomery County and the state Democratic Party, said he has not made a final decision to run, but added, “I have for a couple of months been looking very seriously at it.” Asked about reports that he is prepared to spend as much as $100,000 of his own money, Shurberg replied: “I intend to do what I need to do to win, but I have not made any decision as to what I will or won’t do financially at this point.”
Soon after last year’s election, Shurberg’s license to practice law was suspended by the state Court of Appeals arising out of a complaint about the handling of client funds held in trust. The court decision allows him to seek reinstatement of his law license after six months. Shurberg indicated he is moving to do so, and said he anticipated the matter being resolved by the time he makes a final decision on his candidacy.
Also in the final stages of decision-making is Darian Unger, 39, a former chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board who now chairs the District 20 Democratic Caucus. Unger, an environmental engineer and associate professor at the Howard University School of Business, said he is “enthusiastically considering” a run, and is “very close” to announcing a decision.
Smith and the other African-American contenders said race was not a major factor in considering whether to run, although they welcomed the diversity of the field.
“Certainly it’s not the motivating factor, but I think that it’s a good thing that it’s happening,” said William Jawando, a former White House official. “…We’re a very diverse district, so I think our elected officials should be a reflection of that diversity.” Jawando expects to reach a decision this summer on whether to run.
Besides their ties to the Obama administration (Smith worked in the Homeland Security Department while Jawando was in the White House Office of Public Engagement before moving to the Education Department), Jawando and Smith, both 31, grew up in District 20. Smith, an attorney, works for a public policy firm specializing in homeland security, while Jawando, also an attorney, in January became director of corporate and government affairs at Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications.
The other potential African-American contenders in District 20 include two one-time aides to former County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg: Saschane Stephenson and Alan Bowser.
Stephenson, 38, also president of the Montgomery County African-American Democratic Club and a former director of marketing and communications for Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, is currently completing a law degree at Howard University. She is the only woman among the current field of hopefuls; she said her candidacy is in an “exploratory phase.”
Bowser, 61, a Silver Spring-based attorney who was a deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department during the Clinton administration, said he has “been interested in District 20 for some time” but remains undecided about a run for delegate. Bowser, who spent a year as Trachtenberg’s chief of staff, said he is also looking at potential electoral opportunities at the county level.
Rounding out the field of African-American contenders for the seat is D’Juan Hopewell, 30, a Silver Spring resident and Maryland advocacy manager for Share Our Strength, a national organization focused on combating childhood hunger. Hopewell, who has a divinity degree, was involved in faith-based outreach on behalf of last year’s referendum on same-sex marriage legislation.
Another person “strongly considering” the race is George Zokle, 34, who was active in helping to raise funds to help pass the 2012 same-sex marriage referendum. Zokle, a Silver Spring resident, is an attorney with Bethesda-based Lerch, Early & Brewer.
And Christopher Stoughton, 36 an energy consultant who finished a distant fourth in the 2010 Democratic primary, said he is considering another run, while adding that “it’s certainly not a sure thing at this point.”
“I think it’s going to be very competitive,” Stoughton observed of the 2014 contest – indulging in what is, at best, a mild understatement.