2013 | Politics

Political Vacancy Sign Attracts A Crowd

Aspirants Queue Up For Two District 16 Openings

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In the spring of 2010, the resignation of then-Delegate Bill Bronrott to join the Obama administration triggered a five-month electoral scramble, with nearly a dozen candidates entering the fray for the resulting District 16 General Assembly vacancy. Now-Delegate Ariana Kelly ultimately emerged as the Democratic primary winner.

This time around, the political positioning is off to a much earlier start, thanks to the statewide aspirations of Sen. Brian Frosh and Delegate Bill Frick.

If Frick follows through on his plans to take on Frosh for the attorney general nomination, one delegate vacancy opens up. And, if Frosh doesn’t blink, there will be a second available delegate slot in District 16 – with current Delegate Susan Lee, who has been in her current post since 2002, hoping to move up to claim Frosh’s Senate seat.

“If [Frosh] runs for attorney general, I would definitely run for the seat,” said Lee, who would be Maryland’s first Asian-American state senator.

The resulting rush for the District 16 delegate vacancies will accelerate over the next month – more than a year before the June 2014 primary — as two candidates formally declare their intentions. Another aspirant already has filed, and, by latest count, there are at least five other Democrats now eyeing the race. More are expected to emerge before next February’s filing deadline.

The early lineup:

– Hrant Jamgochian, 40, an attorney and health care policy advocate who finished third behind Kelly in the 2010 primary, will announce a reprise bid this Saturday. A former director of health policy for United Way Worldwide, Jamgochian received a boost last time around by winning the endorsement of the Washington Post. This time, he’s already hired a campaign consultant: Bob Creamer of Democracy Partners, who is married to U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

– Marc Korman, 31, raised in Rockville and an attorney with the Washington office of Sidley Austin, plans to announce in June. Korman, a former Capitol Hill aide, presently represents District 16 on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. He has picked up the endorsement of District 14 Delegate Anne Kaiser, who currently chairs the Montgomery County House delegation in Annapolis.

– Jordan Cooper, 27, who said he has aspired to a House of Delegates seat since serving as a General Assembly page while a senior at Walter Johnson High School. Cooper filed his statement of candidacy when filing opened on April 9, and plans a fundraising event this month. He has a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and spent two years working in Annapolis for state Delegate Keith Haynes, of Baltimore.

Looming over the race is speculation about the intentions of Kyle Lierman, who finished second to Kelly in the 2010 primary. Then 23 and recently graduated from George Washington University, Lierman’s well-funded campaign was ascribed in large part to the connections of his father: businessman/lobbyist Terry Lierman, a former chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Kyle Lierman, now a staffer in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, said he was unable to comment for this story due to his current position. But sources said he is weighing a reprise run for delegate — or perhaps taking on Lee for the District 16 state Senate opening. He is not expected to make a decision until later this year.

According to state campaign records, Kyle in 2010 spent more than $190,000 in a contest where $100,000 had previously been considered a high water mark. Whether or not he runs again, he has raised the bar for the coming campaign.

Jamgochian, who spent about $60,000 in 2010, said he is planning a budget of “closer to $200,000” this time. “I’m looking at those big numbers also,” added Korman, acknowledging that this level of spending is now necessary “just to be competitive.” (The part-time state delegate’s job pays $43,500 annually.)

More immediately, two other potential delegate contenders said they plan to decide in about a month whether to run:

– Wendy Cohen, 48, has been with the Bethesda-based American Gastroenterological Association for 15 years, where she is vice president for practice and quality. After a career in health care policy, including a master’s degree in public health from the University of Rochester, she said she is eyeing elective office out of “frustration” with the current level of political stalemate.

– Kevin Walling, 27, who now works for a Washington-based campaign consulting firm, previously helped run Equality Maryland, which pushed for passage of the state’s same-sex marriage statute and referendum. More recently, he has served as national field director of No Labels, a bipartisan group formed in response to the current political gridlock in Congress.

Also planning to run is Karen Kuker-Kihl, 64, who was the Democratic candidate for County Council District 1 in 1998. A former teacher, Kuker-Kihl has lobbied on behalf of the Maryland State Education Association in Annapolis, and has made a couple of short-lived bids for the District 16 delegate nomination in recent years.

At least one candidate from the 2010 primary scramble — attorney Mark Winston, a former member of the Maryland Transportation Commission — is passing the word that he won’t run again. But his wife, Bonnie Casper, is in the mix this time as a possible candidate. The 64-year old Casper, a one-time congressional aide and federal environmental official, works out of the Bethesda office of Long & Foster, and is immediate past president of the Greater Capitol Association of Realtors.