This story was updated at 8:10 p.m. May 19 to add comments from state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher.
In Montgomery County’s most hotly contested state legislative race, state Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher’s primary challenger says he’s starting to feel a bit lonely on the campaign trail.
Democrat Max Socol of Silver Spring had hoped to face off against Waldstreicher at a spring meeting for District 18 party members — but event organizers said the senator wasn’t responsive when they invited him. And at a Thursday meeting of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Democratic Breakfast Club, Socol was again alone in representing his Senate contest.
“I’m the only one talking,” Socol quipped when the club asked him to give a final overview of his remarks. “So I don’t know what summarizing there is to do.”
In a county that almost exclusively elects Democrats, legislative contests are typically decided during the primary, set for July 19. And Socol contends that declining to give these primary voters a chance to compare candidates side-by-side is “basically to decline to behave democratically.”
“There are major differences between my views and the incumbent’s views,” said Socol, frustrated after Waldstreicher missed the second forum of the race. “Rather than have an honest discussion about those differences with voters, the incumbent I think is just banking on his name recognition.”
This isn’t the first time Waldstreicher’s opponents have suspected he’s dodging a direct confrontation, with his rivals also accusing him of hiding on the campaign trail in 2018, as the then-delegate ran for his first term in the Senate.
Socol just hopes the pattern changes before the primary.
In an emailed statement, Waldstreicher defended himself against accusations that he’s avoiding scrutiny.
“Although unfortunately I couldn’t make this morning’s breakfast due to child care obligations, I’m always accessible to my constituents,” he wrote.
The senator said he held two town halls last month, is hosting a forum on June 23 and freely shares his personal cell phone number.
Socol, who worked until recently at Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice group, told his listeners Thursday that he’s running to advance progressive policies in the state legislature by bringing a community organizer’s perspective.
“When Montgomery County doesn’t do that, when we have legislators who run from those fights, the whole state falls behind,” he said. “And we are seeing that happen on too many issues in the state.”
Asked about the county’s affordable housing needs, Socol said a profit-motivated private sector will never solve this persistent problem and advocated for greater government intervention.
Some European countries run “social housing” programs that offer public support for dwellings suited to a range of income levels, he said. On the other hand, he continued, public housing programs in the U.S. have traditionally focused on low-income units, a model that fuels economic and racial segregation.
Socol argued that Maryland lawmakers should invest in social housing, while also pushing stronger protections for renters and instituting a vacancy tax that would penalize property owners for letting homes sit unoccupied.
“That’s bad for our community,” he said. Letting properties remain vacant “increases homelessness, it artificially inflates prices and makes it hard to live in Montgomery County,” he said.
Finally, Socol said, Maryland lawmakers should adopt a statewide rent stabilization measure.
“There’s absolutely no reason that any person in Montgomery County or in the state of Maryland should be facing a 25% rent increase in a single year. That is egregious,” he said. “The only reason those kinds of increases are happening is to pad the pockets of massive companies, hedge funds, equity investment firms.”
The candidate also talked about ways of addressing disparities among populations that don’t have bank accounts — and suggested that he’d explore options such as establishing a public banking system in the state.
It’s important to draw people into banking systems so they can access public benefits, he said, noting that Montgomery County is now piloting a program providing guaranteed basic income to 300 households.
In response to a question about elections, Socol said he believes there should be more early voting centers and that he supports increased access to by-mail balloting. He also told breakfast club listeners he would be open to considering personal rapid transit, a system that often uses small personal-use electric vehicles or guided/railed taxis on separated tracks.