2020 | Schools

Coronavirus forces school board candidates to change campaign approach

Virtual forums have been held; some coming up

share this

When candidates filed to run for seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education this year, most envisioned a busy spring of forums, debates and door knocking.

But in March, the coronavirus pandemic spread to Maryland, quickly putting a stop to in-person events and contact. The change forced candidates to shift their game plans on the fly, with many opting to rearrange budgets to accommodate more digital advertising and mailed materials.

“What we did, was we made a robust social media budget and made some budgetary decisions for ads much sooner than we thought we would,” said Dalbin Osorio, a candidate for the at-large school board seat. “It’s been a big shift, and, as a candidate, I love meeting folks, but we’ve had to really adjust on the fly. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, people who can’t adjust probably shouldn’t be in office anyway, so I’m incredibly grateful my team has been able to do that.”

Steve Solomon, a candidate for the open District 4 seat, said he was looking forward to in-person campaigning, particularly going door-to-door to speak with voters. It is a low-cost effort, Solomon said, that allows candidates to connect with constituents on a more personal level.

In 2018, Solomon unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council. While he’s hoping for a different outcome in this year’s race, he noted the process has already been notably different.

“This campaign has been a lot different than the County Council one,” Solomon wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat. “That was 33 people and events every night of the week for months.”

Cameron Rhode, an at-large school board hopeful, said he, too, misses door knocking and the connection it creates with constituents.

Each candidate has shifted attention to phone banking and digital advertising to reach more people in their homes.

While it’s disappointing to not talk to voters in person, and people sometimes seem less receptive to phone calls, Rhode said it is more important for people to be safe and healthy.

“There absolutely is a disappointment, but honestly, if that’s the most severe way in which this pandemic has impacted my life, I have to be grateful,” Rhode said.

The June 2 election will be conducted primarily by mail-in ballot with limited in-person voting available.

At-large candidates are: Mitra Ahadpour, Stephen Austin, Anil Chaudhry, Sunil Dasgupta, Paul Geller, Jay Guan, Lynne Harris, Collins Odongo, Dalbin Osorio, Darwin Romero, Cameron Rhode, Pavel Sukhobok and Lumpoange Thomas.

District 4 candidates are: Shebra Evans and Steve Solomon. Ehren Park Reynolds filed for the race but, due to family circumstances, has dropped out of the race, but will still appear on the ballot.

District 2 candidates are: Michael Fryar and Rebecca Smondrowski. There will not be a primary election for District 2 and both candidates automatically move on to the general election in November.

The top two candidates from the District 4 and at-large races also will advance to the general election.

Upcoming virtual forums:

7 p.m. May 14, sponsored by the Luxmanor Community Association

10 a.m. May 13, sponsored by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors

10 a.m. May 15, sponsored by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors

3 p.m. May 17, sponsored by the Montgomery County Muslim Council

2 p.m. May 13, sponsored by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors

7:30 p.m. May 27, sponsored by MoCo Local and the LGBTQ Democrats of Montgomery County

Past forums:

May 5, sponsored by Mt. Calvary Baptist Church of Rockville and the Lincoln Park Historical Foundation

May 8, sponsored by Montgomery County Students for Change

March 10, sponsored by Fair Access for Western Montgomery County and Stand Upcounty – Poolesville. This was the only in-person forum held before COVID-19 canceled events.

If your organization has sponsored or plans to sponsor a virtual forum not listed here, please contact caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com.