All posts by David Lublin

Berliner: Anybody But Blair

By Adam Pagnucco.

This is the fourth straight mailer sent by Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, against David Blair.  Berliner’s grounds for criticizing Blair are that he is a former Republican, has no experience in government service and is self-funding most of his campaign, all of which are true.  In this particular mailer, Berliner says, “My other Democratic opponents have a history of involvement in local issues and have earned the right to be considered.  I hope you choose me, but they each have experience as Democrats worth evaluating.  I respectfully urge you to not consider David Blair.”

Berliner has officially joined the Anybody But Blair camp.  We reprint the mailer below.

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Unger Fires Campaign Manager for Stealing Lit

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 20 House candidate Darian Unger has fired his campaign manager for stealing and destroying literature belonging to his opponents.  Unger terminated him immediately upon seeing video of the act.

Unger’s campaign began paying John Rodriguez as a campaign manager in November 2017.  Rodriguez was profiled by the Washington City Paper’s Loose Lips in 2016 for his work with a firm called District Political in D.C. political campaigns, including fundraising.  The article ends with these paragraphs.

Apparently, Rodriguez still has some money to splash out. While LL was reporting this column, Rodriguez called, unbeknownst to his partners, to ask the name of the City Paper employee in charge of ad sales. He went on to ask whether LL would be aware if City Paper suddenly received a lot of money, and pondered how much he would have to spend in ads to gain more “power” to kill stories like this one.

It’s one more offbeat scheme from an outfit that tried to make its name with unlikely candidates. Unluckily for District Political, though, the problem with underdogs is that they tend to lose.

Update, 10 a.m.: According to a District Political statement released shortly after this article was published, Rodriguez is no longer a partner at the firm.

Now to the matter at hand.  The video below is security footage from the Silver Spring Civic Center on June 17.  At the beginning of the video, Senator Will Smith, Delegate David Moon and House candidate Lorig Charkoudian can be seen delivering lit to a storage area.  Smith, Moon and Charkoudian are running as a team in District 20 along with Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins.  Unger is a House candidate in the same race.  Smith deposits a box of lit on top of other materials and the group departs.  Soon after, a man matching Rodriguez’s description enters the room, looks around, grabs the lit box and places it in a dumpster outside.

The District 20 team all went on the record and identified the man as Rodriguez.  The team said the lit was worth $600.  Your author sent the video to Unger and asked him for comment.  Unger replied, “I just saw your email and the video.  I spoke with the campaign consultant and fired him immediately.  I consider such behavior to be completely unacceptable.”

As of this writing, we are unaware of an apology by Unger to the District 20 team.

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Evaluating the Allegations Against Blair

By Adam Pagnucco.

Businessman David Blair is the only candidate in the County Executive race to be targeted by both negative mail and two negative TV ads.  The combined expenditures for these mailers and TV ads now total over a half million dollars, making Blair the only Executive candidate to take fire on that financial scale.

How do we evaluate these attacks?

First, your author has a background in evaluating evidence of corporate conduct.  For sixteen years, I was a strategic researcher in the labor movement.  One of my jobs was to investigate companies who were targets of union organizing campaigns.  I performed dozens of these investigations and it was painstaking, tedious work.  The basic descriptives of the company – its business lines, affiliates, history, executives, finances, work locations, project experience, client lists, political contributions and so on – were a necessary predicate for researching its safety, labor, environmental, legal and media records.  Some of the dossiers I compiled were over a hundred pages and required months of travel to assemble.  I had three primary tasks: gather the information, determine its utility and craft it into communication pieces that were truthful, relevant and avoided the risk of defamation litigation.  Over the years, I uncovered extraordinarily bad behavior on the part of employers including but not limited to sexual harassment, racial discrimination, threatening deportation to block union organizing campaigns, environmental destruction, bid rigging, intentionally exposing employees to lethal working conditions to save money and a LOT more.  That research background gives me a standard of comparison for some of the allegations against Blair and it is partially through that prism that I write today’s post.

Here are the main allegations against Blair.

He is a former Republican with a spotty voting record.

This is true and Blair has admitted to it.  Blair is one of two former Republicans running for office in MoCo this year.  The other is Council District 1 candidate Meredith Wellington, who was a Republican member of the Planning Board as recently as 2007, four years after Blair became a Democrat.  Those who would pass judgment on Blair for this should hold Wellington to the same standard assuming that either is to be judged at all.

He is a self-funder who has not held political office.

This is also true.  Blair is one of MANY self-funding Democrats who have run for office, including Senators Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Herb Kohl and Jon Corzine and House members John Delaney, Jane Harman and Jared Polis.  Then there is party-hopping, self-funding former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who now spends millions to promote gun control and plans to spend $80 million to elect Democratic House candidates, acts for which he is praised by the left.  And liberal self-funder Ned Lamont, who famously challenged Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman from the left in 2006, was just endorsed by the Democratic Party for Governor.  All of these politicians self-financed millions in their races so if Blair is to be criticized, so must all the rest.  In any event, only one self-funder above the $200,000 level has won office from MoCo in the last twelve years.  Our county’s history demonstrates that money can never substitute for a real agenda that connects with voters.

One of his former companies settled a class action over disability insurance.

There was indeed a settlement and there is a website documenting the lawsuit.  The complaint alleges a variety of violations related to disability insurance sold by one of Blair’s companies that was endorsed by former actor Christopher Reeve.  But Blair himself did not settle the case: he sold the company in 2012 and the suit was settled five years later.  That means one or more of the successor entities and/or co-defendants made the decision to settle, and if Blair thought the suit was without merit, he did not get to decide whether to fight it at trial.  Finally, a settlement does not equate to a trial verdict in determining the truth of a complaint – indeed, the whole point of a settlement is to avoid trial and a finding of fact either way.  The Blair campaign commented on the suit here.

“Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices.”

This is a key claim in Progressive Maryland’s TV ad and it is based on one 2012 opinion article in the Daily Kos.  Now let’s reflect on the nature of the Daily Kos.  It’s a liberal opinion blog that allows content submissions from thousands of people without the editorial standards of traditional journalistic organizations like the New York Times or the Washington Post.  The site’s terms of use state:

We are an Internet Service Provider, e.g., We are Not Responsible For and Do Not Necessarily Hold the Opinions Expressed by Our Content Contributors.

It should go without saying that with hundreds of thousands of registered users, and tens of thousands of diarist/bloggers, there is great diversity in thoughts and opinions. So just because you read it on the site doesn’t mean “the site” said it or thinks it. That would make for a very schizophrenic site.

The Daily Kos itself does not represent its content as fact-based.  Accordingly, without further investigation, an opinion article of this kind does not automatically deserve the presumption of truth.

A still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

As a corporate researcher and a political writer, your author is acquainted with the standards of defamation when applied to public figures.  Briefly put, a public figure (like a celebrity or politician) can only win a defamation judgment against a defendant if the defendant knowingly made a false statement or made a statement with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

This came up all the time in my work for the labor movement as fortifying our communications against defamation suits was a very high priority.  For everything we said about a targeted employer, I had reams of paperwork (usually court records) to back it up.  I am confident that my union’s attorneys would have blocked me from using something like the Daily Kos article unless I had interviewed the author and acquired documents to back up his or her statements.  And even then, our attorneys probably would have still blocked it as unverified by a traditional media organization, government entity or court.

Finally, the way in which Progressive Maryland’s ad characterizes the settlement and the Daily Kos post is very problematic.  The ad said, “Blair’s company jacked prescription drug prices and another company sold virtually worthless disability claims.”  It would be truthful to say that Blair’s companies were accused of these things.  But allegations from settled claims that were not decided in court and an opinion blog post should not be characterized as objective facts.  It’s these kinds of loose standards that make people so skeptical of political ads.

David Blair is equivalent to Donald Trump.

This one has been made in both negative TV ads and by Blair critics too numerous to count.

Another still shot from Progressive Maryland’s ad.

Equating Blair to Trump fundamentally misjudges the nature of Trump.  If Trump’s sole failings were his wealth and inexperience, he would be no different from all the many other self-funders who run for office.  The real reason why Trump is the Anti-Christ of progressive politics is that he is a vicious racist, misogynist and xenophobe whose narcissism is matched only by his greed and stupidity.  He is literally separating children from their parents and jamming them into detention centers.  And that’s just a start!  Saying that Blair is the same as Trump is over the top.

Trump is holding immigrant children in cages like this one.  David Blair is not Donald Trump.

Our judgment on Blair is that he has his liabilities, especially being a former Republican and desiring high office without prior elected experience.  It’s understandable that voters might choose to oppose him on those grounds alone.  But critiques of his business record pale in comparison to the dozens of investigations your author conducted in the labor movement.  And his critics’ claims that he is equivalent to Trump are out of bounds.  Furthermore, we give him credit for highlighting economic competitiveness as one of his core themes as it aligns with our many concerns on that issue.

Whatever its outcome, we eagerly await the end of this increasingly brutal campaign.

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Riemer Takes on Elrich

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Hans Riemer has used Facebook to weigh in on his colleague, Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  Riemer and Elrich have cooperated on numerous progressive priorities like Elrich’s $15 minimum wage bill, Riemer’s bill to restore the county’s earned income tax credit, protecting Ten Mile Creek and instituting paid leave, but the two have occasionally disagreed on land use issues.  Other than Nancy Floreen, who has endorsed Rose Krasnow, the other incumbent Council Members who aren’t running for Executive themselves have been quiet on the Executive race.  We reprint Riemer’s Facebook post below.  (Disclosure: your author was Riemer’s Chief of Staff from 2010 through 2014.)

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Conway Quotes Raskin, Delaney and Miller

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Bill Conway has sent out the mailer below quoting Congressmen Jamie Raskin and John Delaney as well as Delegate Aruna Miller (D-15), who is running to succeed Delaney.  Miller and Delaney have endorsed Conway.  Conway’s campaign tells us that Raskin has authorized the use of his picture and quote even though Raskin has not endorsed Conway.

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Campaign Finance Reports: Council At-Large, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s look at the June campaign finance reports for the Council At-Large candidates, the last ones available prior to the primary.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the Council At-Large candidates.  We are including only those who have qualified for matching funds in the public financing system or have raised at least $100,000 in traditional financing.  With a field this deep and talented, candidates who have not met either of these thresholds will struggle to compete.

Four candidates are bunched at the top: incumbent Hans Riemer and Will Jawando, Evan Glass and Bill Conway.  Two more – Hoan Dang and Gabe Albornoz – have raised enough money to compare with past candidates who have won.  Then there is MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, who is working as hard as anyone and has an entire side of the Apple Ballot to himself.  That has to be worth the equivalent of an extra mailer or two.  Finally, school board member Jill Ortman-Fouse is not a money leader, having entered the race very late, but she does have a base of loyalists who could be very useful in working the polls on Election Day.  Overall, our view is that Riemer will be reelected, Jawando and Glass are in good positions and one – maybe two – of the others named above will likely also be elected.

Here’s a question for the readers: why are the female candidates not raising more money?  Danielle Meitiv (who ranks 10th on the chart above), Marilyn Balcombe (11th), Brandy Brooks (12th) and Ortman-Fouse (14th) are all good candidates running in an electorate that is 60% female.  Not only do their totals lag the above men – they also lag the amounts raised by Beth Daly (2014), Becky Wagner (2010), Duchy Trachtenberg (2006 and 2010) and of course four-term incumbent Nancy Floreen.  Public financing was supposed to equalize the influence of small contributors, including women, with corporate interests that are overwhelmingly male dominated.  And yet the nine top fundraisers are men.

Let’s remember that the best-financed candidates don’t always win.  Exhibit A is the chronically underfunded Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two at-large races and could be the next County Executive.  The at-large race also has produced surprises in the past, including the defeats of incumbents Blair Ewing (2002), Mike Subin (2006) and Trachtenberg (2010).  As soon as your author thinks he has the at-large race figured out – BAM! – something different happens!

This is probably the best at-large field in MoCo history.  It’s sad that only four of them will win.  But so it is.  On to Election Night.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

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