Category Archives: Council At-Large

Brooks and Wilhelm Campaign as Team Progressive

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Chris Wilhelm, both of whom have been endorsed by numerous progressive organizations, have produced a joint lit piece in which they call themselves #TeamProgressive.  Candidates in public financing, like Brooks and Wilhelm, cannot be members of slate committees.  But nothing in the public financing law prohibits them from producing joint lit with multiple authority lines, as this piece is.  This is the first joint lit piece we have seen in the council at-large race.

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Evan Glass, Watchdog

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidate Evan Glass has sent out a mailer drawing on his journalistic background and saying he will be a watchdog if elected.  We could use a watchdog in the aftermath of the Silver Spring Transit Center fiasco!  We are particularly amused by Glass’s citation of a story on which he worked called “Crooked congressman going to prison.”  We think incoming Council President Nancy Navarro should establish a new council committee to investigate crooked congressmen and make Glass its chair.  It will be the busiest committee at the council by far!

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Council At-Large Undervoting, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, we learned that even though voters can vote for up to four Council At-Large candidates, they vote for only three on average.  Today we examine whether that statistic varies based on geography.

The chart below shows the total number of Council At-Large votes cast in the 2014 Democratic primary, the total number of Democratic votes for Governor and the ratio between the two from precinct votes on Election Day.  (Precinct-level turnout numbers from the state include early voters, absentee voters and provisional voters, distorting their use as a denominator, so we used votes for Governor as a proxy for Election Day voters by precinct.)  On average, each Democratic voter cast three votes for Council At-Large candidates.  That statistic varied very little between Congressional districts, state legislative districts and council districts.

Let’s take a deeper dive and look at local areas.  Again, there is minimal variation.  A mild outlier is Precinct 11-00 in Dickerson, home of at-large challenger Beth Daly.  Was there some undervoting there for Daly and her 2014 teammate, at-large incumbent Marc Elrich?  (The two finished first and second in that precinct and smoked everyone else.)  One note: the term Democratic Crescent refers to Cabin Branch, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park, areas which tend to exert disproportionate impact on Democratic primaries.

Over and over, we have seen that the average Democratic primary voter casts three votes for Council At-Large candidates.  That statistic has been stable over time and does not vary much by voting mode (early, election day, absentee or provisional), geography, presence of open seats or candidate count.  We see no reason why it would be significantly different in this election.  What does that mean?

One obvious implication relates to one of the hottest places to find votes in a MoCo primary: the Downcounty areas of Downtown Silver Spring, Takoma Park and nearby locations to the north and northeast.  Hans Riemer, Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, Chris Wilhelm, Brandy Brooks, Seth Grimes, Cherri Branson, Jill Ortman-Fouse and Jarrett Smith are among the candidates who are from there and/or are running hard there.  If each voter is only voting for three at-large candidates, there simply are not enough votes to go around for all of the above candidates.  Who emerges from that scrum?

Riemer ought to finish first in that area.  He is not just the only incumbent in the race; he also finished second in Downtown Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Kensington to Marc Elrich in 2014, his best places of finish anywhere in the county.  The next tier might be Glass, Jawando, Ortman-Fouse and Grimes, all of whom have done well in prior races in that area.  How many votes are available there for anyone else?

One of the greatest challenges of running for Council At-Large is how to allocate scarce resources across a vast county-wide electorate in the face of lots of competition and other draws on voters’ attention.  Those candidates who successfully target the voters who align with their values, message, bio and (in some instances) demographic will have a leg up on their less strategic rivals.  With only three at-large votes per voter, the premium on strategic engagement is higher than ever.  It might just be decisive in an exciting and historic race.

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Council At-Large Undervoting, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the Montgomery County Council At-Large race, voters can vote for up to four candidates and the leading four vote-getters win.  That gives candidates a lot of ways to get votes.  A common statement heard from candidates is, “You have four votes to cast.  There are a lot of good candidates in this race.  I hope I can earn one of your votes.”

But that statement, while politically appealing, doesn’t actually reflect the reality of at-large voting.  Lots of voters don’t cast four votes in the at-large race.  On average, they cast only three.

The chart below shows the total number of Council At-Large votes cast in Democratic primaries and the total number of Democrats voting over the last five cycles.  If everyone was casting four at-large votes, the number of at-large votes divided by the number of voters should be four.  Instead, the ratio of at-large votes to voters ranges from 3.0 to 3.2, averaging 3.1.  That tight range holds regardless of the number of candidates running and the presence of open seats.

What about the timing of votes?  The conventional wisdom is that early voters are unusually well informed, know exactly who they’re voting for and can’t wait to vote.  If anyone would be willing and able to use all four of their at-large votes, it should be early voters.  But in fact, that isn’t true.  There is not much difference between early voters, election day voters and absentee voters in terms of how many at-large votes they cast.  All of them are right around three each, with provisional voters coming in near 2.5.

Why does this happen?  Now we’re in the realm of speculation.  Here is a theory.  For all its importance to the function of county government, the Council At-Large race is seen by many as a down-ballot affair.  It doesn’t attract the attention of races for Congress, Governor and Executive.  It competes with state legislative and council district races in the voters’ mail, Facebook feeds and email inboxes.  The name recognition of incumbents is modest.  (How many voters can actually name all their Council Members?)

Now think about the voting process of the average voter.  Perhaps the voter was aided by At-Large Incumbent X in some way, maybe through constituent service or a vote on a bill, master plan or budget item.  The voter really likes X and will vote for him.  Next, perhaps a voter will pick At-Large Candidate Y because she was endorsed by the Washington Post, the teachers or the Sierra Club.  And then perhaps the voter will pick At-Large Candidate Z because a neighbor said something nice about him or handed her his lit.  Or maybe Z knocked on the voter’s door.  Or maybe Z lives in the same community as the voter.  Or maybe Z is the only other candidate the voter recognizes.  Or maybe… you get the idea.  Often, these voting decisions do not involve great strategic deliberation or deep research on the candidates.

But there is one more variable to examine: geography.  We have previously written that Democrats in Downcounty areas, especially those in the Democratic Crescent (Cabin Branch, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park) are much more likely to vote in mid-term primaries than Upcounty Democrats.  Do Democrats in Downcounty vote for more at-large candidates than those in Upcounty?  We’ll find out in Part Two.

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Public Financing Geography, Part Five

By Adam Pagnucco.

We conclude with the remaining five Council At-Large candidates who have qualified for matching funds in public financing.

Chris Wilhelm

Wilhelm, an MCPS teacher, is becoming a progressive darling of the Council At-Large race with endorsements from MCEA, the Laborers, Progressive Maryland and the Democratic Socialists.  His contributions are heavily tilted towards the very liberal areas of Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park.  The question for Wilhelm is whether he can hang with the other strong competitors going for those same votes, especially Hans Riemer, Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv and Seth Grimes and find a way to break into the top four.  Wilhelm is a smart and passionate campaigner so don’t count him out.

Will Jawando

Jawando is the leading fundraiser in Silver Spring East County, which we define as zip codes 20903, 20904 and 20905.  This area overlaps with the section of District 20 in which he performed best in his 2014 race for Delegate.  Jawando has put together a long list of institutional endorsements that exceeds even the race’s sole incumbent, Hans Riemer, and includes the Apple Ballot.  (He was also endorsed by the Laborers Union shortly after we published the latest list.)  Now Jawando has to raise enough money to get the word out and finish the job.  If he does, he will become just the second Council Member of color to win an At-Large seat after Ike Leggett left in 2002.

Danielle Meitiv

Meitiv, the famous Free Range Mom, is so far the only female at-large candidate who has qualified for public matching funds.  (Shruti Bhatnagar came close but has been ruled ineligible by the State Board of Elections.  Brandy Brooks says she has enough contributions to qualify but has not yet filed with the state.)  Meitiv’s contribution geography resembles the all-candidate average and is largely based in the Democratic Crescent that is so critical to winning countywide elections.  If she continues to raise money, her status as one of the few competitive at-large women will help her in a primary electorate that is nearly 60% female.

Mohammad Siddique

The good news is that Siddique is the second-leading fundraiser in Gaithersburg ($5,515) after George Leventhal ($6,808).  The bad news is that he has a minimal presence in Democratic Crescent areas like Chevy Chase, Downtown Silver Spring and Takoma Park that are critical to countywide performance.

Seth Grimes

Grimes, a former Takoma Park City Council Member, has collected a majority of his contributions from the city with relatively little money coming from elsewhere in the county.  Takoma Park is not a big enough base from which to win a countywide election by itself.  Grimes needs to pick it up elsewhere to have a chance for victory.

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Public Financing Geography, Part Four

By Adam Pagnucco.

Let’s start looking at the Council At-Large candidates who have qualified for public matching funds.

Hans Riemer

Riemer, who is finishing his second term, is the only incumbent in the at-large race.  His contributions are heavily based in Downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda, the twin poles of Democratic Downcounty politics.  He is weaker in places like Rockville and Upcounty.  Riemer’s fundraising reflects his smart growth, urban-focused brand and fits the Democratic Crescent nicely.  Our hunch is that he will finish first in both Bethesda and Silver Spring en route to his third term in office.  (Disclosure: the author was once employed by Riemer.)

Bill Conway

Here is an amazing fact: in a public financing system that includes multi-term incumbents like Riemer, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, first-time candidate Bill Conway is the number one fundraiser in both Potomac and Chevy Chase.  He has also done well in Bethesda.  Conway could use more exposure in Silver Spring.  If he gets that, he could combine a top two or three performance in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac with a smattering of votes in other areas and get a ticket to the County Council.

Evan Glass

Second-time candidate Evan Glass, who almost won the District 5 seat four years ago, has a decade-long history of civic leadership in Downtown Silver Spring which is reflected in his fundraising.  Glass has raised almost as much money there ($18,573) as has Marc Elrich ($20,763).  Glass needs to grow his base, with the logical targets being other areas in District 5 like East County Silver Spring, Burtonsville, Takoma Park and Forest Glen as well as western parts of the Crescent.  As it is, he has a good shot to win.

Hoan Dang

Dang is also a second-time candidate, having finished fifth of six candidates in the 2010 District 19 Delegate race despite doing a good job in fundraising.  Dang has done pretty well in public financing but he is not dominating anywhere and has not shown a lot of strength in the Crescent.  He could use some institutional backing and more support in places like Bethesda and Downtown Silver Spring to increase his chances of victory.

Gabe Albornoz

County Recreation Department Director Gabe Albornoz is by far the leading fundraiser in Kensington, where he has a large base of family and friends.  Other than that, he is not among the fundraising leaders in any of the county’s Democratic strongholds.  Albornoz has three useful networks: his professional network from his day job, the contacts he has accumulated during his service on the county’s Democratic Central Committee and the supporters of County Executive Ike Leggett, who has endorsed him.  Albornoz needs to continue to monetize those networks and get a couple key endorsements, like the Washington Post.  If he can do that, he has a path to victory.

We will finish looking at the Council At-Large qualifiers tomorrow.

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Where Are the Voters?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With six Democratic candidates for County Executive and over thirty Democrats running for Council At-Large, the hunt is on for MoCo primary voters.  Luckily for the candidates, we are here to point the way!

Let’s start by looking at population.  Residents are not distributed evenly across the county.  The neighborhoods closest to the D.C. border and close to urban centers are more dense than Upcounty areas.  Below we show population estimates by local area for the years 2012-2016 from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Local areas are grouped by zip codes.  For example, data for Rockville does not refer to the municipality itself, but to the four zip codes that comprise Rockville (20850, 20851, 20852 and 20853).  Because Silver Spring is such a large part of the county, we broke it into four pieces: Downtown (zip codes 20901 and 20910), Wheaton (20902), Glenmont/Norbeck (20906) and Silver Spring East County (20903, 20904 and 20905).

And so the population concentrations are where one might expect: Downcounty and near urban centers like Rockville and Gaithersburg.  But that’s not the end of the story.  Our elections are decided by closed Democratic primaries.  For state legislative and county offices, the general elections have not been relevant since 2006, when the last two Republican elected officials (County Council Member Howie Denis and Delegate Jean Cryor) were defeated.  And Democrats are distributed differently around the county than all residents.

Right after the last cycle ended, we obtained a January 2015 version of the voter file from the county’s Board of Elections and spliced it with Census data to model local elections.  The number of registered Democrats in MoCo has risen by 5% in the last three years so, for the purpose of looking at geographic patterns, our existing voter model is not exact but is not too far off.  Below is a comparison of population by local area from 2012-2016 and the number of registered Democrats from January 2015.

There are large differences in Democratic density (the percentage of residents who are registered Democrats) between MoCo’s local areas.  In five local areas – Cabin John, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda and Silver Spring Downtown – more than 40% of residents are registered Democrats.  And in seven local areas – Dickerson, Poolesville, Damascus, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Boyds and Clarksburg – less than 30% of residents are registered Democrats.

Now let’s fine-tune this even further.  The chart below compares population by local area from 2012-2016 to the number of Super Democrats, whom we define as having voted in all three of the 2006, 2010 and 2014 primaries, in January 2015.  This Super Dem number has probably fallen slightly as a few folks who voted in those primaries have left the county or passed away, but the broad pattern will still hold.

Again, there are large differences in Super Democrat density (the percentage of residents who are Super Dems) between local areas.  In six areas – Cabin John, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Bethesda, Silver Spring Downtown and Takoma Park – at least 5% of residents are Super Dems.  In seven areas – Poolesville, Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, Damascus, Germantown, Boyds and Clarksburg – less than 3% of residents are Super Dems.

Here’s the bottom line – countywide elections are decided in large part by voters in a Democratic Crescent stretching from Takoma Park in the east through Downtown Silver Spring, Kensington and Chevy Chase to Bethesda and Cabin John in the west.  These areas roughly trace the neighborhoods around the Beltway and between the Beltway and D.C.  They are the parts of the county that sent Jamie Raskin to Congress.  Together, the six areas in the Democratic Crescent have 23% of the county’s population, 29% of the registered Democrats and 37% of the Super Dems.  Every countywide candidate is going to want to play there.

Does that mean that a candidate whose chief appeal is outside the Democratic Crescent is doomed to fail?  Not necessarily.  Crescent voters have MANY suitors as most of the Executive and Council At-Large candidates come from those areas and will be aggressively pursuing votes there.  Council Member Nancy Floreen, who is a former Mayor and current resident of Garrett Park, won four straight at-large elections by combining women, moderates and Upcounty voters and her 2014 second-place finish was her best ever.  This model is no doubt being studied by County Executive candidate and former Mayor of Rockville Rose Krasnow and Council At-Large candidate and Germantown resident Marilyn Balcombe, both of whom Floreen has endorsed.

One more thing.  Some Upcounty activists have long complained of the influence of Downcounty on county government decision making.  Your author did not witness geographic parochialism on the part of any At-Large Council Members, all of whom come from Downcounty, during the time I was employed at the council.  But to the extent that Downcounty does exercise disproportionate influence, it’s because those residents turn out in Democratic primaries to a much greater extent than people who live Upcounty.  As long as primaries remain closed to party members, that will continue to be the case in any countywide elections regardless of structural changes in county government.  If you are an Upcounty resident and you don’t like that, the best remedy is to get your neighbors to vote in the primary.

Downcounty’s influence is only likely to grow because of one new factor in county politics: the implementation of public financing.  As we shall see, a large percentage of contributions to publicly financed candidates is coming from localities in the Democratic Crescent we described above.  That information will be published in the near future.  Stay tuned to Seventh State!

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Candidates Ask Supporters to Stuff Online Poll

By Adam Pagnucco.

Back in the days of Maryland Politics Watch, we would occasionally set up online polls for various races.  The polls had no validity, of course.  They could not screen for registered voters, much less those in a particular party or county, and even those that limited each IP address to one vote could be easily gamed through multiple devices and masking software.

But we did it anyway for two reasons.  First, we were greatly entertained by the thought of frenzied candidates snapping the whip over armies of interns and yelling, “Vote faster!  You’re not pushing the vote button fast enough!!”  And second, they got lots of eyeballs, or at least apparent eyeballs.  Your author once scrutinized the traffic coming into one of our better performing online polls and discovered that most of it was coming from a handful of IP addresses.

Eventually, we stopped.  The “polls” added no value to the readers’ understanding of the elections.  And they also turned into a huge waste of time for candidates.  After we posted yet another online poll in 2010, one candidate emailed and said, “I really hate these things.  I have to drop everything and start voting!”  We took that comment to heart.  From that point on, your author determined that it was only worth doing a poll if we could invest it with some kind of methodological validity.  That’s easier said than done with an online poll!

That has not stopped others.  On Wednesday, Bethesda Magazine did an online poll on the Council At-Large race, which it admitted was “not scientific,” with SurveyMaker.  The poll began making the rounds on Facebook and one political insider sent it to your author, breathlessly panting, “Unscientific, but very surprising!”  Then a complete unknown, Steve Solomon, took the lead spot and folks started to understand just how unscientific this poll was.

Solomon’s “win” was not an accident.  He is a sports radio host and he encouraged his listeners to vote for him on both radio and Twitter.

Solomon was not alone.  Neil Greenberger sent out a blast email asking his supporters to stuff the poll.  He told his list that while the poll was unscientific, “It is better to be vaulting in this poll than to be lingering.”  He even said, “You don’t have to be a registered voter or live in Montgomery County vote in this poll. Just let them know who you would like to see come out ahead in the June 26 Democratic primary.”

Now look.  We do not absolutely deplore all online polls.  They can be fun and buzzy, and if folks want to push buttons for kicks, that’s fine.  But it’s absolute cross-eyed tomfoolery to see them as containing any merit.  Candidates, listen up.  If you spend your time pumping worthless ca-ca like this instead of phone banking, door-knocking and raising money, your chances of winning will be about as high as the coyote’s chances of catching the road runner.  Now get back to work!

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A Quick Note on Candidates

By Adam Pagnucco.

A few interesting things popped up in candidate filings today.

Krish Vignarajah has still not filed for Governor.  Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has filed, but his announced running mate, former Montgomery County Council Member Valerie Ervin, is not listed on his filing.

Grace Rivera-Oven, who was the Political Director of David Trone’s campaign for Congress, filed to run for Council At-Large on February 26.  She has started a traditional campaign finance account.

Jarrett Smith, who is a current member of the Takoma Park City Council, filed to run for Council At-Large on February 23.  Smith was reelected to the City Council in November and will not have to leave his seat to campaign for county office.  Smith has started a traditional financing account.

Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd has filed for County Council District 5.  Bethesda Magazine previously reported that Kevin Harris is running against incumbent Tom Hucker.  Malikidogo-Fludd is using public financing, as is Harris, while Hucker has not yet opened a public financing account.  However, Malikidogo-Fludd’s listed address is in Germantown, which is not in District 5.

Jaye Espy, who was running for Delegate in District 15, withdrew from the race on February 21.

Michelle Carhart of Rockville filed for District 18 Senate on February 22.  Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher and Dana Beyer, who has run for Senate and House unsuccessfully in the past, are also running.  Carhart’s website is inactive at this writing.

Filing closes at 9 PM tomorrow night.  There may be more news in store by then!

Note: an earlier version of this post reported that Jarrett Smith had not yet established a campaign account.  We apologize for the error.

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