Town of Chevy Chase Councilmember Joel Rubin, one of the candidates for the vacant delegate nomination sent out an email today regarding tonight’s candidate forum and tomorrow’s MCDCC vote. He’s asking voters to attend to the forum tonight because there will be a “public poll” of District 18 voters after the forum:
Here’s My Request: It would be outstanding if you could attend the Candidates Forum tonight, as there will be a public poll taking place after it for District 18 voters. Your participation and support for me after the forum will go a long way towards strengthening my candidacy on Tuesday night at MCDCC election time.
To show support for me, after the Candidates Forum ends at 7:25pm – but only if you’re a District 18 voter – please email the MCDCC at “firstname.lastname@example.org” by no later than 11:59pm tonight (Monday 4/18) with your support.
MCDCC Chair Arthur Edmunds and District 18 Democratic Caucus Chair Laura Johnson have separately confirmed that neither MCDCC nor the D18 Caucus will be conducting a poll after the candidate forum. MCDCC has helped publicize the forum but it is being conducted independently by the D18 Caucus.
UPDATE: Joel Rubin contacted me after the publication of this post. He explained that he wrote the email based on the following language that was included in the D18 Caucus forum invitation:
Following the candidate forum, District 18 Democratic voters are urged to forward an email of support for their preferred candidate to: Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. email@example.com, preferably no later than 11:59 pm, Monday, April 18, 2022.
Brooks Laying Off Staff
I have heard that Brandy Brooks’s campaign for an at-large Montgomery County Council seat is laying off field staff. It’s unclear whether this is temporary while Brooks is taking two weeks away from the campaign for self-care and to reflect after allegations that she created a hostile work environment. Lack of funds might also explain the layoffs.
Because she is on an incredible pace to qualify for matching funds in the county’s public financing program.
MoCo candidates who opt into the county’s public financing program don’t get public matching funds right away. They need to meet a threshold of contributions from in-county residents which depends on the office for which they are running. According to Sec. 16-21 of the county code, council at-large candidates must collect at least 250 contributions from in-county residents totaling at least $20,000 before they are eligible to collect matching funds.
Now check this out. Brooks’s fundraising site went live on Saturday, February 6. Here is what it looks like as of 11:30 AM on Wednesday, February 10.
Yeah, you saw it: $19,161 from 211 donations. I hear a supermajority of those contributions have come from in-county residents. I’m sure we will hear more about that soon enough.
Now you might be tempted to say that $19,161 is not a lot of money. But this is public financing, in which public money amplifies individual contributions through matching funds. In MoCo’s system, for a council candidate, the maximum individual contribution allowed is $250. (It was $150 last time.) The first $50 is matched 4 to 1, the second $50 is matched 3 to 1 and the third $50 is matched 2 to 1. So a $250 contribution from an in-county resident is matched by $450 in public funds, thereby earning $700 for the receiving candidate.
Brooks is building a large team of progressives. This list is just going to grow.
So what does this mean? Brooks won’t get any public money right away. The county doesn’t start paying matching funds until a year before the primary, which occurs on June 28, 2022. So Brooks has to wait a while to get the big bucks. But when she does apply, she will probably get an infusion of at least $100,000 and she can apply for more matching funds as she gets more in-county contributions. The cap for matching funds receivable by council at-large candidates is $250,000 for the primary and another $250,000 for the general election. Even after a candidate hits the matching fund cap, that candidate can still collect as many individual contributions of up to $250 each as he or she can get.
Does this mean that Brooks is a shoo-in for election? Well, let’s consider the field in which she is running. Incumbent Hans Riemer can’t run again due to term limits, thereby creating one open seat. Incumbents Evan Glass and Gabe Albornoz used public financing last time and still have their donor lists. If they enroll in public financing again, they should have little problem raising money from their existing lists and qualifying for matching funds. Their status as incumbents should bring in new money too. Incumbent Will Jawando was the leading council fundraiser in public financing last time, but he has opted for the traditional system this time around. That said, Jawando has been a strong fundraiser in his prior campaigns, whatever the system, and there is little reason to believe that has changed now that he’s an incumbent.
So all of that probably places Brooks on a close-to-even financial footing with the incumbents. That’s a good thing for any challenger. And if any other candidates get into the at-large race and use public financing without prior experience in the system, they could take a while to get matching funds while Brooks and the incumbents are rolling in money. If you’re on Team Brandy, there is nothing but goodness in this scenario.
I said it once and I’ll say it again. Don’t underestimate Brandy Brooks.
[An aside: to whichever county officials are responsible for this, you need to update your website materials and the online county code to reflect changes to public financing made by Bill 31-20. Otherwise you will have a helluva mess as candidates try to comply with the system believing that the old provisions still apply.]
One of 2018’s most talented county council candidates is back: Brandy Brooks. Her announcement that she is running again for an at-large county council seat effectively kicks off the 2022 council campaign season and will have a big impact on MoCo politics.
First, about Brandy Brooks. When she ran for an at-large council seat in 2018, she was a new resident, having moved here from Massachusetts. Most political players didn’t know her and didn’t know what to expect. What they found was an eloquent, passionate progressive who was equally adept in the spoken and written word. Brooks was arguably the best speaker in every room she entered, inspiring a loyalty in her supporters that is unusual in MoCo politics. One of her rivals told me, “I just hated following her in candidate forums!”
Brandy Brooks is back.
Progressive politics is not new in MoCo but Brooks proved to be a superior organizer. She joined forces with MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm to form “Team Progressive” and the two fanned out across the county. Both of them picked up numerous endorsements, with Brooks supported by MCEA, Casa in Action, SEIU Local 32-BJ, MCGEO, UFCW Local 400, the Democratic Socialists, Progressive Maryland, and the AFL-CIO among others.
Brooks and Wilhelm ask whether corporate welfare for Amazon is worth it.
In the end, Brooks finished 7th in the four-seat race, right behind Wilhelm. The table below shows her performance by geography. She was particularly strong in Montgomery Village, Burtonsville, Silver Spring East County and Takoma Park. (See here for my methodology.) If the election were decided solely by upcounty residents, she would have won.
The table below shows her performance by demographics. Brooks did not do well in heavily white and Asian precincts, such as many located in Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac, but she finished in the top four in Black and Latino precincts.
Many first-time candidates who don’t win disappear and never run again. Not Brooks. She has remained active in county politics, running for planning board, joining the board of the MoCo Renters Alliance and commenting frequently on county issues. By all appearances, she has retained most if not all of her 2018 loyalists. Among the advantages she brings to her second run for office are her experience from the first race, her understanding of raising money in public financing, her proven electoral performance in many parts of the county and her possession of relationships that she did not have as a brand-new candidate. She should be an even stronger candidate this time around.
Brooks’s announcement will have two consequences. First, other potential candidates fancying the open at-large seat created by term limits (incumbent Hans Riemer is termed out) will have to decide what they want to do. Brooks is raising money and campaigning at the very moment I write this. Some folks will rush out of the gate. Others will decide to run in other races or perhaps not run at all. Expect other prospects to announce their intentions soon.
Second, Brooks is no mealy-mouthed wallflower; she is a loud, proud progressive. The current county council has numerous issues before it of importance to progressives, including rent stabilization, police reform and (soon) a budget with a potential tax hike in it. You can bet that Brooks will have something to say about all of those things and more. That’s going to affect the incumbents, especially the ones who will be in her race. Because the council will be looking over their shoulders at Brooks’s big blue cheering section, her very presence in the race could wind up moving the council slightly – or maybe not so slightly – to the left. If that happens, expect progressives to give Brooks the credit for it.
It’s too early to pick favorites, especially since we don’t know which other candidates will be running for council at-large. (Those seats tend to attract crowds.) But for now, I will just say this.
Since 1990, the Montgomery County Council has had five district seats and four at-large seats. Every few years, proposals are made to get rid of the at-large seats and go to an all-district seat system. County voters rejected a ballot question doing so in 2004 by a 61-39% vote. The county is fortunate that they did because getting rid of the at-large seats is a terrible idea.
Why is that so?
The table below shows the outcome of council district races over the last six cycles, plus open seat special elections in 2002, 2008 and 2009.
Here is the distribution of outcomes in these contests.
The huge majority of these races are non-competitive when Democratic incumbents are on the ballot. In fact, a Democratic district incumbent has not been defeated since 1998, when challenger Phil Andrews door-knocked his way to victory against District 3 incumbent Bill Hanna. Since then, a challenger to a district incumbent has come within 10 points only twice. Democratic district incumbents have an 18-1 win-loss record since 1998, which includes 5 races with no opponent. In the last 10 races with district incumbents, the incumbents have won by 40 points or more 8 times.
Now let’s look at at-large council races since 1990.
There are four at-large council seats. In every cycle since the current system was instituted, there has been more than four at-large candidates, meaning there has always been competition. That has been true even in cycles in which all four incumbents were running (2010 and 2014). In three cycles (2002, 2006 and 2010), an incumbent was defeated. In 2018, an incredible 33 Democrats ran at-large when 3 open seats were available.
Public financing no doubt played a role in encouraging so many candidates to run at-large. In contrast, district races with incumbents in 2018 were sleepy aside from District 3, in which the incumbent used public financing and the challenger stayed in the traditional system. (The incumbent won.)
All of the above illustrates a central fact: at-large races with incumbents usually have much more competition than district races with incumbents. One reason for that is the nature of such elections. An at-large race is a beauty contest with the four most popular candidates winning. Negative campaigning is uncommon except when slates are present (as in 2002). But in a district race with an incumbent, a challenger must make the case that the incumbent has committed a firing offense; otherwise, voters tend to go with the incumbent. Most candidates stay clear of heavy-lifting negative campaigns, especially when they are likely to lose, and with rare exceptions (like 2018 District 3 challenger Ben Shnider) the best ones prefer to run at-large.
Political competition is precious. Decades of evidence from our elections shows that abolishing at-large council seats would destroy most political competition in council elections. That is a really bad idea.
That said, supporters of adding districts are not wrong. More on that tomorrow.
As Council At-Large candidate Will Jawando points out in the mailer below, MoCo’s population has a majority of people of color but has not elected an at-large Council Member of color since Ike Leggett left the council in 2002. Leggett remains the only person of color ever elected to an at-large seat but we believe Jawando has a great chance to join him.
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.
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.
Here is something we haven’t seen before: a mid-term year Apple Ballot with one candidate occupying one side of it and a list of others on the other side. This Apple, still in wrapping, is customized in favor of Council At-Large candidate Chris Wilhelm.
Here is another one spotlighting District 16 House candidate Samir Paul.
The Apple we were given at the Wheaton early voting site was not like these. It had county candidates on one side and state candidates on the other, a typical format used in the past.
Wilhelm and Paul are MCPS teachers. We totally get why MCEA would like to elect its own members to office, although that has not always been their top priority. For example, the union endorsed County Council District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage over MCPS teacher Marc Elrich in 1998. In Elrich’s 2002 and 2006 races, he did appear on the Apple but we don’t recall him getting an entire side of it to himself.
The races involving Paul and Wilhelm are very different. In District 16, the two incumbent Delegates – Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are endorsed by MCEA and a lock for reelection. Paul is in a tight contest with fellow new candidate Sara Love for the open seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick. He needs every edge he can get.
The Council At-Large race, on the other hand, is extremely competitive and unpredictable. MCEA has endorsed incumbent Hans Riemer, Brandy Brooks and Will Jawando in addition to Wilhelm. Riemer seems likely to be reelected but that’s about all that can be safely predicted in this race. What will Riemer, Brooks and Jawando think of the Wilhelm Ballot?