By Adam Pagnucco.
First, the easy part: all three incumbents – Senator Susan Lee and Delegates Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman – are running as a team and are headed to reelection. Lee has historically been one of the delegation’s best fundraisers (although Korman surpassed her by a little bit this cycle). Kelly is beloved by advocates for families, women and children for her work on their issues and has emerged as a leader on ridding Annapolis of sexual harassment. Korman is a rare bird: a lawyer who is good with numbers. Metro riders everywhere should thank him for his tenacious work to improve WMATA. Great things are predicted for Korman so long as he does not return to blogging.
Attorney Sara Love and MCPS teacher Samir Paul are the top non-incumbents vying for the seat being vacated by Delegate Bill Frick, who is running for County Executive. Love and Paul would be great candidates in any part of the county, but unfortunately for them, they are running in the same district. Love fits in well with the progressive female voters who dominate District 16 primaries. Paul is a teacher who has been active in MCEA (which has endorsed him), but his message is much bigger than education as he draws links between all public institutions that confer benefits but require investment, especially WMATA. Love and Paul had super fundraising performances and are essentially equal in cash on hand. Those who have met them are impressed with both of them, but sadly, there is only one open seat.
The Big Question: will Frick, who filed a disappointing January report, drop back down to the House race? We know Frick does not enjoy that question, but since he withdrew from the Attorney General’s race and refiled for Delegate at the last hour in 2014, this is on everybody’s mind. Such a move by Frick would probably result in all four incumbents being reelected, wasting huge time and effort by Love and Paul.
This district is a mess. The only certainty here is that Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Kumar Barve will be reelected, assuming that Kagan is not picked up by a gubernatorial candidate as a running mate. As for everything else… well.
At the root of the mess is Delegate Jim Gilchrist. By all accounts, he is a nice guy who never causes trouble. His defenders describe him as a studious, intellectual workhorse who gets into the weeds and doesn’t claim credit for anything. But he has little tangible to show for three terms in office. He has passed no signature legislation. His website is inactive. His Facebook page has not been updated since 2014 as of this writing. And his fundraising is weak. Consider this: since 2006, Gilchrist has raised a total of $83,217 from others, an average of $27,739 per cycle. (He has also self-financed $11,120 over that period.) MoCo has a bunch of candidates who can raise $27,000 in a month.
The search result for Gilchrist’s website less than five months from election day.
So why does he keep winning office? He has a guardian angel: Barve, who is his committee chair and likes him. Barve slates with him regularly and appears in joint mailers with him. Gilchrist would be a goner in most districts, but with Barve helping him, he survives. And that has caused grumbling in some parts of District 17.
This time, Rockville City Council Member Julie Palakovich Carr decided to run for Delegate in July even when it appeared that all three incumbents (Barve, Gilchrist and Andrew Platt) were running for reelection. Six months later, Platt dropped out and Barve and Gilchrist quickly decided to slate with Palakovich Carr. That’s when simmering tensions erupted into the open.
Kagan, who is no fan of Gilchrist, announced that she was not endorsing the Delegate slate, at least not yet. This is almost unheard of; in virtually all cases when incumbent Delegates form a slate and none of them are challenging the sitting Senator, the Senator participates. And when Kagan posted her decision on Facebook, the Mayor of Gaithersburg and two Gaithersburg City Council Members voiced their displeasure with the slate.
Open dissatisfaction with the Delegate slate surfaces on Kagan’s Facebook page.
The nominal reason expressed by some for their unhappiness is that with the inclusion of Palakovich Carr, all three slate members are from Rockville and none are from Gaithersburg. (The two cities are roughly equal in size.) But lurking underneath is festering discontent with Gilchrist’s performance in office. Some would prefer open competition in part because it might lead to Gilchrist’s defeat, but instead they got another slate designed to protect him. Two Gaithersburg House candidates – school board member Rebecca Smondrowski and attorney Julian Haffner (who is married to a City Council Member) – have now entered the race. Barve is the only Delegate candidate with any real money, so all the others have a lot of work to do.
The Big Questions: will the Gaithersburg grumblers step up and organize for one or more of the House candidates from their city? Or will they cut their losses and make their peace with Barve and his slate-mates? And what, if anything, will Kagan do?