Category Archives: 2022 Demcratic Primary

Electronic Ballot Format Criticized

One of the hotter races this year in Montgomery County is the race for the four at-large seats. Incumbents Gabe Albornoz, Evan Glass and Will Jawando are seeking reelection. Incumbent Tom Hucker is looking to jump from his district seat to an at-large seat. Newcomers include Brandy Brooks, Dana Gassaway, Scott Goldberg and Gaithersburg Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles.

But the electronic ballot divides the candidates on two pages with only Sayles appearing on page 2. As you can guess from my listing of the candidates above, she drew the short straw due to her having the last name latest in the alphabet.

As we all learned in the 2000 election, ballot design can influence outcomes in close contests. It disadvantages Sayles to be on the second page. I don’t know what the Montgomery County Board of Elections can do to address this problem at this point.

In general, ballot order can shape outcomes. Candidates with names ending in A-L do better, on average, than candidates with names ending in M-Z for this reason. In polling, respondents are most likely to give the first or last choice as their answer.

One way to address these biases is to randomize candidate order. Pollsters purposefully scramble the choices to avoid these sort of biases. In statewide contests, California attempts to minimize the problem by having a different ballot order in each county.


Executive Race Lane 3: Needs a Job

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) is being turfed out of office by term limits. Like Marc Elrich four years ago, Riemer was the top vote getter in the previous election’s Democratic at-large council primary. Riemer’s achievement perhaps lacks some the luster since he was the only incumbent. But it doesn’t hurt.

Running for County Executive doesn’t appear to have been Riemer’s preferred path. When the Council was debating its reconfiguration in response to the initiative to eliminate the four at-large seats and move to all districts, Riemer proposed creating a separately elected Council President. The new office could likely evade the Council term limits and provide the well-known incumbent with another opportunity.

This didn’t pass the laugh test with his colleagues. The Council currently elects its President annually with the job rotating among the members. Why on earth would the rest of the Council want to give up the chance of being Council President to put Riemer in charge? I suppose one can admire Riemer’s chutzpah if not his political sense.

Until recently, Riemer was the upbeat urbanist warrior on the Council. That’s changed. Riemer has become stridently negative with his campaign marked by nearly incessant attacks on both incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich along with wealthy businessman David Blair.

Riemer has raised a tremendous amount of money through the public financing system. While it’s hard to compete with David Blair’s wallet or the developer PAC spending $500,000 on his behalf, it is still impressive. My sense is that his team has built a strong campaign.

Notwithstanding his strong fundraising and high name recognition, Riemer faces challenges. His urbanist base is split with David Blair. Some of his natural supporters find Blair’s past run and deep pockets a stronger bet than Riemer’s lengthy experience. Despite their revulsion towards Trump, Democrats seem happy to elect wealthy businessmen to office (e.g. David Trone and John Delaney), including many in Riemer’s crowd.

Riemer’s reputation among political observers who inform other voters and influencers also doesn’t help. In contrast to, say, Nancy Floreen, many see Riemer as a well-meaning guy but not a political or policy heavyweight. Though a fervent believer in his own proposals, he often doesn’t seem to know his brief and appears out of depth in answering questions.

Riemer’s campaign conversion on privatizing alcohol sales tends to confirm this view. After having previously headed the MoCo Nightlife Commission and years of telling us is that all we needed is to be able to buy craft beers, he has only now connected the dots and discovered that the alcohol monopoly is a problem.

When one of Riemer’s (very nice) campaign volunteers knocked on my door, I was amused to be handed a walk piece claiming that Riemer got the Purple Line done. I guess he has a different definition of “done” than I do. If we’re lucky, the light rail will be up and running around the time the next County Executive finishes his term complete with massive cost overruns. Though a shinier object, the unfinished Purple Line contrasts uneasily with Elrich’s ability to get the Flash BRT and up and running faster at a far lower cost.

Riemer and Elrich have never been BFFs and Riemer has dogged the Elrich administration relentlessly. But even in quieter times, councilmembers have trouble getting much attention from the public. Notwithstanding Riemer’s strong criticism of Elrich’s handling of the pandemic, and that many of the necessary choices were bound to alienate blocs of voters, voters view Elrich’s handling of it favorability to the chagrin of detractors.

Though the Washington Post had some kind words for Riemer (and harsh ones for Elrich), their endorsement of Blair helps confirm Riemer’s third-place status. Riemer has done his best to distinguish himself from both Elrich and Blair and run better than expectations. Still, it will be a real surprise if he wins the primary.


Baker/Navarro Suspend Campaign

Former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Montgomery Councilmember Nancy Navarro have suspended their ticket’s campaign for governor and lieutenant governor. While Baker was a major candidate for the Democratic nomination four years ago, his campaign just didn’t catch fire this time.

Baker cited the financial challenges facing the campaign. Navarro, who has a comparatively small political base in Montgomery and was unlikely to woo Latino voters and organizations away from Tom Perez’s campaign, didn’t hurt Baker’s campaign but also didn’t give it the additional lift it needed.

Of course, this frees up Navarro to spend more time sparring with County Executive Marc Elrich, something that seems only likely to increase after their public clash on “The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi” and Navarro’s endorsement of David Blair.

Even though Baker’s campaign didn’t get far, I am sure that other campaigns would welcome the endorsement of this well-known and respected figure in what remains a fluid race. I’ve already received a statement from Wes Moore’s campaign praising Baker and I am sure others are to follow if they haven’t already been issued.


Afternoon Update: No D18 Poll & Brooks Campaign

Rubin Mistaken on Poll

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 “” 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., 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.  


MCEA Issues Council Endorsements

The influential Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union, has issued its endorsements for the Montgomery County Council. I’ve put the non-incumbents in italics below:

District 1: Andrew Friedson
District 2: Will Roberts
District 3: Sidney Katz
District 4: Kate Stewart
District 5: Fatmata Barrie
District 6: Natali Fani-Gonzalez
District 7: Dawn Luedtke
At-Large: Brandy Brooks, Evan Glass, Laurie-Anne Sayles, Will Jawando

Interestingly, they have chosen not to endorse Council President Gabe Albornoz. This one puzzles me because unions normally endorse well-liked councilmembers who are likely to win even if they have some policy disagreements to avoid alienating them.

MCEA has also placed bets in several hotly contested open seats, including Rep. Raskin’s former Legislative Director Will Roberts in District 2, Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart in District 4, Immigration Attorney Fatmata Barrie in District 5, former Planning Board Member Natali Fani-Gonzalez in District 6, and Attorney Dawn Luedtke in District 7.

Five of their eleven endorsements went to African American candidates: Will Roberts, Fatmata Barrie, Brandy Brooks, Laurie-Anne Sayles and Will Jawando. Three have gone to Jewish candidates: Andrew Friedson, Sidney Katz and Evan Glass–all are incumbents. Glass is also the first openly gay councilmember. Natali Fani-Gonzalez is the sole Latina or Latino endorsed. (Correction: I’ve now learned that Brandy Brooks is Afro-Latina.) A majority of endorsements went to women (6 of 11).

(By the way, the Maryland State Board of Elections website appears a little screwed up and not listing candidates properly. Today, it is showing only five districts and candidates not necessarily listed where they are running as far as I can tell.)


Riemer Flip Flops on Liquor Control

Calling the laws governing the sale of liquor in Montgomery “antiquated and byzantine,” Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) came out in favor of abolishing the county liquor monopoly in an email blast sent out yesterday by his campaign for county executive.

This is quite a change.

Over three terms on the County Council, he has opposed doing away with the monopoly. The Nighttime Economy Task Force, which Councilmember Riemer chaired in 2013 studiously stayed away from recommending its abolition even though it was the obvious way to stimulate restaurant growth and nightlife.

Two years later in 2015, Riemer wrote here on Seventh State: “I strongly believe our county alcohol regime holds back the vibrancy of our restaurant and nightlife economy and negatively impacts the choices residents get in stores.” But even as he recognized its faults, he opposed ending the monopoly.

Instead, he championed an unworkable bill that would have allowed businesses to buy directly “boutique brands” that weren’t among the 4,500 carried by the then-Department of Liquor Control (DLC). Except that distributors were never going to run nearly empty trucks to stores or restaurants to deliver a case or two of their more obscure brands.

Meanwhile, Riemer worked to kill a bill sponsored by Del. Bill Frick (D-16) to allow county voters to decide whether to retain the monopoly. Even after the fiasco surrounding deliveries to bars and restaurants right before New Year’s just a couple of months later, Riemer stuck to his position against abolition.

Now, after three terms on the Council, Riemer has come out against the monopoly as part of his campaign for county executive.

He even argues that he is somehow more radical than David Blair because:

David Blair, on the other hand, also wants to keep the County in the liquor business. Rather than just getting out, Blair wants the County operations to compete with the private sector – creating a gigantic mess that will cost taxpayers dearly while needlessly subjecting employees to conditions that would be extremely stressful and demoralizing.

Keeping the county in the liquor business would increase competition, which is the entire point of abolishing the monopoly, while simply shutting it down as Riemer proposes would decrease it. The county liquor business might not survive this competition, but they are already established and positioned to give it a go. It’s hard to imagine that this would be more “stressful and demoralizing” than being fired, as Riemer suggests.

But the real story remains that Riemer has upended his position after twelve years on the Council as part of campaign for higher office.


In Lane 2: The Wealthy Businessman

David Blair has more or less been running for county executive since he had a heartbreakingly close 80 vote loss to then-Councilmember Marc Elrich in the 2018 Democratic primary. It’s safe to say that no one will mistake the politics of one for the other.

The most promising issue for Blair—and one that leans into his business experience—is Montgomery’s record in attracting business and jobs. Not only is it substantive issue and a genuine problem, it is also one his opponents have left wide open. Far too often, county government treats real estate development as the one and only issue. The County Council focuses heavily on zoning and various ways to spur development but gives seemingly short shrift to the rest.

But residential development doesn’t do much to grow the tax base. Residents are expensive, especially if they have children who use the public schools. If they do, chances are that they receive more in spending than they pay in taxes towards the one-half of the county budget dedicated to the Montgomery County Public Schools.

Montgomery has always provided its residents an impressive array of services beyond the schools. Unlike in some jurisdictions with comparable tax rates, you can look around and see a fair amount being provided for your money. But if we want to continue to grow the tax base to maintain it, we need more non-development business. That gives Blair both a subject that he can claim as his as well as a message.

Blair, however, is not running as an anti-tax candidate. Like the County Executive and the County Council, he strongly supported Question A in 2020, which will have the effect of raising property taxes higher than would have been possible in the past.

Instead, Blair promises to bring the executive leadership that made him so successful in business to Montgomery County government. While many would argue that shaking up the tree might well be a good thing, government is very different from business. As Truman once said regarding his successor: “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army.” Does Blair know how to operate the levers of government?

At times, Blair has sent mixed or unconvincing messages on that question and what he thinks. For example, he recently set himself apart by coming out in favor of ending Montgomery County’s antiquated liquor monopoly. But this is after previously hiring Robert Dorfman—the former head of the then-Department of Liquor Control—as his campaign manager. Dorfman is no longer with the Blair campaign.

Moreover, how does Blair plan to get either the county council or state legislative delegation to vote for his plan? Egged on by MCGEO, both have been adamantly opposed to dismantling the monopoly. He’ll have to do a lot of persuading to make it happen.

Blair’s Economic Development Plan is a grab bag. Some appear to be more wish list items than plans, such as “Attract Venture Capital Funding” and “Attracting Hospitality Tech Companies.” Others sound like old ideas repackaged, such as creating a “microincubator program” for life sciences.

I like his idea of cutting barriers to doing business but more specifics would help. His plan states that businesses should not be “bogged down by strict regulations, cost-prohibitive processes and unsatisfactory customer service.” Great, but concrete examples are badly needed to make it meaningful instead of a campaign slogan like his catchily named “Montgomery County Business Bill of Rights.”

People voted for Elrich and Blair last time in a rejection of the status quo.. Blair needs to show that he knows the real nuts and bolts of creating change even as he identifies with the problems faced by ordinary businessmen and residents. And show that it isn’t just a redux of focusing on development interests yet again.

Blair’s huge advantage, of course, will be his cavernously deep pockets. I imagine that, as in 2018, he will spend incredible sums to dominate the airwaves, internet ads and any other form of communication. He’ll also be able to pay an army of campaign advisors and workers. It worked for Reps. David Trone (who used his resources very skillfully) and John Delaney, so I don’t see why it couldn’t work for him.

No doubt his business record will come under close scrutiny. Many will also ask “If he wasn’t so wealthy, would anyone be interested in what he had to say?”

Even if the answer is no, opponents would do well to remember that Americans, including poor ones, tend to admire successful businessmen and women. We don’t hate them; we want to be them. After all, it’s the American Dream.


Executive Race Lane 1: The Incumbent

Marc Elrich drove the other members of the Montgomery County Council a bit nuts by winning the Democratic Primary in 2018. It was an unpleasant surprise for them that primary voters opted for him despite their frequent rejection of his ideas as either too progressive or anti-business. One of his Democratic colleagues, Nancy Floreen, even went so far as to leave the party so she could challenge him unsuccessfully in the general election. Hans Riemer, also an at-large member, had to think hard before endorsing him.

When asked about his greatest challenges as prime minister, Harold Macmillan famously replied “Events, my dear boy, events.” So it has been for County Executive Marc Elrich, who no doubt had intended to concentrate his term on pushing forward with vision for a more effective, progressive county but instead faced the major health and economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crisis has provided opportunities and pitfalls for Elrich. Montgomery has the highest rate of vaccination of any county in the nation of its size and has done an especially impressive job of vaccinating Black and Hispanic residents compared to other jurisdictions. However, Elrich has also had to make tough choices regarding school closings, masking, dining, and vaccination requirements that were virtually guaranteed to anger large constituencies no matter the decision.

But he has made them and it’s hard to argue that the county has fared badly or that he strayed from science in the process. Council opponents have snapped at his heels all the way, but I don’t know it has had much public impact. The Council has trouble gaining attention even at the most placid of times.

Elrich was most vociferously attacked for not having imposed vaccine requirements on the police. But in a time of rising crime did we want to potentially find ourselves without substantial numbers of officers and further alienate the police—the group of county employees with the highest non-vaccination rate? While many said “damn the torpedoes,” it is easy to bet that the same people would rush to the front of the line to attack Elrich for any increase in crime that resulted.

To my mind, Elrich faces two challenges as he seeks reelection. First, he needs to communicate clearly what he has done. Elrich explains things well and laudably avoids jargon in the process—one reason residents find him accessible—but is not known for being succinct. He needs to sell a short list of top accomplishments concisely.

Beyond arguing that he’s kept the county safe during the pandemic, Elrich can argue that he got the new FLASH new bus-rapid transit line built with more to come. Elrich also needs to articulate how his administration has worked successfully to protect struggling Montgomeryites throughout the pandemic despite opposition. Everyone likes someone who stands up for the underdog.

This last point will help Elrich with his second challenge: keeping movement progressives on side and active. In both parties today, many expect politicians to work miracles and are ready to attack anyone who hasn’t accomplished them even amidst a world roiling pandemic and absent legislative support. While Elrich’s alliance with labor should hold firm, will progressives be as active for him in 2022 as in 2018?

His opponents may unwittingly help him out there by continuing to caricature him as a throwback Marxist who can’t manage money. And yet, pensions are funded. The county retains its AAA bond rating. Attacks by financial scolds rely more on stereotypes than balance sheets. County finances are in better shape as they have been in recent memory despite the wrenching economic ups and downs of the pandemic.


Waldstreicher Challenger Gets Prominent Grassroots Support

Max Socol is running as a progressive challenger to incumbent Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher who is seeking reelection to the Maryland Senate after having also served three terms in the House of Delegates. That Socol is holding a fundraiser is hardly news.

The names on the invitation, however, grabbed my attention. All are well known in Montgomery County politics. Many are exactly the sort of people you’d think would be supporting an incumbent who touts himself as a “proud progressive” and “champion for justice” but are instead lined up squarely behind his challenger.

Former Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, who served with Waldstreicher for three terms in the House and ran on a ticket with him twice (!) is now working to defeat her former slate-mate. Always an alliance of convenience, I can’t say I find this shocking.

Brandy Brooks is making her second bid for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council. Like Socol, she is positioning herself as a progressive activist outsider. Brooks is considered one of the leading candidates in her own race.

Michelle Whittaker is a communications and campaign strategist. She is the former Communications Manager for Manna Foods and the former Director of Communications for FairVote among other organizations. She has testified for removing police officers from public schools and ranked choice voting. (She is also Brandy Brooks’s sister.)

Fran Rothstein, Diana Conway and Beth Tomasello are Past Presidents of the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. An informant tells me Conway has previously hosted an event for Waldstreicher. An environmentalist, Conway has been very active in the fight against synthetic turf playing fields. Tomasello is an attorney who has advocated on criminal justice reform.

Laura Stewart is currently the First Vice President of the Women’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County but probably better known as a PTA leader, an active supporter of County Executive Marc Elrich in 2018 and many other progressive causes.

Zola Shaw serves on Montgomery County’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Advisory Committee and is a member of the Board of the Montgomery County Chapter of Our Revolution Maryland. Michael Tardif was named Democrat of the Year by the Montgomery County Democratic Party in 2021.

Bottom Line

Whether Socol can build the coalition and the campaign needed to unseat Waldstreicher, a reelection-focused incumbent if there ever was one, remains to be seen. But the early strength indicates that Waldstreicher hasn’t nailed down his base even after sixteen year in the General Assembly.


Where are the Democratic Votes?

Source: Maryland State Board of Elections.

Maryland has closed primaries, which means that only registered members of a party can vote in its primary. Partisan leanings vary tremendously around the state, so the share of a county’s primary voters often differs quite a bit from its population share.

The above table shows the share of all statewide Democratic primary voters in the 2018 Democratic primary as well as eligible voters (i.e. registered Democrats) at that time and now. Together, Prince George’s and Montgomery made up two-fifths of Democratic primary voters in 2018. Despite being considerably smaller in population than Montgomery, Prince George’s has the same share of voters because it leans even more heavily Democratic than Montgomery.

However, if turnout patterns remain the same, Montgomery looks to ease past Prince George’s next year as the gap in eligible voters has closed by 0.5 points and Montgomery voters turn out at a higher rate than those in Prince George’s. In 2018, Montgomeryites were 18.0% of eligible Democrats but 20.0% of Democratic voters. Prince Georgians formed 21.0% of those eligible but only 20.2% of voters.

Today, Baltimore and its inner suburbs (Baltimore County, Anne Arundel and Howard) are have a slightly higher share of eligibles (40.6%) than the two big D.C. area powerhouses (39.1%). But unless Baltimore City ups its turnout game, the region’s share of Democratic primary voters will lag behind that of the inner D.C. suburbs as they did in 2018.

In the metropolitan areas, which include outer suburbs, Washington (46.7%) now has more eligibles than Baltimore (45.5%). In 2018, the Washington Metro already beat the Baltimore Metro in the share of all Democratic voters by over three points–47.8 to 44.6. This lead is likely to continue to slowly expand as D.C. is now growing faster than Baltimore and becoming even more heavily Democratic. In Montgomery, Trump’s share of the vote dropped from 33% in 2016 to 19% in 2020.

The Eastern Shore and the Western 3 (Garrett, Allegany and Washington) together form only 7.6% of eligible Democratic voters and are consequently almost an afterthought for statewide candidates except during the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake.

We’re also a long way from the days when the Baltimore area, let alone Baltimore City, dominated the state. Among Democratic primary voters, D.C. has already surpassed Baltimore with the lead looking to continue to grow slowly but steadily.