Tag Archives: Council At-Large

Don’t Abolish the At-Large County Council Seats

By Adam Pagnucco.

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.

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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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The Wilhelm Ballot

By Adam Pagnucco.

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?

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Brooks and Wilhelm Take on Amazon

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council At-Large candidates Brandy Brooks and Chris Wilhelm, who are running as a team, have sent out the mailer below raising concerns about the impact of Amazon possibly establishing a second headquarters in Montgomery County.  Put aside whatever feelings you have about the underlying issue; we find this to be a smart political tactic.  There are so many candidates in the at-large race this year that the victory threshold could be as low as 30,000 votes – or less.  If that number of voters, which corresponds to roughly thirty percent of the likely Democratic primary electorate, is concerned about Amazon, and if Brooks and Wilhelm are the only candidates in the race with that message, they could get a leg up.  We reprint their mailer – a 15″ by 12″ monster – below.

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