Montgomery-Owned Establishment Loses Big
Yesterday, the Maryland Democratic Party's functionaries convened in Lanham to elect a new statewide leadership for the next four years. It was widely expected that establishment favorite and Montgomery County resident Kathleen Matthews would be elected to complete a second term as chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. However, in a dramatic turn of events, Matthews was defeated by a last-minute insurgency carried out by a coalition of millennial politicos and progressive activists. In the final count, public policy expert Maya Rockeymoore Cummings of Baltimore City unseated the congenial Matthews by 438-319 votes.
Here’s a list of the new officers:
Chair: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (Baltimore City)
First Vice Chair: Cory McCray (Baltimore City)
Second Vice Chair: Allison Galbraith (Eastern Shore)
Third Vice Chair: Nicole Williams (Prince Georges County)
Secretary: Robbie Leonard (Baltimore County)
Deputy Secretary: Abena McCallister (Charles County)
Treasurer: Bob Kresslein (Western Maryland)
Deputy Treasurer: Jeffrey Slavin
Sending a Message
Progressives have said they in part wanted to send a message to the party establishment, following their large-scale desertion of the party's nominee for governor Ben Jealous at the polls. One of the new officers elected yesterday went as far as to put the blame directly on elected officials hailing from Matthews' native Montgomery County. That officer claimed that Democratic officials from voter-rich Montgomery County abandoned Jealous, whose campaign they found out of touch and alien to Maryland.
"Yesterday showed the widespread discontent showed with the status quo politics that benefits a tiny few while locking so many out of the process. The new leadership team have the experience with grassroots democracy and developing networks, plus the long term vision, that we need to continue democratizing Maryland and lowering the hurdles for everyday people to run and win," said Richard DeShay Elliott in a prepared statement. Elliott was one of the major organizers of the insurgent team of millennial candidates who won yesterday's leadership vote.
A Thankless Job
Few activists had negative words about Matthews' tenure, and many agreed she was given a thankless job to re-organize and mobilize a state party that was allowed to languish under the last Democratic Governor, Martin O'Malley, and then was disgraced by the loss of Government House in a state once considered the second bluest place in America after California. Many privately blame O'Malley's less-than-ethical time as governor to be responsible for why Democrats lost in 2014.
A New Crew
Nearly the entire leadership of the party is new, with Baltimore-based State Senator Cory McCray being elected first Vice Chair, Prince Georges County stalwart Nicole Williams being elected Third Vice Chair, and insurgent candidate Allison Galbraith being elected Second Vice Chair. All three are millennials, with Galbraith being a former congressional candidate from the Eastern Shore.
MoCo: A County Divided
Within Montgomery County, political activists were far from offering praise to their central committee. The secretive body has been routinely criticized for caring far more about electing their membership to higher office than actually running the local Democratic Party -- which is their chartered purpose. "Democrats in Montgomery County need to get real about the impact of economic and racial inequality in our communities, our politics, and our policies," said Michelle Whittaker, who was the campaign manager for Brandy Brooks. Brooks was a political newcomer whose insurgent campaign earned her the second most votes of any woman running at-large for Montgomery County's county council. "MCDCC’s vote gives the appearance that they are out of sync with where the party as a whole wants, and needs to go", Whittaker continued.
"Black women, are the past, present, and future of the Democratic Party but that hasn't always been reflected in party leadership," said Lily Bolourian, who was the political director for David Blair, Marc Elrich's chief opponent in the primary race for county executive this year. Bolourian, herself Iranian-American, advocated for broad engagement of the county's massive immigrant and minority communities, something only Elrich & Blair's campaign embraced in a county where 1 in 3 people are born abroad, and a majority of the population is not white.
Montgomery County's Central Committee: "Out of Touch With Reality"
Many observers were shocked to see how out of touch Montgomery County's delegation was with the rest of the state, with even a large segment of their traditional allies in Prince Georges County voting for Cummings over Matthews. In stark contrast, save for one single vote, every MoCo vote went to Matthews. No other delegation was so in-lock step with the old guard. "I think they are inexplicably out of touch with reality," said one state elected official.
"I'm not surprised, considering the history of Montgomery County," said Richard DeShay Elliott.
"I think the vote yesterday reflects a change in the air," said new party deputy treasurer Jeffrey Slavin. "50% of the central committee members who voted were new, and they wanted to have their own brand reflected in the elections. This is not a reflection on Kathleen, who did a fantastic job. The people just rose up against party insiders and wanted a chair who reflects the new reality of our party and state". Slavin, himself a longtime party insider, was the only Montgomery County resident to be elected to a leadership position yesterday. He attributes this to his decision to make space for younger and more diverse talent.
Antipathy for Asian & Non-White Voters: A MoCo Establishment Tradition
Criticism also extends to the leadership of Montgomery County's central committee. In a county as diverse as Montgomery County, most political observers have expressed dismay that the MCDCC's chairmanship went from one white man, Dave Kunes, to another, Scott Goldberg. Goldberg is a former candidate for state delegate from District 16, which is home to the bulk of the party establishment & party insiders whose suzerainty was rejected by yesterday's election of a new party chair. "It is almost as if they fear what would happen if someone not white was MCDCC chair again," said a senior elected official who asked not to be named.
And frankly, that is a concern shared by many. Over the past decade, the revolving chair of political power in the county has stayed within a small circle of white, male power-brokers (both Kunes & Goldberg have worked for major county figures, and are former president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats). However, the county’s diversity and population has ballooned, with party leaders doing anything they can to allow only carefully vetted non-white leaders emerge in the role of gatekeepers. Take for instance how the county’s estimated 100,000 Muslims have been deliberately excluded from political office for 12 years in Montgomery County.
"We still haven't gotten a Black Governor. When we do autopsies of our elections, do we ask what role our biases have in how these elections play out? Montgomery's Democrats need to do some soul searching," said Adam Abadir. Abadir, an Ethiopian-American, is a former senior aide to former US Rep. Donna Edwards, who represented a significant portion of Montgomery County until gerrymandering carried out by Martin O'Malley in 2012.
Nostalgia for Karen Britto
The last county party chair considered to have a "successful" tenure was Karen Britto, herself a black woman. Since then, it has been universally agreed that the Democratic Party in Montgomery County is perhaps the most dysfunctional in the state. One chair --also a white man-- was forced out for utter incompetence by state elected officials four years ago following a scandal involving money wasted on a dud of a sample ballot--something unheard of in the rest of state. Reformers like Marie Mapes, Jazmin Morales and others have been fighting an uphill battle to see Montgomery County's central committee become a functional body. However, many observers have said it is time a "minority woman" take the helm of the party.
The Battle for MoCo’s Soul: Raskin & Elrich vs. The World
Yet, it is probably important to note that two of Montgomery County’s most popular elected leaders are themselves long-time progressive insurgents. Jamie Raskin, an ally of both Matthews & the rising millennials, has worked hard to be the bridge between the establishment and the restless forces of reform, yearning to repair the damage of a 1%-focused economy going back to the O’Malley era. Elrich & Raskin are actively trying to reform the Montgomery County Democrats to reflect the values and demographics that now are the majority of MoCo’s population, to the bitter opposition of the shadowy establishment and their central committee underlings.
To her credit also, MoCo resident Matthews fought to empower millennials during her short tenure. Again and again, people have noted that Matthews was a tireless chair. The political winds blowing off the Bay this year are just fickle, is all.
Howard County Rising
In a stunning rebuke of Montgomery County's dysfunction, several members of the state's federal delegation have hailed Howard County's diverse, millennial dominated central committee as the best in the state. Moreover, it was Maureen Evans Arthurs, the chair of the Howard County central committee that nominated Maya Cummings yesterday for state party chair. Every Howard County vote went for Cummings.
Howard County’s prevailing Democratic establishment was overthrown in a silent revolution earlier this year by the #HoCoForward slate.
Asians, Latinos and Muslims Missing from New Leadership
Despite the increase in diversity and millennial control of the state party apparatus, several key constituencies continue to be ignored and unincluded in leadership. Particularly, no Latinos, Muslims or Asians were elected in yesterday’s leadership election. Chief organizer of yesterday’s insurgency Richard DeShay Elliott assures that this was merely a matter of the crunched timeline for the election. Elliott says he and other progressive organizers are committed to empowering these communities, even if the political leadership of Maryland’s largest jurisdiction (Montgomery County) is not.
Conclusion & Personal Thoughts
Kathleen Matthews was far from an incompetent chair. That honor goes to several of her predecessors in the 2000s. However, Matthews had a very small footprint outside the major 4 jurisdictions Maryland’s Democrats have come to rely on to remain in power: Montgomery, Prince Georges, Baltimore County & Baltimore City. More than a dozen people interviewed for this blog article said they had only met her in passing in Howard County, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, and that while her mission was ambitious and honorable, the tides of politics have turned against Montgomery rule. Many of them felt that Montgomery’s 1% elite have used the party to enrich themselves over the past quarter century, while working to exclude an entire generation of millennials from power. Matthews they admitted, was not one of those shadowy figures, but she simply did not represent the party they wish to have today.
I was born in Montgomery County. As a boy, I grew up in Charles County before coming back to the MoCo in time to attend Catholic School for a year and then go off to middle school. I went to college in Baltimore County, spending a great amount of time in the city working on campaigns, and in Howard County visiting family and college friends. As a working adult, I’ve worked on campaigns on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland. I love my state. Its diversity, strange quirks of geography and brackish mixing of social and political cultures fascinate me. But for the past decade, Maryland has been failed by a generation of baby boomers (and some Gen Xers like Martin O’Malley) with a voracious appetite for power and wealth, and a disdain for embracing our state’s emerging diversity save for photo-ops. They have taken us from the state with the best education system in the country, to one that is struggling to pay its teachers fairly, and with a growing achievement gap. I’ve watched young people drop out of college and take on two or three jobs at a time to feed their families, classmates from high school get evicted from foreclosed homes, and our state go from a thriving economy to one of only two with a negative trajectory for the coming year.
And I watched it all happen while a small group of privileged gatekeepers and ingratiated politicians not give a damn. To save Maryland, we need a new way forward. And I’m committed to seeing those who have sought to bring ruin to our people while enriching themselves pay at the ballot box for what they’ve done. The Revolution for the Free State begins now. And it will likely not be televised.