Bilal Ayyub, who had been recruited by representatives of several minority groups to seek the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat in District 15, withdrew his candidacy late Saturday – clearing the way for Delegate Brian Feldman to be named to fill the slot.
Ayyub, a University of Maryland engineering professor who was born in the Middle East, withdrew from the running in a letter to Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee Chair Gabriel Albornoz. The committee is scheduled to meet on Sept. 10, at which time it is all but certain to recommend Feldman to fill the seat of state Sen. Robert Garagiola, whose resignation takes effect next weekend.
In withdrawing, Ayyub acknowledged he was unlikely to overcome Feldman’s early advantage in the contest. “…Based on my phone calls and communications, it is clear that early endorsements have impacted the decisions,” Ayyub said in his letter to Albornoz.
“He [Ayyub] realized a decision had already been made, and it would be no use pursuing it,” said Tufail Ahmad, a District 15 Democratic Party activist who was part of the group that had recruited Ayyub, a Potomac resident. The district stretches from Potomac through western Montgomery County to the Frederick County line.
Ahmad said he does not expect his group will find another candidate to take on Feldman when the Democratic committee meets, and expects that Feldman will be recommended unanimously to fill Garagiola’s seat. Gov. Martin O’Malley then has 30 days to make the appointment, but that is considered a formality.
It appears the focus of minority group efforts will now shift to the delegate seat that Feldman will be vacating. “I urge all facets of the Democratic Party to approach the anticipated District 15 delegate opening in an independent and transparent manner,” Ayyub said in his letter. At least half-dozen contenders have emerged for the delegate seat, including several minority group members – among them former Delegate Saqib Ali, who already has been lobbying Democratic central committee members.
Feldman has said he plans to seek a full four year Senate term in 2014 if he is named to the seat. Ayyub, on the other hand, had offered himself as an “interim senator” who would not seek election next year, leaving the Senate slot an open seat in next June’s primary.
Feldman, who has served in the state House of Delegates since 2002, became an instant favorite for the Senate seat when Garagiola announced his resignation in early June. But representatives of several minority groups, noting that Montgomery County is now majority-minority, began a search for an alternative candidate – emphasizing that a minority group member has never held one of the county’s eight state Senate seats.
“I believe that my involvement in the District 15 vacancy process has been an important step forward for underrepresented people and also for the Democratic Party in Montgomery County,” Ayyub said in the letter. But, in what appeared to be a shot at several messages sent to the Democratic committee arguing against his candidacy, Ayyub added, “The discouraging electronic traffic on my candidacy has illuminated for all of us the fact that we have a long way to go to change the mindset of those who are apprehensive about inclusion.”
The issue created a split among leading office holders in the county who are minority group members. County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Vice President Craig Rice – himself a former District 15 delegate – endorsed Feldman, while County Council President Nancy Navarro and Councilmember Valerie Ervin were part of the group that recruited Ayyub.
Several of those backing Feldman had argued that his experience – he is a former chairman of the Montgomery County House delegation who now serves in the House leadership as parliamentarian – was necessary to bolster the county’s clout in Annapolis, particularly in light of the resignation of Garagiola, now the current Senate majority leader, and the impending departure of long-time District 16 Sen. Brian Frosh to run for state attorney general.
In a letter to the Democratic central committee last week, House Majority Leader Kumar Barve – one of six minority members in Montgomery County’s 24-member House delegation – lauded Feldman for preventing the Republicans from stalling legislation at the end of the last session.
“An inexperienced ‘caretaker senator’ could not have saved the session in this manner,” Barve declared.