Kevin Walling, a 28-year old political operative who has not previously served on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, Monday night was elected to chair the panel – whose membership has experienced a significant turnover due to retirements as well as efforts earlier this year to smooth relations with several of the county’s leading labor groups.
In winning the post, Walling defeated Alan Banov, a 68-year old Kensington resident who has served on the MCDCC since 2002, by 14-10 on a secret ballot among committee members. The election of a chair came during the first meeting of the committee since last month’s primary, during which all of the panel’s 24 voting seats were up for grabs.
For Walling, a Chevy Chase resident who works for a Washington-based political consulting firm, election to head the MCDCC creates a bit of local history: He is the youngest person ever to head the county’s Democratic committee, as well as the first openly gay person to do so.
His elevation also represents a comeback of sorts: Walling announced a year ago that he was seeking the nomination for the state House of Delegates from Bethesda/Chevy Chase-based District 16, only to back out six months later when his fundraising failed to meet expectations. He shifted his sights to the MCDCC, where he won one of eight at-large seats last month while laying the groundwork in advance of the June 24 primary to seek the chair’s slot.
But the maneuvering preceding his election to the MCDCC’s top job served to highlight internal tensions on a committee now split almost evenly between new members and veterans.
Several members of the latter group sought to persuade Darrell Anderson, who had served as assistant secretary of the outgoing committee, to run for chair – believing that Anderson, a former Washington Grove mayor, would make a stronger challenger to Walling than Banov. But Anderson, after determining that Banov was committed to race, opted not to seek the post.
The push to get Anderson to run had come from elements of the committee concerned that Walling, besides not having previously served on the MCDCC, had limited prior involvement in local Democratic Party activities. Walling sought to address these criticisms in a brief speech before Monday’s vote.
“I know that many of you are concerned that I have not served on this committee before. I understand that. But I am not new to politics,” Walling, whose background includes a two-year stint as director of fundraising and communication for Equality Maryland, told the MCDCC. “I am not new to the precinct organization that we run. I am not new to fundraising, and I am not new to working with a team with diverse backgrounds and ideas.”
Referring to declining voter turnout in recent Democratic primaries, he vowed to “implement changes to modernize and expand our outreach in the community.”
Walling’s election is the culmination of a process that started last fall, when then-MCDCC Chair Gabriel Albornoz – who relinquished his post following Walling’s election on Monday night – and representatives of several of the county’s leading labor groups opened discussions about fielding a “unity slate” of candidates for the MCDCC.
It was in large part an effort to heal a rift that opened up following the Democratic central committee’s endorsement of a move to repeal so-called effects bargaining for the county’s police union; a repeal referendum was adopted in the 2012 general election. That triggered a labor boycott of the Democratic committee’s annual “spring ball” in May of last year.
A combination of retirements and several MCDCC members running for public office this year created an unusual number of openings on the committee, although there were also some quiet efforts to ease out some veteran members to make way for newer blood. According to sources, an effort was made at the time to remove Banov, a Silver Spring-based attorney, from his seat on the panel into a role as the MCDCC’s non-voting counsel. But Banov was said to have resisted the move, and was ultimately included on the so-called unity slate.
“This is the last office I plan to seek. For many years, it’s been my dream to be chair of the central committee,” Banov told the MCDCC before Monday’s vote, as he recalled his efforts in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In an effort to appeal to the younger members coming on to the panel, he wisecracked, “Don’t assume because I’m a bald-headed old guy that I’m opposed to change.”
He later added, “I may seem a little bland to people, but I’ll tell you what I think – and I’ll tell you the truth all the time.”
Initially, many observers thought Walling’s strongest competition for the chair’s job would come from Almina Khorakiwala of Rockville, who was first elected to the MCDCC in 2010. But, in a major surprise in last month’s primary, Khorakiwala finished third in a contest for two committee seats from District 16, despite having been included on the unity slate and campaigning hard for re-election.
Coupled with the low visibility afforded contests for the MCDCC, several insiders attributed Khorakiwala’s relatively narrow loss to a complicated last name and being listed last on the ballot among the MCDCC candidates for District 16. When first elected four years ago, she had run unopposed.
Meanwhile, Arthur Edmunds of Laytonsville – a holdover from the prior committee – was elected vice chair of the panel. He succeeds Venattia Vann of Germantown, ensuring that the committee’s No. 2 job will continue to be held by a minority group member; both Edmunds and Vann are African-American.
Edmunds was elected vice chair by acclamation despite the fact that his re-election to the MCDCC in last month’s primary was opposed by members of the state legislative delegation in District 14; at least one of the district’s state legislators was said to have pushed back against Edmunds being named vice chair.
The committee, also by acclamation, named Wendy Cohen of Bethesda as secretary, Johntel Greene of Wheaton as assistant secretary, Timothy Whitehouse of Poolesville as treasurer, and Erin Yeagley of Rockville as assistant treasurer. All are new to the MCDCC; Yeagley is a staff member of the UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, one of the unions that played a major role in putting together the unity slate.
Walling said later he had “encouraged” some of the other committee officers to run, but added, “There was no slate or anything like that.”