Kevin Walling, who was elected as chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) a little more than four months ago, plans to relinquish his post in the wake of recent controversy over the committee’s handling of this year’s pre-election sample ballot distributed to Democratic voters.
“This past weekend, I let the executive board (of the MCDCC) know of my intention to step down as chair of this committee,” Walling said in an email to the full committee, which is comprised of 24 voting members. In the email, time-stamped Sunday with the subject head of “Our Party’s Future,” Walling added, “As you can imagine, this was a difficult decision to make, but I believe it is in the best interests of our local party.”
Continued Walling, “As I said at our Tuesday [Nov. 11] meeting, mistakes were made and I accept full responsibility for them, but we need to regroup and support one another.”
Party sources indicated the MCDCC will still hold a previously scheduled closed meeting Thursday evening, which originally had been called largely to discuss Walling’s future. That session is now expected to vote formally to accept Walling’s resignation. Following its regularly scheduled monthly meeting last Tuesday, the committee also went into closed session – but there was no formal move to seek Walling’s resignation at that time.
Walling did not return a call seeking comment this afternoon. In his message to MCDCC members, Walling said he plans to remain a rank-and-file member of the committee: He was elected to one of the MCDCC’s eight at-large slots in June.
According to sources, veteran MCDCC member Darrell Anderson plans to seek the chair’s post after being urged to do so by several current members. An election of a new chair is now slated to be held at the committee’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 9. Whoever is elected would serve as chair through the 2016 election.
Anderson, a former mayor of the town of Washington Grove, had been urged by some MCDCC members to run for chair this past summer. But Anderson stayed out of the race in deference to Alan Banov, a Kensington attorney who lost to Walling.
Once Walling’s resignation is accepted, MCDCC’s Vice Chair Arthur Edmunds will become the party’s acting chair. Edmunds, a Laytonsville resident, declined comment Wednesday afternoon when asked if he was considering running for the post at next month’s meeting. An Edmunds candidacy for chair could be problematic: He has been at odds with members of the District 14 state legislative delegation, who unsuccessfully sought his ouster from the committee in the June primary.
When he was elected in July, Walling – then 28 – became the youngest person ever to chair the Montgomery County Democratic Party. He came to the post as a veteran political operative, having worked for several state and national advocacy organizations prior to his current job with a Washington-based campaign consulting firm.
But he quickly ran into controversy, with some members complaining he had authorized fundraising efforts – via direct mail and robo-calls – with little or no consultation. Neither of these initiatives were said to have yielded much funding for the MCDCC, which has been increasingly cash-strapped in recent years.
But Walling’s fate was sealed by problems in conjunction with the pre-general election sample ballot, regarded by many Democratic candidates for public office as the MCDCC’s key function.
Democratic contenders for state legislative of local office in the county are assessed varying amounts to underwrite the cost of printing and mailing of the sample ballot. While no Democrats seeking office in the county were defeated on Nov. 4, many candidates were angered this year to find printing errors on the ballot, and to discover that it was mailed to far fewer Democratic voters than in prior years.
There are approximately 355,000 registered Democrats in the county, concentrated in about 187,000 households. But less than half of these households – about 92,000 – received sample ballots by mail, and the distribution of sample ballots in some districts where Republicans were mounting competitive races was particularly sparse. For example, in District 15 – which extends from the outskirts of Bethesda through Potomac to the Frederick County line – only 702 Democratic sample ballots were mailed out, despite the presence of 21,000 Democratic households in that district.
“It is absolutely imperative that the MCDCC immediately develop a list of procedures or a manual regarding all pre-general election responsibilities so that this debacle never happens again,” one member of the District 15 delegation, Del. Kathleen Dumais, wrote in an email to MCDCC members this past weekend.
Added Dumais, “I believe the MCDCC officially owes each elected official that was assessed for the sample ballot an accounting of the funds spent by the MCDCC on pre-general election activities…At this point, I do not believe that the MCDCC can justify the full assessment made to the candidates.” In an interview last Friday, Walling was unable to provide a final figure on how much money was raised from candidate assessments, while contending all the money in question had been directed to financing the sample ballot process.
In addition to the issues with the printing and the mailing of the sample ballots this year, Walling further lost the confidence of numerous elected officials with explanations for the problems that many found incorrect or implausible. For his part, Walling pointed a finger at some members of the MCDCC – where a large turnover following the June primary has contributed to a split between newer and more veteran members.
“We need to focus on rebuilding trust as a committee,” Walling said in his email to the committee. Referring to last Tuesday’s meeting, he added, “After speaking with a handful of you and members of the press this past week, it was clear a lot of what was discussed in our closed executive session was shared outside of our committee.”
He continued: “These kinds of conversations hurt our party and we need to get to a place where we can have frank discussions about mistakes and how to move forward, without reading about them in the press or in blogs the next day. It’s clear that this will likely continue if I stay on as chair of this committee, which will only hurt our party in the future.”