Andrew Friedson of Bethesda raised and spent about $370,000 on his way to victory in this year’s eight-person Democratic primary for the District 1 County Council seat, according to reports filed this week with the State Board of Elections.
In fact, Friedson raised more than any of this year’s candidates running countywide for an at-large council seat during the primary, notwithstanding that Bethesda/Chevy Chase-based District 1 contains only about one-fifth of Montgomery County’s total population. A former aide to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, Friedson is the odds-on favorite to win the November election for the seat held for the past 12 years by term-limited District 1 council member Roger Berliner, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in the June 26 Democratic primary.
The second biggest spender in the District 1 council primary was former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington of Chevy Chase, who reported spending a little more than $277,000. While about $147,000 of this came from outside contributions, Wellington self-financed about half her campaign with personal loans totaling $130,000. Nearly half of these loans—$64,000—were made immediately after the primary to underwrite the cost of her campaign.
Friedson and Wellington relied entirely on private contributions to finance their candidacies, which allowed them to raise and spend significantly more than two other leading contenders—state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase and attorney Regina “Reggie” Oldak of Bethesda—who opted to tap into the county’s new public campaign finance system.
The experience in District 1 turned out to be markedly different than this year’s primary for at-large council seats, in which the winners—and most of the leading contenders—chose to rely on public funding, which provided candidates with up to $250,000 in public subsidies in return for limiting their private donations to $150 or less. Candidates for district council seats agreed to the same limits on private contributions, in return for a maximum public match of $125,000.
Oldak—a onetime chief of staff to Berliner—maxed out at $125,000, while collecting $54,500 in outside contributions and loaning herself $5,000, enabling her to spend about $184,500 on her candidacy. She finished in third place with 17.4 percent of the vote, less than 100 votes head of Wellington’s fourth-place finish.
Gutierrez, who ran a thinly funded campaign in which she raised just $15,200 in outside contributions in addition to receiving $43,500 in public funding, finished second with nearly 21.5 percent. While Friedson garnered the endorsement of The Washington Post, Gutierrez was endorsed by several local unions—most notably the Montgomery County Education Association. A county Board of Education member before moving to the House of Delegates, she has been on the ballot quadrennially for three decades—making her a familiar figure to Chevy Chase-area voters.
Friedson, who won by capturing more than 28 percent of the vote—coming out more than 2,200 votes ahead of Gutierrez—spent heavily on a variety of media to get his message out. In addition to more than $80,000 for a direct mail effort, he reported more than $66,000 spent for online ads and website development, along with $47,000 for TV ad time.
This effort exhausted his campaign treasury; he reported just over $400 on hand as of last week. But, running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, he faces only token opposition in November from Republican Richard Banach of Chevy Chase, a 20-year old college student who has reported neither raising nor spending any money on the contest so far.
This year’s potentially competitive general election race for a council seat is in District 2, which encompasses most of the northern, more rural section of the county. Democratic incumbent Craig Rice of Germantown, renominated to a third term by a nearly 3-1 margin over safety instructor Tiquia Bennett of Germantown, reported $85,500 in his campaign treasury as of last week.
County Republicans are touting their nominee, former teacher Ed Amatetti of North Potomac—who, unlike Rice, has opted to tap into the public funding system. Amatetti reported receiving more than $59,300 in public funding as of last week, and has requested another $4,250 in public subsidies heading into the general election. In addition, he has raised about $21,500 in private contributions, with about $43,000 in cash on hand.
Amatetti won the primary by capturing more than half the vote against two opponents—government consultant Tom Ferleman of Gaithersburg and business owner Kyle Sefcik of Damascus, neither of whom appeared to mount more than a token campaign. Ferleman reported raising and spending less than $1,000 since January, while Sefcik spent about $4,800 during the primary, according to this week’s reports.
Outside of District 1, this year’s most competitive primary for a district seat was the Democratic contest in Rockville/Gaithersburg-based District 3, where political operative Ben Shnider of Rockville raised $213,400 and spent $217,300, leaving him with about $3,900 in campaign debts as of this week’s filing.
Shnider sought to challenge incumbent Sidney Katz, a former Gaithersburg mayor, from the left. Unlike Shnider, Katz opted for public funding, raising $31,750 in small donations and qualifying for the full $125,000 public match, for a total campaign budget of nearly $157,000. While outspent overall by nearly $60,000, Katz saved most of his resources for the end—laying out $118,000 in the closing weeks of the campaign, while Shnider, who had spent heavily earlier in the campaign, had about $70,000 left to spend at that point. Katz’s late effort included $73,000 paid to the Beytin Agency—an Arlington, Virginia-based firm often used by local candidates—for online advertising.
Katz narrowly came out on top, 53 percent to 47 percent, and, with no Republican challenger, is guaranteed a second term. He’s one of three district council members without opposition in November: District 4 council member Nancy Navarro and District 5’s Tom Hucker, both of Silver Spring, are also assured of a spot on the next council after easy primary wins.