Editor’s note: With early voting starting July 7, Bethesda Beat will be running election wrap-ups of the races for Montgomery County offices and the General Assembly. Today we focus on the Democratic primary for County Council at-large seats. There are four seats up for election in the Democratic and Republican primaries.
Four current Montgomery County Council Members are asking Montgomery County voters to elect them to another four-year term, as four Democratic challengers—some running again, some for a first time—are also vying for four open seats.
The County Council will still have four at-large seats representing the entire county after this year’s elections, since county voters approved a ballot question in 2020 increasing the number of districts from five to seven,
County Council President Gabe Albornoz, Council Vice President Evan Glass and County Council Member Will Jawando are all seeking second terms. County Council Member Tom Hucker—who currently represents District 5, which includes Silver Spring, Takoma Park and eastern parts of the county—was previously running for county executive, but switched races at the filing deadline in April, and is seeking an at-large seat and third term on the County Council.
The above members, all Democrats, face four challengers: Brandy Brooks, Dana Gassaway, Scott Goldberg and Laurie-Anne Sayles. Chris Fiotes, Len Lieber and Dwight Patel are running unopposed in the Republican primary.
[For more information on candidates for local, state and federal races, check out the Bethesda Beat voters guide.]
Here’s a closer look at the eight Democrats running for four at-large seats.
Albornoz, currently serving as County Council President, finished fourth out of more than 30 candidates in the Democratic at-large primary in 2018. Before that, he served as the county’s director for the Department of Recreation since January 2007.
As chair of the Council’s Health and Human Services committee, Albornoz has said it’s important to narrow the gap in health care and social service disparities—something he believes the coronavirus pandemic has shed even more light on.
More specifically, he thinks that the county government needs to do more to address childhood hunger through collaboration with local food banks, nonprofits and other organizations. There should also be more mental health services for the underprivileged in the county, Albornoz says.
He’s aware that some tough decisions needed to be made during the pandemic, like reinstating the indoor mask mandate as cases started to increase in multiple waves. But he says he based those decisions on public health guidance, the advice of numerous public health officials, and the latest data.
Brooks, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for an at-large seat in 2018, has run on a progressive campaign, focusing on issues of affordable housing, police reform, climate change and several other issues.
She suspended her campaign earlier this year after a former campaign staffer accused her of sexual harassment. Brooks says she handled the accusation via a sufficient mediation process and regrets her actions; opponents say her behavior was inappropriate and that it disqualifies her from public office.
As a renter, Brooks has said the affordable housing crisis is a major issue facing the county. She supports rent stabilization, the production of more affordable housing projects, and enhanced tenant protections in order to keep residents in their homes.
She’s critical, however, of the process of Thrive Montgomery 2050—the county’s proposed update to its general master plan. Brooks says that public engagement was not sufficient and that she is concerned about the plan’s racial equity and social justice impacts, adding that many more months of engagement were needed.
Gassaway, a former biology teacher who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Board of Education in 2006, has touted his family’s history in Montgomery County on the campaign trail.
He’s also said that the county’s agricultural reserve is not large enough to feed the county’s residents. This will become a bigger problem if supply chain issues aren’t rectified in the coming months, he points out, and county officials should do more to expand the reserve in order to address that issue.
Gassaway is perhaps most critical of the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan, saying it will lead to overdevelopment and will worsen divides between the Black community and other minorities. He says the current plan does not do enough to correct the historical mistake of shutting out those populations from homeownership, along with taking land from those people.
As the descendant of slaves, Gassaway said he has the personal experience to root out discrimination and other issues facing Blacks and other minorities—and that as a Council Member, he would do everything possible to prevent further examples of that from occurring.
Glass, a former CNN journalist, was elected to the County Council in 2018, finishing third in the crowded field.
During his first term, he has fought for better pedestrian and bicycle access and infrastructure throughout the county, and believes more needs to be done to connect people to where they work and play in communities across the county.
The coronavirus pandemic exposed gaps in the health care and social safety nets, Glass has said. County officials must provide more health care services and overall assistance to the residents with the greatest need, he added—including eventual free Ride On bus service, as most people who ride the bus are low-income. A study of Ride On released last year found that the median income of Ride On passengers is $35,000 – well below the county’s overall median income of $108,000.
Respondents making less than 50 percent of the countywide median income make up the majority of Ride On riders
Glass has also said the county should expand its Cadet police program, which offers college-aged kids the opportunity to receive training and learn from county police officers while they complete their studies. That will lead to more police officers living where they work, he says.
Goldberg, a member of the county’s Democratic Central Committee, has said he would represent a different perspective on the council as a small business owner; he owns a small property-management company.
Like other candidates, he believes affordable housing is one of the biggest issues in this election cycle. In order to address that, he says there should be more micro vouchers so people can afford to live in their apartments, more uses of government-owned land to build mixed-income housing, and more support for first-time homebuyers, among other solutions.
He also believes that county officials need to hire more social workers and other people in the mental health profession to address increasing crime—while also recruiting more police officers, and training them better before they reach the field.
Goldberg has also said that more needs to be done to address the mental health and social issues facing kids, who endured virtual learning and other challenges during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Increasing mental health services and holding events like festivals and free camps would help address that, he says.
Hucker, who was County Council president in 2021, previously was running for county executive. But on the day of the filing deadline, he decided to switch races and run for an at-large seat.
At candidate forums, he has touted his two four-year terms of experience on the County Council, which he says will be important as a new, larger council is seated in December. He believes his partnerships with labor unions and progressive, grassroots organizations have helped him be a more effective legislator.
Like others running, Hucker says county officials need to hire more social workers and mental health professionals because of the challenges schoolchildren have faced during the pandemic, along with adding more mobile crisis-response units to help take some of the burden off police as they respond to incidents.
He also has highlighted the county’s struggles with economic development—more needs to be done to assist small businesses trying to find locations in Montgomery County, he says, whether that means financial assistance or streamlining regulations or the permitting process.
Jawando, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Eighth District in Congress in 2016, was elected to the Council in 2018, finishing second out of more than 30 candidates.
Affordable housing is a big issue, Jawando says—and County Council members must build more housing near transit, allow more duplexes, triplexes, and similar buildings, along with implementing tax credits for first responders, teachers, nurses and other similar important professions.
Jawando has also spearheaded legislation aiming to improve the police force, which could include increasing training for officers, and reporting settlement agreements between county government—including police—and the public.
He understands that some have been critical of his approach to police reform. But he has said that improving the quality of police officers serving the community is a vital goal, and that a more comprehensive approach—which takes mental health incidents and others off police—is a better way to deal with public safety issues.
Sayles, who was recently a member of the Gaithersburg City Council, says she would bring another female voice to the County Council dais, a perspective severely lacking as Council Member Nancy Navarro is the only woman among of nine members.
She has also said that she would provide an upcounty voice to a seat representing the whole county, something that has been missing from an at-large seat on the council.
In order to address the county’s housing issues, she says the county needs to revisit its laws on moderately priced dwelling units. The fact that the minimum requirement under that law is 12.5% of units for new construction be moderately priced is too low and needs to be tweaked, she says.
The county also needs to do a better job of lifting up its entrepreneurs—specifically, Black, women and minority-owned businesses, who have not gotten a fair amount of procurement dollars or other support from the county, Sayles has said.
When is the election?
The primary election is July 19. Early voting begins July 7. Mail-in ballots will be accepted as long as they are postmarked by 8 p.m. July 19 or are dropped into a ballot drop box by that time.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com