David Blair pumps in another $210,000 out of pocket to underwrite campaign costs
Three months after the July 19 primary – and more than two months after he conceded defeat to incumbent Marc Elrich by a mere 32 votes in the race for the Democratic county executive nomination – the record price tag of businessman David Blair’s bid for the post continues to grow.
Campaign disclosure reports filed at the end of last week with the State Board of Elections show that Blair pumped another $210,000 of his own funds into his campaign committee from the end of August through the third week in October, bringing his total self-financing commitment to nearly $6.39 million in the course of the campaign.
The latest cash infusion by Blair was designed to help underwrite another $261,000 in expenditures by the campaign over the past two months. This brought the Blair campaign’s total of direct spending to more than $6.8 million during the 2022 primary – financed by about $400,000 in contributions from outside donors on top of funds from Blair’s personal fortune.
That’s $1.1 million more than the former spending record for a Montgomery County executive campaign, $5.7 million — set by Blair’s first bid for the office in 2018, when he lost the nomination to Elrich by just 77 votes.
In 2018, Blair’s commitment of personal funds to his primary bid totaled $5.4 million, which he has topped by nearly $1 million this time around.
While virtually all of Blair’s personal donations both this year and four years ago were formally listed as loans, it is rare for a political candidate to recoup such personal loans: They generally end up being written off as contributions to the campaign.
Almost one-third – more than $80,000 — of the Blair campaign’s expenditures over the past couple of months went for payments to the Washington-based Elias Law Group, which specializes in election law. The payments to that firm came shortly after a month-long process of counting mail ballots in which the lead seesawed between Blair and Elrich — with Elrich ending up 35 votes ahead. The margin was cut to 32 votes following a subsequent recount.
Another $61,000 in spending during the latest reporting period went to media costs apparently incurred during the primary, including website development and newspaper advertising.
While Blair conceded to Elrich the last week of August, he reported maintaining a payroll of $45,600 over the past two months. With the money funneled through a payroll services firm, it’s not clear how many staffers remained on salary during this period. The latest filing also included a total of $46,000 for bonuses paid to four staffers.
— Louis Peck
County Council President: We’re sticking with Republican pick for Planning Board
Amy Presley appears to have a safe seat on the Planning Board, despite some of her past posts on Facebook.
Last week, the County Council appointed Presley and four others to fill temporary seats on the Planning Board. On Oct. 12, the council had accepted the resignations of the five previous members, saying it had lost confidence in the board after weeks of controversy.
Presley, a former Planning Board member and a Republican, was appointed vice chair of the board. Jeffrey Zyontz, a former council zoning attorney and a Democrat, was chosen as board chair. Also appointed were Democrats Cherri Branson and Roberto Piñero and David Hill, who is not affiliated with a political party.
The Seventh State, a local political blog, first reported that Presley has a history of posting right-wing beliefs and conspiracy theories, including that the coronavirus was bioengineered in a lab. She also shared posts criticizing restrictions implemented in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
Council President Gabe Albornoz told Bethesda Beat on Monday that he still supports Presley’s board appointment. County law requires that no more than three of the five board members be from the same political party. Presley is the lone Republican out of the five appointees.
“She served as a former Planning Board member and we needed people who had experience, who were able to hit the ground running,” Albornoz said. “And so while those past comments are disappointing, and I vehemently disagree with those views that she held, we don’t feel that directly impacts her ability to perform on a temporary basis, based on her experience to be able to work through the Planning Board process.”
When asked about whether those views disqualify Presley from holding the position long-term, Albornoz said the new council, to be elected Nov. 8, will have to consider the qualifications of all candidates when it appoints new members to the board.
— Steve Bohnel
Odd couple: Sullivan ad pictures him with Renne – but without union leader’s consent
Reardon Sullivan, the Republican nominee pursuing a longshot bid for county executive against Democratic incumbent Marc Elrich in this year’s general election, last month asked for a meeting with Gino Renne – president of the union local that represents a majority of the Montgomery County government workforce.
Renne has long been a key backer of Elrich, and heads an organization, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, that – like much of organized labor – has been firmly allied with the Democratic Party. However, in deference to a number of MCGEO members who are Republicans, Renne met with Sullivan. At the end of the session, Sullivan asked if he could take a selfie and Renne consented.
It did come as a surprise to Renne – and several other political insiders – when the selfie showed in a subsequent online ad by the Sullivan campaign, in what might have been mistaken by some as an endorsement.
Renne said Sullivan never asked for the union’s permission to use Renne’s image in the online ad — which he said “We would have denied,” while pointedly noting, “we strongly support Elrich.”
The Sullivan ad, which appeared online as recently as late last week, was headlined “Reardon Sullivan for County Executive” and was accompanied by the photo of Renne and MCGEO official Lisa Brown. It said Sullivan had met with them “regarding the challenges of the ever changing workforce demographics and the work/life balance of the Montgomery County workforce.”
The ad concluded: “Let’s get away from identity politics and work together so everybody has a seat at the table.”
Sullivan could not immediately be reached for comment. Renne said he had not contacted Sullivan to ask that the ad be taken down, while noting it no longer appears to be running.
Sullivan appears to be relying in significant measure on online ads in a low-budget campaign: On Tuesday, he sent out a blast email with the plea, “I need your help to get the message out on radio and social media to the voters that have not yet heard my message.” He went on to assert: “The local bloggers and pundits are saying that I cannot be elected as County Executive … well they are WRONG!”
Elrich – who, unlike Sullivan, is tapping into the county’s public campaign finance system – doesn’t appear to be worried: He reported raising only $3,300 in private contributions over the past couple of months, for which he is seeking another $8,700 in public matching funds on top of nearly $81,600 in public subsidies for which he already has qualified during the general election.
Sullivan reported raising a little over $46,200 in the two months leading up to Oct. 23. He had nearly $41,400 in cash on hand with a little more than two weeks to go until Election Day – as compared to about $72,800 for Elrich.
While Sullivan’s blast email Tuesday declared, “I have not sought donations or support from special interest groups. I do NOT want to be beholden to anyone except the good people of Montgomery County,” among his three largest donors during the recent reporting period was Charles Nulsen, president of Washington Property Co., a Bethesda-based commercial real estate firm. During this year’s primary campaign, Nulsen chaired Progressives for Progress, a largely developer-funded political action committee (PAC).
Nulsen donated $5,000 to Sullivan in September, while Nicholas Paleologos – vice chair of Bethesda-based construction firm Miller and Long – contributed $6,000 to the Sullivan campaign during the same month.
During the primary, Nulsen donated $50,000 to Progressives for Progress, while contributing another $250,000 to the Affordable Maryland PAC, a committee created to oppose Elrich’s renomination as county executive. Paleologos gave $100,000 to the Affordable Maryland PAC.
— Louis Peck
District 9 in northern MoCo the site of one of Maryland’s most competitive races
There has not been a Republican representing Montgomery County in Annapolis since the late Del. Jean Cryor lost her District 15 seat in 2006. Due to redistricting, Republicans have a serious shot at regaining a foothold in the county’s General Assembly delegation in 2023 for the first time in 16 years.
This year’s redistricting moved District 9 — centered in Howard County — out of a section of Republican-dominated Carroll County, and instead added a sliver of northern Montgomery County around Clarksburg and Damascus to the district. As a result, approximately 10,750 Montgomery voters (including about 5,000 registered Democrats and 3,000 registered Republicans) will cast ballots next week in what may be the most competitive state Senate race in Maryland this fall.
Having sought to give her a boost via redistricting, Maryland Democrats are pulling out all the stops to elect state Sen. Katie Fry Hester of Ellicott City to a second term. She faces a challenge from Republican Reid Novotny of Glenelg, currently one of two members of the House of Delegates from District 9A — about 20 percent of which is now also located in northern Montgomery County due to redistricting.
During the two-month period ending Oct. 23, Hester’s campaign spent more than $355,000 – an eye-popping amount for a Maryland state Senate race – with about half, $188,500, going for a combination of television and online advertising.
Hester raised more than $122,000 in contributions from late August through late October. In addition, the Democratic Senate Caucus Committee – the campaign arm of the state Senate’s Democratic majority – poured in more than $163,000 in in-kind aid to Hester’s re-election bid, with the bulk of it going for mailings as well as digital ads.
Novotny’s spending during the two months from late August to late October was a fraction of Hester’s: He reported expenditures of $38,200 during this period. He raised about $85,300 in contributions, and had nearly $86,700 in his campaign treasury about two weeks prior to Election Day – as compared to the approximately $126,000 that Hester had in the bank.
In contrast to the Hester-Novotny battle, Democratic incumbents running in Montgomery’s eight other state Senate districts – all of which are located entirely in the county – are heavily favored to be returned to Annapolis in January. In fact, four of those incumbents—Sens. Susan Lee in District 16, Cheryl Kagan in District 17, Will Smith in District 20 and Nancy King in District 39 – have no Republican opposition, although King is being challenged by a Green Party candidate.
A similar political situation exists in the races for House of Delegates in those eight districts, where a total of 24 Democrats – three per district – are running, 22 of them incumbents. Democratic delegate nominees are running with no opposition in Districts 16, 20 and 39, and in only one of the remaining five jurisdictions – District 15 – have Republicans fielded a full slate of three candidates.
Again, the most competitive situation appears to be in the redrawn District 9A now crossing into Montgomery County, where Republican Del. Trent Kittleman of West Friendship is running for a third term.
Software engineer Jianning Jenny Zeng of Ellicott City is seeking the delegate slot being vacated by Novotny, while the Democratic 9A slate includes Howard County Board of Education member Chao Wu of Clarksville along with Natalie Ziegler, a Clarksville-based businesswoman and farmer.
— Louis Peck
Louis Peck, a contributing editor for Bethesda Magazine, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.