The county's Democratic Central Committee meets in North Bethesda on Dec. 13. Credit: Steve Bohnel

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 22, 2022, to include comment from Perry Paylor.

Ten candidates vying for an open House of Delegates seat in District 14 made their formal pitches to the county’s Democratic Central Committee on Wednesday evening, in a forum hosted by the Jerry Samet District 14 Democratic Brunch Club.

The seat will open next month, when Del. Eric Luedtke takes a position in Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s administration. Because Luedtke is a Democrat, county and state law requires that the county’s Democratic central committee send a candidate to the governor’s desk for consideration.

District 14 includes part of Damascus, Laytonsville, Olney, Sandy Spring, Burtonsville and other eastern parts of the county.

Perry Paylor, who was a candidate for Montgomery County state’s attorney earlier this year, had applied for the vacancy, but has since withdrawn from consideration.

“After careful consideration I decided that it was best for me to withdraw my application for the District 14 seat so I can remain singularly focused on Public Safety issues in Montgomery County,” Paylor wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat.

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 That left 10 candidates who participated in Wednesday evening’s forum. They are:

  • Nathan Aaron Feinberg, a Montgomery County Public Schools teacher
  • Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, who ran but lost for a District 14 House of Delegates seat in 2010
  • Paul Geller, a former PTA head in the county who most recently was a candidate for County Council District 7
  • Bernice Mireku-North, another former candidate for Montgomery County state’s attorney
  • Matt Post, former student member of the county’s Board of Education
  • Hafizur Rahman, a finance manager
  • Raj Rajendran, a tech contractor
  • Paul Schwartz, a County Council District 7 candidate from earlier this year
  • Tom Smith, who ran for delegate in District 14 earlier this year but finished fourth
  • Doug Terry, a TV production and documentary film company owner

Peter Myo Khin, president of the Jerry Samet District 14 Democratic Brunch Club, supplied the questions Wednesday. They ranged from how they would work as a team player with the current District 14 delegation, how they would improve economic development in the district, and how they would help small businesses in an area that includes agricultural spaces and suburban and urban areas.

Khin also asked each candidate to explain their top three priorities if chosen for the seat.

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Geller was first to answer, saying that education and the environment are top focuses. It’s imperative that state officials get greater casino revenues set aside for education, he said. He added that there needs to be solar panels on schools to reduce energy costs, that there needs to be more job training opportunities for residents, and that seniors need volunteer opportunities to help the economic sector.

Finkelstein started her answer by saying she would work to pass legislation and policies furthering reproductive rights. Women who are more economically available help the entire economy, she said. There also are important capital projects that the county and state must fund, like the Burtonsville Park and Ride, and Damascus Library and Senior Center refurbishment project.

Rajendran said that Montgomery County needs to expand jobs, focusing not just on the tech corridor along I-270 but other areas, including District 14. When those jobs arrive, there needs to be affordable housing for workers. Democrats also need to bring people together in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s administration, so more things get done, he said. Education and school safety rounded out his top concerns.

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Post listed the need to invest in schools, address gun violence, and make government more accessible to more Marylanders, including in his district. There needs to be more money put toward badly needed school construction projects, he said. On gun violence, he said there needs to be more investment in violence intervention programs, and resources for gun violence survivors.

Feinberg’s top issue was affordable housing, followed by education and protecting the environment. Almost two years ago, Feinberg said he and relatives were almost evicted from their apartment because of violations committed by their landlord in an accessory dwelling unit. The only reason he was able to buy a home is because his mother died over a year ago, and the family sold her apartment in New York to help pay for a house.

Rahman said that schools, strong families, small businesses and job creation were most important. Montgomery County is behind Northern Virginia when it comes to economic development, he said. State officials need to do more to get state and federal assistance to help businesses of all sizes come to Maryland, including District 14, Rahman said.

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Schwartz said that health care and public safety were some of his top issues. More specifically, he said state officials need to work with federal partners to help bring the price of prescription drugs lower, and also expand the access and education of long-term care insurance, in order to encourage people to get long-term care at an earlier age when costs are more affordable.

Terry said it was foolish to try and pinpoint three issues, but added there is a nationwide crisis with school teachers. A study should be done to see what exactly is impacting teacher morale, he said. Officials also need to address fatal vehicle collisions on state and federal highways in order to save lives. He’s also interested in Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s plan for baby bonds, but wanted to hear more specifics.

Smith said social workers, educators and mental health professionals are overworked and underpaid, a shortcoming that needs to be addressed. Thousands of residents he spoke to while canvassing also said that officials need to lift voices from upcounty and East County, including in immigrant communities. The way to fix that, he said, is by holding more town halls and meeting the community where they are, he said.

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Mireku-North said public safety, schools and affordable public transportation are at the top of her focus. Investing in after-school programs, along with funding more traffic improvements at intersections near schools and elsewhere is important, she said. There also needs to be an expansion of the former Farm to School program, which brings local food into school cafeterias, Mireku-North said.

Members of the public can submit letters of support for a candidate to the county’s Democratic Central Committee by Thursday, Dec. 29 at 5 p.m. The committee meets on Jan. 3 to select a candidate to submit for consideration by the governor.