Bernice Mireku-North, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who last year ran unsuccessfully for Montgomery County state’s attorney, will be nominated to fill a vacant seat in District 14 of the House of Delegates.
Del. Eric Luedtke resigned the seat Jan. 2 to become Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s chief legislative officer.
Mireku-North was selected by Montgomery County’s Democratic Central committee at a meeting Tuesday night marked by one candidate withdrawing and calling the selection process a “kangaroo court” and by interruptions from profane, so-called “Zoom bombers,” prompting organizers to take the hybrid meeting offline.
Saman Qadeer Ahmad, chair of the committee, said in an interview that the panel would send its recommendation to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) quickly, in hopes of speedy approval. County and state law dictates that, in the case of a vacancy, the county’s central committee must solicit the process for selecting a prospective candidate in the district.
Mireku-North, a criminal justice reformer, has served as member co-chair of the county’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force. Assuming Hogan approves her nomination, she said she’s interested in meeting with members of the House Judiciary and Appropriations committees, in order to learn more about how to help with criminal justice reform and bring more state money to District 14.
Mireku-North broke down in tears of joy after she learned her name would be sent to Hogan’s desk for consideration. Dozens of people at the meeting erupted in applause.
“It’s unreal, I tip my hat to all the candidates because they brought all of these diverse perspectives, and that’s what District 14 is all about,” Mireku-North said in an interview after the meeting. “And I just can’t wait to get started.”
Tuesday’s four-hour-plus meeting was to be conducted in person and via Zoom simultaneously but was interrupted multiple times. First, at around 10:30 p.m., some people hijacked the meeting broadcast on Zoom — with around 200 attendees watching — with obscenities and insults, causing a break in the ninth and final question posed by committee members to candidates.
Ahmad said in an interview that at first, workers had tried to mute the accounts who hacked into the meeting. But there were so many different accounts hacking in, that it made it impossible for the people monitoring the Zoom meeting.
The Zoom meeting needs to be respectful and safe for those watching, Ahmad said — so the committee decided to shut the meeting down. The rest of the meeting — which included the votes for the candidates — will be posted to the committee’s website, she said.
In the second noteworthy disturbance, Doug Terry, a TV production and documentary film company owner, dropped out of the running. At one point, he accused Nathan Feldman, a District 15 committee member, of telling him during a break that he would not vote for him, and then walking away.
Terry called the committee’s appointment process undemocratic and a “kangaroo court” before withdrawing his name from consideration, and leaving.
A Bethesda Beat reporter observed the alleged complaint and Feldman walking away from Terry but was unable to hear what was said between them. Feldman declined to comment in an interview, deferring comment to Ahmad, the chair.
When pressed about Terry’s accusation, Ahmad said that committee members have extensively considered all 10 candidates that had been seeking the District 14 seat, and declined to comment further.
Initially, 11 candidates had applied for the seat, but Perry Paylor, a former candidate for state’s attorney in Montgomery County, later withdrew from consideration. The remaining 10 made their pitch to the central committee and voters during a forum last month. They were:
- 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
- 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
After Terry dropped out Tuesday evening, there were multiple rounds of voting for the nine remaining candidates, per committee rules. In the first round, Mireku-North got nine votes, Post got eight votes, Finkelstein got six votes, and Smith got one vote.
Per committee rules, those who receive no votes and the lowest vote-getter are eliminated from each round. That meant Mireku-North, Post and Finkelstein advanced to the second round.
Mireku-North got 14 votes, Finkelstein received 6, and Post got 4. Mireku-North, with a majority, was recommended to the governor’s desk.
Mireku-North stands to replace Luedtke. Luedtke had announced his new role in November, after Moore won the general election. County and state law dictates that the county’s central committee must solicit the process for selecting a prospective candidate in District 14 — which covers part of Damascus, Laytonsville, Olney, Sandy Spring, Burtonsville and other eastern parts of the county.
Some committee members had called on their colleagues to change the process so that someone serving on the body must resign before being considered for an open legislative seat. The state’s attorney general has said the committee can adopt a rule change without any action needed from lawmakers in Annapolis.
Ahmad, the chair, declined to comment on where the rule change stood on Tuesday. She said as leader of the body, she respected the independence of the rules committee and wanted to see what change they recommended before taking a stance.
No current central committee members ended up applying for the current District 14 vacancy.
“[It was] tough competition,” Mireku-North said of the appointment process, and fellow candidates. “I was in a race with four people, and now it was a race with 10. So just that the fact that I was authentically able to be myself — and that’s not always that’s natural for me being a politician — I tried to be authentically as myself as possible. To make sure that when people are making the decision, they’re going to be getting the person they see in front of them, to be the same person in Annapolis.”
The 2023 Maryland General Assembly convenes on Jan. 11.