Editor’s Note: This article, originally published at 3:03 p.m. on Sept. 11, has been updated at 1:15 p.m. on Sept. 12 to clarify that Mink is the only freshman councilmember to not have served in a government position, whether elected or appointed.
Democrat Kristin Mink’s in-your-face brand of progressivism was a selling point during her campaign for the District 5 seat on Montgomery County Council, which highlighted her public confrontations with the likes of then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
But Mink’s comments have also boomeranged on her. After making “Defund the Police” statements on social media, she was mocked for calling a police commander over a flat tire in February. Recent or recently discovered statements including a comment grouping Muslim families with “white supremacists” and social media posts calling aides to former President Donald Trump “Zionist Jews” have given offense and drawn criticism. Mink offered up apologies and, over recent months, mass-deleted tens of thousands of postings from X, formerly known as Twitter.
In her first nine months as councilmember, Mink has racked up wins as well – including a significant rent stabilization bill she helped spearhead, and tax increases that led to more school funding for improvements she advocated for.
MoCo360 corresponded with more than 15 organizations, colleagues and community members to see where Mink stands with them. Groups that endorsed Mink, Jewish organizations and fellow councilmembers were forgiving or dismissed Mink’s missteps, saying they saw a novice politician who was learning as she goes. Some local Muslim leaders, however, are still deeply angry, saying her words aren’t enough unless she fully retracts her statements.
Mink told MoCo360 she’s learning from her experiences as a new public official and the influence she now has.
“There’s an opportunity and a responsibility to leverage that platform for good, but I also have to be much more careful that I don’t inadvertently cause harm, or say something that can easily be misunderstood or even weaponized,” she said.
Unlike her freshmen colleagues, this is Mink’s first governmental position: Prior to her election in November, she was a policy advocate and community organizer, and previously worked as a teacher.
Making national airwaves
Mink made national news in July 2018 when she was a teacher. With her toddler on her hip, she confronted Pruitt, who happened to be eating at the same Washington, D.C. restaurant as she was.
“We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment, somebody who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children,” Mink said while her husband filmed. “I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out.”
The video went viral, Mink appeared on CNN to discuss it and the story was covered by dozens of national news outlets including USA Today, CBS News and Politico. Days later, Pruitt resigned after accusations of ethics violations, and Mink was a new progressive face in politics.
Mink went on to be elected to the county council in 2022, representing District 5, which includes Burtonsville, Colesville, Fairland and White Oak.
Weeks after being sworn in, Mink called a Montgomery County Police District commander about a flat tire on her vehicle, shortly after leaving a community meeting in her district.
Calling a high-ranking official at a publicly funded police agency about a flat might have been problematic for any elected official, seen by some critics on social media as a misuse of county resources needed for actual policing. But in Mink’s case, it was also viewed by critics as hypocrisy. In July 2020, she had created a “Defund the Police & Invest in Community (MoCo)” Facebook page, where she called for removing school resource officers and faulted a county budget that trimmed police funding by only 3%.
Mink was mocked by local Fraternal Order of Police membership and some community members. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 President Lee Holland told WJLA, “We have more pressing issues than dealing with changing a council member’s tire.”
Holland did not respond to MoCo360’s requests for comment for this story.
Mink has said she “regrets” the decision to call about the tire and she requested an ethics inquiry into her actions from the county Ethics Commission. According to Mink’s office, the inquiry has been dropped.
“After Councilmember Mink sent the details of the situation to the Ethics Commission, they decided to take no further action,” Mink’s chief of staff, Chris Wilhelm, told MoCo360 in an email.
A representative from the Ethics Commission said the existence of formal and informal complaints and whether they were made to the Ethics Commission is confidential and they could not comment on Mink’s case.
“That incident, while minor, was definitely part of the learning curve for me in the first couple of months of being an elected official,” Mink said in a recent email statement to MoCo360. “Even though I was only two blocks away from the parking lot where I had just been speaking with the commander and my car was blocking traffic, I should have called the police non-emergency line.”
This incident would soon be eclipsed by more high-profile controversies.
Mink, who has been a prominent advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, testified in June at a school board meeting where members of the public spoke in support of and against Montgomery County Public School’s policy barring families from opting out of readings of LGBTQ+ inclusive storybooks.
“This issue has, unfortunately it puts some–not all, of course–Muslim families on the same side of an issue as white supremacists and outright bigots,” Mink said at the June 6 meeting. “However, the folks that I’ve talked with here today, I would not put in the same category as those folks. You know, it’s complicated because they’re falling on the same side of this particular issue.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Montgomery County Muslim Council (MCMC) expressed disappointment in her comments, criticizing Mink for saying Muslim families were on the same side of an issue as white supremacists. The story made its way out of the county as Fox News published multiple reports on Mink and her comments, and the video of her remarks at the school board.
Mink issued a public apology after CAIR, the Montgomery County Muslim Council and community members called her out for her comments, saying they overgeneralized the views of the Muslims calling for opt-out.
“I regret that although my remarks were focused on promoting inclusion, they created an opportunity for misunderstanding and mischaracterization,” Mink said in her apology. “I apologize for the hurt that this caused in the Muslim community.”
Mink maintains that her comments were mischaracterized and that she wasn’t comparing Muslims to white supremacists.
“To say something like that was extremely, extremely hurtful. Not a smart thing on her behalf,” said Hisham Garti, outreach director for the Montgomery County Muslim Council. Garti said he’s not satisfied with Mink’s apology because she hasn’t supported the opt-out policy.
“My words now carry a lot more weight and get a lot more scrutiny,” Mink told MoCo360. “That was very apparent following my comments at the school board. …The issues there were complex and sensitive, and I shouldn’t have spoken off the cuff.”
She said that before she spoke at the board meeting in June, she sat down and spoke with several Muslim members of the community who were advocating for an opt-out policy. She said she meant for her comments to indicate that pro-opt out Muslims should not be “lumped together” with groups such as Moms for Liberty, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as an extremist group. CAIR and another organization protesting MCPS’ current opt-out policy, Family Rights For Religious Freedom, have said they are distancing themselves from Moms for Liberty.
“I was especially moved by comments about how hurtful it was to have their position written off as hatred, especially to children in our classrooms who may already be vulnerable to Islamophobic bullying and discrimination,” Mink said of Muslims she spoke to before the school board meeting.
County Executive Marc Elrich told MoCo360 that he feels Mink’s comments were taken out of context, and that while he didn’t agree with her delivery, he doesn’t think she was trying to malign the Muslim community.
“If you actually listen to everything she said at the school board … it was not as harsh as it appeared to be. She was more conciliatory and understanding, but people just bit at the first quote,” Elrich said. “You can take the worst thing somebody says, and not necessarily put it into context. I wouldn’t have said it the way she said it. But I get this is something she’s really passionate about.”
Building trust in the Montgomery County community
Amid the national scrutiny, Fox News reported on two 2019 social media postings written by Mink in which she had referred to Jared Kushner (former senior advisor and son-in-law to former President Trump) and his former assistant as “Zionist Jews.”
In the postings on what’s now called X, Mink criticized the Trump administration for hiring Kushner’s former assistant, Avi Berkowitz, as its Middle East envoy.
“Both are Zionist Jews loyal to the Trumps with zero relevant experience,” she wrote, in reference to Kushner and Berkowitz.
After the June 9 Fox News story, Mink apologized for those posts.
Following the incident, local blogger Montgomery Perspective reported on July 10 that Mink had mass deleted thousands of posts and followed up in August to write that the number was more than 10,000 since June.
“When Fox [News] went digging through my old tweets, I realized I should have long ago done what many politicians do, and deleted all my old stuff,” Mink wrote in a statement to MoCo360. “I don’t want tweets I wrote during my time as a national organizer against Trump administration policies to become a distraction from my work here at home in District 5. Seemed like a pretty common-sense thing to do.”
Mink said she used a software service to remove tweets sent before her campaign began.
While community leaders are divided on Mink’s actions following her comments, the majority of the ones MoCo360 spoke to for this article were forgiving.
Ron Halber, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington in North Bethesda, said he thinks Mink was rightfully called out for her 2019 tweets. However, Halber said he thinks Mink’s actions since the story broke speak louder.
“It’s a ridiculous standard—people should be able to make amends and move forward,” Halber said. “The last thing we want is for people to be able to say things that are filled with hate … but if someone makes a mistake once or twice and they recognize that they’re trying to do better and make efforts toward a true reconciliation, we should give them another chance. None of us are perfect.”
Halber said, coincidently the day before his interview with MoCo360, he had spent three hours with Mink and other councilmembers at the JCRC, and that he had a two-hour breakfast with Mink the day after the tweet resurfaced.
“She’s been working very much with us on restorative justice issues, and she’s trying to strengthen her ties with the Jewish community. And I think she’s progressing, and she has done a great job following up and truly is making an effort to understand the Jewish community and reaching out to us,” Halber said.
But the Montgomery County Muslim Council (MCMC) has remained dissatisfied with Mink’s response to the school opt-out comment. Garti said the group is not comfortable working with Mink unless she fully retracts her statement regarding the school opt-out policy.
“I must admit that our conversations have always been very cordial, so I do believe in my heart that it was a mistake,” Garti said. “If she were to apologize and do what we asked [and retract her statement], then I’d be happy to pick it back up where we were and bring her to our meetings and introduce her to different people.”
In an email to MoCo360, Mink said she has no plans to hold a formal meeting with any of the groups advocating for the opt-out policy, because the issue is currently in the courts and is not something over which the County Council has jurisdiction, though she spoke to the school board about it.
“I have had individual conversations with two of the seven members of MCMC, however. Another member, Fatmata Barrie, is a constituent, so I did reach out to her as well, but she declined a meeting until I issue a retraction,” Mink said.
Barrie lost to Mink in the 2022 Democratic primary. Barrie declined to comment for this story, stating she was out of the country and unable to take part in an interview.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national organization with a Maryland branch based in Baltimore, has also been vocally critical of Mink and her response. CAIR is one of the groups leading the charge to create an opt-out policy at MCPS.
“We want Mink to express the right for families to be able to have a say in when their children are introduced to sensitive content. And we have not heard that from her. She has been non-supportive of families,” Zainab Chaudry, Maryland director of CAIR, said in an interview.
Chaudry said that CAIR feels Mink’s comments were harmful, and that the most important thing Mink and other elected officials can do is express to MCPS and the school board that they should offer an opt-out policy. She said an apology is not enough.
“It is egregious. Any public school system funded by tax dollars should never be in the business of forcing any child to be subjected to content if families feel like it conflicts with their faith,” Chaudry said.
Mink said she worked with Muslim and Jewish groups prior to her November election, including organizing with CAIR and other groups against Trump’s Muslim ban, and that she is continuing that work.
“Since being elected, after going on a tour of the Muslim Community Center earlier this year, I’ve been in ongoing touch with them about efforts to expand the MCC Medical Clinic. They really are doing incredible work, and an expansion would be a tremendous benefit to the county,” Mink said.
Dr. Azad Ejaz, executive director of the clinic, said Mink reached out early in her tenure as a councilmember to express interest in helping the clinic grow. The free clinic accepts both insured and uninsured patients and primarily serves Muslim members of the community, but will not turn anyone away. The county government provides a large source of the clinic’s funding.
Ejaz said that Mink has been working with the clinic to secure funding and resources to help create a 24/7 free urgent care, especially after seeing how some community members struggle to access most urgent care facilities because of their limited hours.
“We want to fill that gap,” Ejaz said. “Councilmember Mink has been very supportive… she is excited about it and we are working with her. She has agreed to ask the county for help in this area.”
Mink said she’s been working “very, very closely” with Muslim Afghan refugees being resettled in her district, specifically at the Enclave Apartments in Silver Spring. She said she has a WhatsApp group chat with residents to directly speak with her and that communications with residents have resulted in her hosting events held in Pashto and Dari, two native languages of Afghanistan, and advocating for a Muslim prayer meeting space at the apartment complex. Mink said she has attended some of these prayer meetings with residents.
Mink said she has also been working with the JCRC.
“After the tweet was resurfaced, I was glad to already have a relationship with Ron Halber such that I could call him up, and he was incredibly gracious in talking the issue through with me and assuring me we could keep moving forward,” Mink said.
Groups that endorsed Mink in the 2022 election reaffirmed their support in statements to MoCo360, when asked if they still backing her after the comments came to light.
Asked about their position on Mink considering her comments and tweets, the Montgomery County Education Association wrote favorably of Mink to MoCo360 but did not directly address her statements.
“Councilmember Mink received MCEA’s recommendation due to her experience as an MCPS educator and her commitment to promoting social justice in our county, including support for our LGBTQ+ community members,” MCEA president Jennifer Martin wrote in a statement to MoCo360. “We have been gratified to see the leadership role she has recently taken in pressing for the necessary tax increase to adequately fund our schools and in achieving rent stabilization.”
In a written statement to MoCo360, Progressive Neighbors, which also endorsed Mink in 2022, reaffirmed their support for her. According to their website, Progressive Neighbors is a volunteer PAC that was formed to “help get progressives elected to local office.”
“We supported Council Member Kristin Mink in her primary race last year as she was the most progressive candidate in her race. She has not disappointed us. She has been a champion on the council for renters, police reform, LGBTQ rights and on many other issues. We do not believe she is anti-Semitic or Islamophobic. She is human and humans make mistakes or misspeak,” the statement said. “We don’t believe she intended those statements she made to be discriminatory and she has apologized for them. We take her apology at face value.”
Ed Fischman, the chair of the Montgomery County chapter of Our Revolution Maryland, a progressive PAC which also endorsed Mink, expressed similar sentiments in an interview.
“We’re not wavering in our support for her. We’re not going to call her out for what she had to say. Because I think in context, she was clearly trying to convey respect to the people who were there. And it’s unfortunate that those words were weaponized against her,” Fischman said. “Anybody who knows Kristin Mink knows there is literally not a bigoted bone in her body.”
Fischman said he feels Mink’s work toward rent stabilization and supporting the LGBTQ+ community illustrate that she’s working to support marginalized residents of the county.
Run for Something, a national progressive PAC, and SEIU 32BJ, a service employees union, which both endorsed Mink in 2022, did not respond to MoCo360’s request for comment. Moms Demand Action Maryland, a gun violence prevention organization, which also endorsed Mink, responded to a request for comment but did not send a statement in time for publication.
Mink said she has a lot she’s proud of from this session, including her work to improve county schools. Mink was a vocal advocate for improvements to schools in the east county, and was one of the councilmembers who worked on a recordation tax adjustment to fund school construction.
“The passage of that bill during the budget process enabled us to overcome a $200 million shortfall and allowed projects across the county to move forward, including many in East County, like Burtonsville Elementary School, that have been repeatedly delayed for years,” Mink said in an interview.
Mink also played a significant role in the county’s passage of a rent stabilization bill. Elements of a bill called the HOME Act, which Mink cosponsored with councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-large), were worked into the legislation that passed in July.
“The [legislation] will help the nearly 40% of residents here who rent gain housing stability and all the economic, academic, and physical and mental health benefits that come with it. I also added a provision to institute the strictest cap legally allowable for landlords whose properties don’t meet code,” Mink said.
She said in the next part of the session, she plans to work on education funding, taking a holistic approach to crime and public safety issues, and addressing homelessness in the county.
Fellow councilmembers who spoke to MoCo360 said that Mink has been dedicated to her work and a vital part of the progress the council has made.
“I appreciate her dedication to the issues and she’s an incredibly hard worker,” fellow freshman councilmember Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4) said. “When it came to rent stabilization, she was a big part of us trying to find a balance, unifying toward compromise. I hope moving forward we’ll be able to continue to collaborate and tackle the problems and the challenges that are facing our communities.
Councilmember Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3) said even when he and Mink don’t see exactly eye to eye on every issue, he is impressed by her dedication to her work and the community.
“She is a hard worker and brings great viewpoints to the committee,” said Katz, who chairs the public safety committee Mink sits on. “Every councilmember brings their own perspective and we need to be respectful of each other’s differences, even figuring out how they came up with the solution that they’re suggesting, and then consider it. We all get along well.”
As for Mink’s controversies?
“She is learning and has realized the effect of her statements,” Katz said. “It is a learning experience.”