Thursday, July 29, 2010

Notes and Observations in District 16

By Marc Korman.

The race for District 16 is heating up with 13 candidates and 100 degree temperatures. Here are a few random notes and observations from the front, combined with some free advice to the candidates.

For those not living and breathing the race, the 13 candidates are: Incumbents Bill Frick; and Susan Lee; Attorney and former District 19 Democratic Club Officer John Adams; Attorney and repeat candidate Charlie Chester; Attorney Peter Dennis, also the son of Civic Federation President Peggy Dennis; Town of Somerset Councilman Bill Farley; Real estate management business owner and Montgomery County Young Democrats President Scott Goldberg; Attorney Craig Herskowitz; Attorney and health policy strategist Hrant Jamgochian; Former NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Executive Director and MomsRising’s Director for Environmental and Workplace issues Ariana Kelly; Former Obama campaign staffer Kyle Lierman, also the son of local political bigwig Terry Lierman; Common Cause Board Member Michael Sriqui; And attorney and former Housing Opportunities Commission Chair Mark Winston. Whoa, that’s a lot of candidates.

The District 16 Democratic Club hosted a forum for all of the Delegate candidates at the Bethesda Library last week. Twelve of the candidates, including the two incumbents, attended. Craig Herskowitz was out of town for work but had a statement read.

The consensus among the individuals I spoke to were that the big winners were the two incumbents, Bill Frick and Susan Lee, and challenger Scott Goldberg. Other candidates had high points, but these three were consistently great. Frick and Lee were essentially endorsed by all of the other challengers during a question about what legislator you would like to emulate, cementing the impression that the 11 challengers are fighting for one open seat. Goldberg’s one two punch of strong and humorous delivery plus real policy proposals stood out even to those in the capacity crowd supporting other challengers. The funniest moment of the debate belonged to the moderator, who gave the field a grand total of 15 seconds to explain how they would solve the budget deficit.

The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Breakfast Club is also working its way through the challengers. The first installment featured Bill Farley, Craig Herskowitz, Ariana Kelly, and Kyle Lierman. Also in attendance was District 18 Challenger Dana Beyer. The moderator was kind enough to grant the candidates a grand total of 30 seconds to explain their approach to the budget.

Herskowitz has staked his campaign on speed cameras and constituent service, pretty much declining to comment on other issues and referring individuals to his website. Although no one loves the speed cameras, my own view is that he cannot mount a successful campaign in a crowded field on these narrow issues alone and should talk about some of his other ideas along with these passions.

Kelly and Lierman seem to view the race as between them, at least when they appear together. That thinking is understandable given that MPW and others have consistently cited them as the frontrunners. They both have a strong ground game and the resources to win. But I would just remind them that a race with two perceived frontrunners often creates opportunities for Trojan horse candidates (Just ask Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt about Iowa in 2004). With so many candidates in the field, there are plenty of places for voters to turn besides Lierman or Kelly.

Bill Farley is a Town of Somerset Councilmember, making him the only challenger with elected office experience and giving him a stronghold in one of the top performing precincts in the primary. I have no idea if he is working the doors or has money for mail, but he has a good candidate profile. However I am not sure what his message is and his approach to the Purple Line should also be explained. He supports starting over with some type of trench or cut and cover approach. That is an unrealistic option at this stage and in practical terms means Farley opposes the Purple Line.

If you care about the lawn sign primary, which does not win elections but is fun for bloggers, Lierman, Jamgochian, and the incumbent team have a strong start in Bethesda with a sprinkling of other candidates as well. I have not been to the northern or western portions of the district lately to see the signs there. So far the only mass mail I have received is from Mark Winston and Michael Sriqui.

Based on my conversations and impressions in the district, candidates are distinguishing themselves in many ways. Hrant Jamgochian is impressing people with his smarts, nice guy approach, and health care background. Winston is picking up what I view as strong endorsements including Ike Leggett’s and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. Many long time District 16 residents I speak with think highly of Charlie Chester and his experience.

My advice to the candidates? Keep knocking on doors and stay hydrated.