The local Republican Party wants to regain a majority in District 15, which covers most of western Montgomery County, stretching from Potomac northwest to Clarksburg.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are working to shut the minority party out completely.
Prior to the 2002 election, there were two Republicans and one Democrat representing District 15 in the House of Delegates. When Democrat Mark Shriver and Republican Richard LaVay left two open seats in the 2002 election, Democrats Kathleen Dumais of Rockville and Brian Feldman of Potomac nabbed both.
Incumbent Republican Jean Cryor of Potomac – who is currently the only Republican from Montgomery County in the General Assembly – won the most votes and retained her seat. On the senate side in District 15, Democrat Rob Garagiola’s margin of victory over Republican then-incumbent Jean Roesser in 2002 was 755 votes, or less than 2 percentage points.
Now Republicans Brian Mezger of Potomac and Chris Pilkerton of North Potomac are hoping to unseat freshman delegates Feldman and Dumais. Democratic challenger Craig Rice of Germantown is also vying for a spot on the delegation.
Six candidates will appear on the November ballot for District 15 delegate; the top three vote-getters will serve in the Maryland House of Delegates, representing Potomac and the upcounty area.
Potomac resident Gail Ewing is an adjunct professor in political science at Montgomery College, and she served on the County Council as a Democrat from 1990 to 1998. She said that the District 15 seats could go to either party.
“We have an extraordinarily large number of independents in the district,” she said. “It is less about the Democrats and the Republicans because they mostly will support their own candidates. It’s the independents that really swing it.”
Ewing said that both parties are “putting a lot of muscle” into the race in order to secure a stronger foothold in District 15.
According to the Board of Elections, as of September 2006, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than two to one in Montgomery County. However, Republicans ostensibly have the best shot at an upset in District 15, where the most recent 2004 count showed registered Democrats at 45 percent and registered Republicans at 32 percent. According to the 2004 data, District 15 has the highest Caucasian and Asian populations in the county (73 percent and 15 percent, respectively), as well as the lowest African-American population (8 percent) and one of the lowest Hispanic populations (5 percent).
MILTON MINNEMAN of Potomac, who is spokesman for the Montgomery County Democratic Party, said that their campaign strategy will be to turn out registered Democrats who voted in the last presidential election but who may not normally vote in gubernatorial elections.
“Our strategy is basically to knock on every door we can find and get every Democrat to come out to vote,” he said. “We’re convinced that we can win all the seats. We’re the only district in Montgomery County that has a Republican delegate, and it’s time for the party to capture all of the seats.”
Minneman said that unaffiliated voters were difficult to target, and that many of them are unlikely to vote. In contrast, the Republicans are appealing to independents in particular.
“Legislative District 15 is probably the most conservative [in the county],” said Tom Reinheimer of Boyds, who is chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party and a resident of District 15. “It’s still in play.”
Reinheimer called the District 15 Democrats’ leadership “bad for Maryland and bad for Montgomery County.” In particular, he criticized the Wal-Mart law and the early voting law, both of which were recently overturned by federal and circuit courts.
The Fair Share Health Care Bill, also known as the Wal-Mart law, required companies with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland to spend at least eight percent of their payroll on health care benefits, or donate that amount to state health programs. Wal-Mart was the only company in Maryland that would have been affected by the legislation.
“It was anti-business, and it would have hurt Maryland’s reputation among the business community,” said Reinheimer.
Republican challenger Mezger vociferously opposed the Wal-Mart law, saying it was like “putting out a sign saying we’re hostile to business.” Pilkerton also criticized the bill, calling it “counter-intuitive to a market economy.”
Though she noted that she would not have voted for the bill if she had known it would be found unconstitutional, Republican incumbent Cryor bucked the party line on the Wal-Mart law, siding with the three Democratic candidates on the intent of the bill.
“Wal-Mart was not offering sufficient healthcare benefits, and employees were directed to take advantage of the taxpayer-assisted healthcare system,” she said. “[Wal-Mart] can’t expect taxpayers to pick up the healthcare costs. Everyone has to pay their fair share of it.”
THE THREE INCUMBENTS — Cryor, Dumais and Feldman — secured the major endorsements, such as the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Progressive Maryland.
The teacher’s union, or MCEA, is a particularly influential endorsement, partly because MCEA volunteers distribute literature at every poll in the county on Election Day. MCEA endorsements are based on a lengthy interview process about issues relevant to the school system. MCEA president Bonnie Cullison said that at least 75 percent of MCEA endorsed candidates have won election in the 20 years that she has been in the teachers’ union. In September’s primarßy election, MCEA-endorsed candidates won all but one race.
Cullison had particularly glowing words for Cryor, who is one of only two Republicans endorsed by the MCEA in this election. The other is Potomac’s County Councilmember Howie Denis (R-1).
“Jean Cryor has been a real champion for us,” she said. “When Jean was appointed to the Governor’s Commission on Early Education, she came to talk to us, and came to talk to teachers about what’s important to them, and what’s important in order to create great instructional programs.”
Cullison said that Democrats are more frequently endorsed than Republicans because the Democrats often advocate larger levels of education funding.
Cryor’s bi-partisan popularity and strong organizational support present a challenge to Rice, who is running on the Democratic ticket alongside Dumais and Feldman.
“She has been endorsed by a number of organizations that you would normally think of endorsing Democrats, so it will be a tough battle to defeat her,” said Minneman. “She is a powerful person — there’s no question about that.”
“Jean Cryor has proven herself to be very strong —ß she’s well liked by people in both parties,” said Ewing. “So it makes it very difficult for Craig Rice, but he is a very capable, young up-and-comer, and he is working really hard for [the election].”
With Dumais and Feldman completing their first term as delegates, Republicans consider it prime time to challenge them.
“Of course because they’ve only been in one term, you’d expect that this time would be their biggest challenge,” said Ewing. “The feeling is when someone is just one-term, they are the most vulnerable, so you would expect there to be a major push.”
Ewing lives in District 15 but said she’d heard very little of the two Republican challengers. She did note that one of the Democratic incumbents recently discovered that Republican challenger Chris Pilkerton had already visited numerous Democratic households on the campaign trail.
“Obviously he’s been doing legwork before the primary and going to Democratic as well as Republicans homes, so he will give a strong challenge.”
Minneman said that Dumais’ and Feldman’s accomplishments overshadow their short tenure in the General Assembly.
“They have had a very good record in the legislature – they’ve introduced a lot of bills, have gotten the bills passed, and they’ve shown themselves to be very alive and very vigorous in their first term.”
DEL. KATHLEEN DUMAIS (D) has been practicing family law in Montgomery County for 17 years, handling divorce and custody cases and representing children in court appointments.
“I like this area of law because I feel like I help people through a difficult time,” she said.
Dumais brings her expertise in family law to her work in the General Assembly. Three of the bills she passed in her first term altered divorce statutes, for example, making title transfers more equitable among parties. Two other bills ensured that the justice system provides proper services to adults and juveniles ruled incompetent to stand trial.
“Both of them have to do with … making sure there is a proper review procedure in place so that people don’t get lost in the system,” she said.
Dumais said she has introduced 58 bills in her first term and gotten 18 passed.
“I am most proud of the voice that I’ve been able to be in the Judiciary Committee,” she said. “I have been a good mediator, in that I can reach across the aisle and get people working together to get good legislation passed.”
DEL. BRIAN FELDMAN (D) said that his experience as an attorney at the U.S. Justice Department and a certified public accountant at Price Waterhouse prepared him well for his service on the economic matters committee in the General Assembly.
Feldman’s signature issue was the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Act, which used tax credits to promote the biotech sector along the 270 corridor and other parts of Montgomery County, complementing the presence of research powerhouses like Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Health. The Biotechnology Industry Organization named Feldman the national “State Legislator of the Year” for the bill.
Feldman also co-sponsored the Healthy Air Act to reduce dangerous emissions from coal-fired power plants, including one in Dickerson. Feldman said that he and the other delegates helped secure an additional $40 million for school construction projects, and that they plan to bring home more next year in an effort to reduce dependence on portable classrooms.
“I feel that the last four years have been very productive ones for me individually, and I think I’ve made a difference for the district, the county and the state,” he said. “I can do a lot more with four years of experience behind me.”
CRAIG RICE (D) worked as a senior sales manager at Marriott International for six years and took advantage of the company’s Government Affairs Council to support living wage and healthcare issues. He recently stepped down from his job to campaign full-time.
“A lot of candidates out there say they’re education candidates, but I don’t see the bills being put forth to come up with creative ways to achieve funding,” he said. “We need to put forth the money needed to fund school construction and make sure teachers have a good pension that will attract high-quality teachers.”
An increased sense of community is another central tenet of Rice’s campaign. He said that Montgomery County’s sense of community has faltered in recent years of rapid growth, and that he would encourage more town hall meetings and community-based after-school programs.
Rice also calls for “a transit project for every road project” and was more critical than any of the other candidates of the Inter-County Connector (ICC), a proposed toll road connecting I-270 with I-95 that has drawn the ire of environmental groups. He said that legislators should shift emphasis away from the ICC and instead focus resources on the Corridor Cities Transitway, a mass transportation project that aims to reduce traffic gridlock by connecting Clarksburg, Germantown and Gaithersburg to the Red Line at Shady Grove.
DEL. JEAN CRYOR (R) is a retired newspaper editor who has served as delegate for the last 12 years. She is the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and she also serves on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, the Joint Administrative Executive Legislative Committee and the House Rules Committee. She was the first Republican woman elected president of the Women’s Caucus.
Cryor said that her ample “experience, standing and influence” benefits her constituents in District 15.
“Where I am brings us strength,” she said. “No matter who the governor is, the budget process and how it affects our district and our county will be biggest issue of the next four years. Those formulas dictate everything, and I want to be in that back room when they’re written.”
Cryor is most proud of her education work. She served on the Thornton Commission as well as the Governor’s Commission on Quality Education in Maryland, where she worked on the subcommittee on school readiness and early childhood programs.
Cryor has voted against her party on issues like the Wal-Mart Law and the Thornton bill, which increased funding to Maryland public schools by $1.2 billion in an effort to adequately fund the “true cost of education.” Nonetheless, Cryor prides herself on fiscal conservatism. She said that she was the only Montgomery County delegate to vote against an unsuccessful House bill that would have legislated “a billion dollars in new taxes.”
“I could see that the burden of [the bill] fell on Montgomery County, and a lot of it fell right in my district, so I voted no to it,” she said.
BRIAN MEZGER (R) is an attorney who specializes in immigration law, and he is passionate about the issue of identity theft.
“It’s a growing problem that has been getting worse in Maryland,” he said. “Maryland is the 10th worst state per capita for identity theft.”
Mezger said that his “Freedom from Identity Theft” initiative would create a state agency to coordinate efforts with local law enforcement.
“There would be education in the high schools about the importance of maintaining good credit,” he said. “There would be tax incentives for people to invest in common sense things like shredders. It’s amazing that people throw out credit card bills with their numbers on it.”
Mezger would also like lower property taxes, particularly for those on fixed incomes, and continue preservation of the Agricultural Reserve and other green space in District 15.
Montgomery County would be better served with a “healthier balance” of Democrats and Republicans, Mezger said.
“The Democrats in Montgomery County have a near monopoly – 31 of the 32 state representatives are Democrats,” he said. “I think anyone who identifies themselves as independents would be very well served by a more balanced delegation.”
CHRIS PILKERTON is an attorney specializing in hedge funds who formerly worked in New York City as a prosecutor of prostitution, narcotics and gangs. His prosecution experience inspired his proposal for a “Gang up on Gangs” initiative to combat the recruitment of children and teens into gangs like MS-13, which target young immigrants.
“When [immigrants] come here and are not documented, gangs give haven to those people, and in return for shelter and food they become members of the gang,” said Pilkerton.
“The big component of this is to really establish after school programs that give children an opportunity to stay out of gangs, and an educational process throughout the school system that shows children what their futures could end up being if they do get involved with gangs.”
In addition, Pilkerton’s plan for a “Montgomery Corps” would provide financial and housing incentives to police, firefighters, teachers and nurses so that they can live and work in Montgomery County in exchange for a commitment to work here for five years.
Pilkerton also wants to see Montgomery County become a leader in alternative energy. He advocates for the use of corn-based ethanol in Maryland and pointed out that 90 percent of cars in Brazil run on sugar-based ethanol.
Pilkerton also wants to establish an energy co-op allowing county residents to purchase their electricity directly from traders. His plan, called “E=MC Shared,” is a reaction to the large leap in energy prices in the wake of deregulation, which Pilkerton said was caused by legislators “falling asleep at the switch.”
<b>Del. Jean Cryor (R)</b>
Education: Masters of Business Administration at Loyola College
Experience: 12 years in the House of Delegates
Endorsements: Montgomery County Teachers Association, Maryland Teachers Association, Retired Montgomery County Teachers, Montgomery County Medical Society, Montgomery County Firefighters, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Progressive Maryland
Occupation: retired; former editor and publisher for the Potomac Gazette Newspapers
Family: widow with three adult daughters and three grandchildren
Lives in: Potomac
Campaign Finances: $23,740 in contributions and $21,107 in expenditures since the last election; cash balance of $36,640 as of September
<b>Brian Mezger (R)</b>
Education: Oberlin College, BA in History and East Asian Studies (1992); JD WCL/American University (1995)
Occupation: attorney specializing in immigration law
Family: Wife Xiaoqin, daughters Venice (3 years old) and Siena (6 months old)
Lives in: Potomac
Campaign Finances: $2,240 in contributions and $6,415 in expenditures; $67,000 outstanding loan balance; $62,775 cash balance as of September
<b>Chris Pilkerton (R)</b>
Education: Columbia University, MPA-International Economics; Catholic University Law School, JD; Fairfield University, BA
Experience: Town Council in Fairfield, Connecticut, while in college between 1993-95; assistant District Attorney in Manhattan (Narcotics, Money Laundering); Senior Counsel at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission; Current Legislative Subcommittee Chair of the Montgomery County Committee on Hate and Violence
Occupation: attorney specializing in hedge funds; former gang and narcotics prosecutor
Family: parents live in Potomac; four siblings, four nephews and two nieces
Lives in: North Potomac
Campaign Finances: $53,650 in contributions and $26,214 in expenditures; cash balance of $28,490 as of September
<b>Del. Kathleen Dumais (D)</b>
Education: JD, University of MD School of Law, 1983; BA, Mount Vernon College, DC, 1980
Experience: District 15 delegate (2003-present)
Endorsements: Montgomery County Education Association, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, Maryland State Teachers Association, MCPS Retirees Association, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Progressive Maryland, local AFL-CIO
Occupation: family law attorney
Family: oldest of 8 siblings; has 17 nieces and nephews
Lives in: Rockville
Campaign Finances: $60,203 in contributions and $39,110 in expenditures since the last election; $30,757 cash balance as of September
<b>Del. Brian Feldman (D)</b>
Education: University of Pittsburgh School of Law, J.D.; Johns Hopkins University, Masters in Government; Pennsylvania State University, B.S. Accounting
Experience: District 15 delegate (2003-present)
Endorsements: Montgomery County Education Association, Bethesda/Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce, Montgomery County NOW, Maryland State Teachers Association, MCPS Retirees Association, Progressive Maryland, local AFL-CIO, Municipal County Government Employees Organization, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Montgomery County Green Democrats
Family: wife Janice, son Matthew (age 12), daughter Rebecca (age 10)
Lives in: Potomac
Campaign Finances: $127,616 in contributions and $71,103 in expenditures since the last election; cash balance of $60,618 as of September
<b>Craig Rice (D)</b>
Education: University of Maryland (majored in computer science)
Experience: Board of directors for Villages Town Center; Victims Services Advisory Board of Montgomery County; Germantown Alliance; President of the Germantown Democratic Club; NAACP
Endorsements: District 15 Democratic Slate (Rob Garagiola, Kathleen Dumais, Brian Feldman); College Democrats; Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats
Occupation: senior sales manager at Marriott International; currently campaigning full-time
Family: wife Tia, daughters Anaiya (4-years-old) and Caelyn (8-months-old)
Lives in: Germantown
Campaign Finances: $24,024 in contributions; $10,876 in expenditures; cash balance of $9,700 as of September