The announcement last week from Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-16) that she would step down at the end of August from the Maryland General Assembly has set off a scramble to find her replacement.
A flock of faces — some familiar, some new to the local political scene — will be on hand on Tuesday, Sept. 11 when the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee nominates Goldwater’s replacement. That nomination will be sent to Governor Martin O’Malley (D) to be confirmed.
Ten people have indicated an interest in the vacant seat, said Milt Minneman, the communications director for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. Only two of those 10 have formally submitted applications yet, Minneman said, perhaps because they are waiting for Goldwater to officially step down on Aug. 27.
“I have the feeling that they’re waiting for the official resignation date,” said Minneman.
The ten who have indicated their interest are Charles J. Butler, Charles F. Chester, Reginald M. Felton, Bill Frick, Karen Kuker-Kihl, Donald L. Mooers Jr., Regina “Reggie” Oldak, Karen Strickler, Mark Winston, and Ellie Kleinman.
By regulation, all are registered Democrats who reside in District 16, which covers portions of Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac.
Goldwater served more than 20 years in Annapolis and was a leading advocate on health care issues. Despite suffering from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, she ran for and won reelection last fall, but was frequently absent during the 90-day legislative session this spring.
WHOEVER ULTIMATELY takes Goldwater’s seat will have big shoes to fill. They will also have to help find a way to balance a state budget that is facing a projected $1.5 billion deficit for the coming fiscal year. Unlike the federal budget, Maryland law requires that the state budget be balanced every year.
Oldak lost to Goldwater last fall in the Democratic Primary for the now-vacant seat. She went on to serve as the chief of staff for newly elected County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1). Berliner said that Oldak has taken a leave of absence as she once again pursues the seat in the state legislature.
“I hope she’s successful and if she is than I will deal with my situation,” said Berliner. He said Felton would be somebody “who knows that the budget can’t be balanced on the backs of the county.”
In a statement on her Web site, Oldak commended Goldwater for her service.
“Delegate Goldwater has been a tremendous asset to Montgomery County and Maryland, and her leadership on health care and women’s rights set a high standard for others to follow,” Oldak said. Oldak, who worked as a tax lawyer for 20 years for the IRS, said in the same statement that an extensive overhaul of the state’s tax structure is required to combat the looming budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.
Mooers lost to Republican Connie Morella in the 1996 race for District 8 seat of the U.S. House of Representatives. He went on to serve as a regional director for the Peace Corps, overseeing operations in Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia under the Clinton administration, and Minneman said he has been very active in the county’s Democratic party operations.
Mooers said that protecting Montgomery County as the state’s legislators attempt to balance the budget is critical.
“If I and the rest of the Montgomery County delegation are not caring about Montgomery County, I guarantee you no one else will be,” said Mooers. While the county is often seen as a cash cow for the state, Mooers said that that is not a fair assessment given the high cost of living and the high rates of special-needs residents and foreign-born, non-English-speaking residents.
“We can not afford to be shortchanged if we’re going to provide the kind of services that Montgomery County citizens deserve,” said Mooers. He is a 1977 graduate of Winston Churchill High School, and is an immigration lawyer; he said that immigration reform and securing universal health coverage for all Marylanders would be his key issues.
Kuker-Kihl, a former special-needs teacher in Prince George ’s County and a community activist, said that the budget deficit needs to be the number one priority for whoever fills the vacant seat.
“The budget, I think, is really important before you look at the other issues,” Kuker-Kihl said. Kuker-Kihl, a past treasurer of the Maryland State Teachers Association, is disabled and suffers from spinal, muscle, and inner-ear damages incurred in a 1995 car wreck.
“Having someone who is disabled be elected is important. We need someone who is empathetic to the needs of disabled people,” she said.
Felton served on the Montgomery County School Board of Education from 1994 to 2004; he served three terms as the board’s president and was its first African American president. He lost a bid for an at-large seat on the County Council last fall.
Like Oldak, Chester is an attorney who also ran for the District 16 seat last fall and lost in the primary. Butler is the vice president of the District 16 Democratic Club; Frick, Kleinman, Butler and Strickler are all active members of — and have held positions in — the local Democratic Party, according to information sent out by Minneman.
THE ELECTION to fill Goldwater’s seat will be one of four votes that take place at the Sept., 11 meeting of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. The 23-person election committee will also vote to fill a vacancy in District 39 that opened up after Del. Nancy King (D) left the position to become a senator.
The committee also will hear from candidates who are looking to fill one of five voting positions on the Montgomery County Board of Elections. There will also be a selection of a substitute voting member for the Board. The two current candidates to fill the voting position on the Board of Elections are John J. Sullivan, of Chevy Chase, and Jerrold “Jerry” Garson of Potomac. Sullivan is currently the substitute Democratic member to the Board of Elections and is the Associate General Counsel for the Service Employees International Union. Garson is a licensed certified public accountant and the head of the Seven Locks Civic Association.
In all four selection processes, candidates will be given time to address the election committee and then will go through a question and answer session to try to win the votes of the committee members.
Mooers said that with so much riding on each speech it will be a pressure-packed night. He said it also will be a quintessentially democratic event as people stand before their peers, express their views and seek their votes.
“Democracy’s a wonderful thing and to have this many people who want to put their hat in the ring — let’s go,” said Mooers.