Cherri Branson, Capitol Hill staff veteran, fills vacancy on Montgomery County Council

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday selected Cherri Branson, a veteran congressional staff member and a Silver Spring resident, to fill the unexpired term of District 5 member Valerie Ervin, who resigned Jan. 3.

Branson, 54, prevailed over 18 other applicants who were interviewed for the $106,000-a-year job representing a swath of Eastern Montgomery that includes Silver Spring, Takoma Park, White Oak and Burtonsville.

Like the other aspirants, Branson (D) pledged to be a “caretaker” who would not seek election to the council in the June primary. Her term will expire in December. “I’m speechless, which is rare,” Branson said after a late afternoon swearing-in ceremony in the council chambers.

She emerged as the most politically palatable choice among the finalists for the position.

Former state delegate Herman L. Taylor II enjoyed strong labor backing, but reproductive rights activists objected to parts of his voting record in Annapolis. Silver Spring community organizer Ronnie Galvin, who is African American, offended some council members during his interview by contending that most black residents of District 5 were angry or discouraged about their lack of progress in the county. And Andrew Kleine, city budget chief for Baltimore, made members uncomfortable with his election-style approach to the appointment, including a Web page and a cheering section at his council interview.

The council president, Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), said Branson, a lawyer and general counsel to the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security, stood out for her collegiality, knowledge of the issues and lack of a long agenda for the 11-month stint. Branson demonstrated “an understanding that the agenda is shaped by the community, not yourself,” Rice said.

Branson — a native of West Virginia and a graduate of Vassar College and Indiana University’s law school — joins several other council members who have worked on Capitol Hill. During the past 20 years, her assignments have included counsel or legislative aide to then-Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and the House Committee on Government Reform.

Branson is married and has a 16-year-old son, Avery, who attends Good Counsel High School. She said Tuesday that she has submitted her resignation to the Homeland Security Committee.

In other business, the council interviewed the interim fire chief, Steve Lohr, who is seeking permanent appointment to the $205,000-a-year post. He replaced Richard Bowers in May after Bowers took the fire chief’s job in Fairfax County.

Lohr, a 30-year veteran of Montgomery Fire and Rescue, has the unanimous support of the council and is expected to be confirmed at the Feb. 4 session. end new But Rockville activist Rocky Twyman contends that Lohr should be held accountable for what he describes as the taunting of a homeless black man in April by a group of white county EMTs.

Twyman said he was at a McDonald’s on Rockville Pike, near the Woodmont Station Shopping Center, when it appeared that the homeless man, whom he knew only as Robert, was having a heart attack. Twyman said he called 911.

He said the six white EMTs who responded did not take the situation seriously, apparently because the homeless man had called several times in the past. The man survived the episode, but Twyman said he was appalled.

“Those of us who witnessed this thought that the man was dying. Meanwhile, these medics ordered food and continued to laugh and joke about the homeless man. Disgusting,” he said in an e-mail account. “If these had been six black officers who treated a white homeless person this way, they would have been fired.”

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) ordered a departmental investigation. The report remains confidential, officials said, because of personnel regulations. Leggett, who attended Lohr’s council appearance Tuesday, said that although there was no evidence of racially motivated conduct, there may have been “courtesy” issues. He did not elaborate.

Twyman was honored by the County Council in 2008 for his efforts to increase minority participation in the national bone marrow registry and improve minority cancer patients’ chances of finding a lifesaving match. He met with Leggett on Monday to press his argument on Lohr’s nomination. But Leggett stood by the investigation.

“I was very unimpressed,” Twyman said. “We think they’re whitewashing the whole thing.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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