District 5 County Council race could be Montgomery’s nastiest

Call it the primary inside the primary.

Montgomery Democrats will go to the polls June 24 to select nominees--and de facto winners in a county where Republicans are outnumbered 3-to-1--in races for County Executive and County Council. But there’s another contest underway, for the season’s nastiest, toughest fought campaign.

The District 1 match between incumbent Roger Berliner and former council member Duchy Trachtenberg is a strong contender.

But the five-way race for Valerie Ervin’s District 5 seat is coming on fast. Here’s the backstory:

Ervin resigned in January to become executive director of the Center for Working Families, the non-profit, issue advocacy arm of the Working Families Party (WFP). The party, a coalition of labor unions and social justice groups, is trying to establish a presence in Maryland.

WFP has grown a national profile by recruiting candidates and cross-endorsing other nominees. It is credited with helping elect New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and was active in the push for increases in the minimum wage in D.C. and Maryland.

Last month, Ervin led a group of Montgomery Democrats in endorsing Board of Education member Christopher Barclay for District 5 . Ervin, the first African American woman to serve on the council, called District 5 a “legacy seat,” meaning that whoever holds it should reflect the area’s diverse electorate.

This didn’t sit well with one of Barclay’s rivals, Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery), who is white and has deep roots in progressive Democratic politics in Maryland.

Ervin disclosed in a recent interview that Hucker tried to head off her endorsement of Barclay by calling WFP executive director Dan Cantor.

Ervin didn’t mention Hucker by name, but it was clear who she was talking about.

According to Ervin, Hucker said in essence, that the party would suddenly find Maryland an inhospitable place if the endorsement happened.

“One of the individuals running in that race got very upset and started making calls to members of my board and to my colleagues in New York City saying if former council member Valerie Ervin does make this endorsement that maybe your organization is going to suffer consequences,” she told Montgomery Community Media.

Cantor did not return multiple phone messages over the last couple of weeks. Hucker said he did call Cantor, who he described as a long-time friend and former colleague at the Progressive America Fund, a forerunner of WFP.

Hucker said Tuesday that it was “a misunderstanding,” and that he only wanted to make sure that Ervin was speaking for herself and not WFP.

“When I heard Valerie was making an endorsement, I reached out to Dan Cantor, my long time -time friend, to see if they were making an organizational endorsement. He said they weren’t.”

Ervin, in an e-mail Tuesday, had little to add: “My decision to endorse in the District 5 Council race was a personal one, but I don’t take it personally that not everyone was happy with that decision.”

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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