Hill staffer Cherri Branson emerges as favorite to fill Dist. 5 Montgomery Council seat

The Montgomery County Council is ready to name Cherri Branson, a longtime congressional staffer and Silver Spring resident, to fill the District 5 vacancy created by Valerie Ervin’s resignation earlier this month, according to three sources familiar with council members’ discussion of the matter.

The council interviewed 13 applicants for completing Ervin’s term, which ends in December. By late last week, at least four aspirants had some support: Branson, former state House delegate Herman Taylor, Silver Spring activist Ronnie Galvin and Baltimore city budget director Andrew Kleine.

After a weekend of phone calls and e-mails among council members, Branson emerged as the least politically objectionable choice, according to the sources, who asked for anonymity because a formal vote will not be taken until Tuesday morning.

Taylor, who represented District 14 in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2003 to 2011, enjoyed strong backing from the county’s public employee unions. But at Sunday’s annual legislative briefing sponsored by the Montgomery County Commission for Women, some council members heard strong objections to Taylor because of some votes on choice and reproductive rights issues. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland also circulated an e-mail listing his record, which included votes to defund Mediciaid abortions for low-income women.

While the council seldom deals with reproductive issues, members didn’t want to risk angering an important Democratic constituency less than six months before a primary.

Galvin, executive director of IMPACT Silver Spring, a nonprofit group that works on community engagement and leadership development, was favored by Ervin, who had rocky relationships with some council members.

Some council members were taken aback during Galvin’s interview Friday, when he placed District 5 African Americans in two groups. One, he said, was successful and credentialed but deeply frustrated with the lack of overall progress in the county, a reaction he described as “rage.” The other group, he said, had “completely walked away from the process.”

District 5 — which includes Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Burtonsville and White Oak — has the largest African American population of any council district.

Council member George Leventhal (D-At-Large) asked Galvin: “Is it possible that there are some constituents out there who are satisfied?”

“I have not experienced them en masse,” Galvin said.

Kleine made some council members uncomfortable with his hard sell, which included his own campaign-style Web site. And while all applicants pledged to be “caretakers” who would not run in the June Democratic primary, there was concern that Kleine, a career government budget analyst and financial officer, might use the seat to campaign for a job in the next county executive’s administration.

That left Branson, 54, chief counsel for oversight on the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security, with the best chance for attracting a majority. Branson has been active in county government, having served on the county Charter Review Commission and the Commission on Redistricting, both council appointments.

Council President Craig Rice declined any specific comment on the choice until Tuesday’s vote.

“We had some fantastic candidates that applied. Unfortunately, we can only have just one,” Rice said.

Branson, reached at her Capitol Hill office Monday, also declined to comment.

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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