The Montgomery County Republican Central Committee elected Charles E. Brooks to fill a vacancy in its ranks last night, rejecting calls for appointment of a Latina candidate for the sake of broadening the GOP's appeal to minority voters in an increasingly diverse county.
Brooks, a retired Navy captain who is white, was chosen on a secret ballot after he and Maria Pena-Faustino addressed the committee on behalf of their candidacies. The tally was not disclosed.
One of the two minority members of the 19-member panel, Augustus C. Alzona, an Asian American who was Pena-Faustino's most vocal supporter, promptly resigned his post as the committee's treasurer, although he kept his seat.
"I am discouraged, disheartened and saddened by this local party's leadership, or lack thereof," he said, reading aloud his letter of resignation. "By this vote taken today, a majority of you has decided to take the wrong turn in the road towards a more dismal future."
Before the vote, several committee members raised questions about Pena-Faustino's political past, noting that she had worked to gather signatures supporting third-party candidate Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential race and had helped conduct a letter-writing campaign by Latinos supporting Democratic County Executive Douglas M. Duncan in his bid for reelection last year.
Afterward, Pena-Faustino said she was "heartbroken."
"I worked so hard, and it hurts for them to question my being a Republican," she said.
Much of the discussion in recent weeks about who should fill the vacancy revolved around whether the county GOP should appoint Pena-Faustino as a way of diversifying the party's Central Committee to better mirror Montgomery's changing demographics.
Like many other county political institutions, the Republican organization has remained heavily white as the county itself has become more diverse. About one in three county residents is either African American, Asian American or Latino.
Two members of the Republican Central Committee are minorities--Alzona, who is Filipino American, and M. Teresita Bork, a Latina. Central Committee members are elected in their party's primary and serve four-year terms. The vacancy was created by the retirement of Brent Mendelson, a representative from legislative District 39.
Pena-Faustino's supporters said the party should take the opportunity to diversify the Central Committee to increase its prospects for victory in future county races. Her bid received a boost when U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R), the county party's highest elected officeholder, called on committee members to support her for the position.
Yet the argument that race or ethnicity should be a consideration to fill a vacancy struck a dissonant chord with many local GOP leaders. "We do not feel that we should have a quota system," George Sauer, a Central Committee member, said this month, even though he said he was "leaning" toward supporting Pena-Faustino.
GOP leaders said the decision should be based squarely on the candidate's qualifications. The choice was not an easy one, several party leaders said, because both candidates were well qualified for the position.
"I have a lot of respect for Maria. She ran a heck of a campaign," Brooks said last night, adding that he was disappointed that so much of the debate in the weeks leading up to the vote focused on ethnicity. "I believe the vote tonight showed that the Central Committee focused on substance."