The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As vote count continues, Montgomery’s Democratic council field takes shape

Canvassers for the Montgomery County Board of Elections take an oath at the start of canvassing for mail-in ballots for the gubernatorial primary last month. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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The Democratic field for Montgomery County Council continues to take shape, with six more candidates — half of them women — projected to win the nominations, an outcome that could substantially change the makeup of a nine-person council that now has only one female member.

At-large incumbents Gabe Albornoz, Will Jawando and Evan Glass are projected to win the Democratic nomination for their seats, while Marilyn Balcombe, Kate Stewart and Kristin Mink are projected to win the Democratic primaries in their districts.

They join three previously called Democratic nominees: District 1 incumbent Andrew Friedson, who ran uncontested; District 3 incumbent Sidney Katz; and Natali Fani González, a council newcomer who ran in the newly created District 6.

While the winners of the Democratic nominations will go on to face the Republican nominees and any third-party candidates in November, the Democratic primary often predicts who will win the general election in this deep-blue county.

The winner of the Democratic primary for county executive, along with Democratic winners in the fourth at-large seat and the District 7 seat, will be projected later, as election officials make their way through the final rounds of outstanding provisional and mail-in ballots. Democratic incumbent County Executive Marc Elrich and challenger David Blair have been locked in a tight race for the nomination since voting ended.

Montgomery remains the only county in Maryland still counting ballots from the July 19 primary. County elections spokesman Gilberto Zelaya said he expects the count to go into Saturday and results to be certified by Aug 12.

Two women have strong leads in the Democratic council races yet to be called: at-large candidate Laurie-Anne Sayles, the first Black woman to be elected to the Gaithersburg City Council, and Dawn Luedtke, who is running for the District 7 seat.

The council is probably on track to become more than half female — a stark contrast from the current council, in which outgoing Council member Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) is the only woman.

In 2018, when a historic number of women were elected to Congress, Montgomery filled the council’s four vacant seats with men, creating the starkest gender imbalance on the legislative body in about 30 years.

“It’s all about representation,” said Balcombe, who ran for one of four at-large seats in 2018 but came in fifth. “It makes sense for leadership to be representative of the county, it just traditionally hasn’t been.”

Valerie Ervin, a former council member who became the first Black woman elected to the body in 2006, said she was looking forward to a council that better reflected the makeup of the county, and could advocate for issues that matter to women, children and families.

“It’s just thrilling that the council more reflects the people that live in the community,” Ervin said. “That is a goal that I think that many of us have been trying to reach for a long time, and I think we’re starting to see that reflected.”

The physical makeup of the council has changed since 2018 as well. Last year, Montgomery redrew its district lines and added two council seats, for a total of seven district and four at-large seats. The two new districts — 6 and 7 — were added with hopes of better representing the changing demographics of the county, which had become more racially diverse over the past four decades.

González, who served as the vice-chair of the Montgomery County Park and Planning Commission, won in District 6, which represents a population with a Hispanic plurality under the new map. And Mink’s District 5 also has new boundaries giving it a Black plurality. Mink, a first-generation Chinese American who in a viral video urged then-director of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt to resign, faced seven other Democrats who were also vying for the nomination.

Mink said she wants to elevate the voices of communities that have traditionally been underserved and underrepresented on the council.

“We have an extremely diverse district,” Mink said. “And I’m really excited to have an extremely diverse council.”

She said she was thrilled by the prospect of more women on the council as well. “It clearly was much needed,” she said. “It’s important symbolically, but it’s also important in a very real way.”

Stewart, who is mayor of Takoma Park, said she hopes the shift in the makeup of the council can inspire more women to run for office at all levels of government, including county executive or governor. No Democratic women ran for either office during this year’s primary.

“Having six women on the county council can be a pipeline,” Stewart said. “I’m hoping this is really a turning point.”

Balcombe, who is CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that all the projected nominees won not because they were women, but because they were capable and respected candidates.

“We won because we’re highly qualified, and we won because we ran really great campaigns,” Balcombe said. “And we all just happen to be women.”

She applauded all the other qualified women who did not win for entering the race.

“I hope that never changes,” Balcombe said. “I hope we never, ever, ever go back to a point where we say we need more women on the council, because they’re already there.”