Montgomery County Democrats on Wednesday evening named Del. William C. Smith Jr. to succeed U.S. Rep.-elect Jamie B. Raskin in the Maryland Senate, making him the first African American to represent the county in that body.
The county’s 28-member Democratic Central Committee chose Smith over fellow freshman Del. David Moon by a vote of 19 to 8, with one abstention.
The committee’s recommendation now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan, who makes the appointment. Hogan, a Republican, is required by law to appoint someone from the party that previously held the seat.
Three other candidates competed but received no votes: Howard University professor and Montgomery County EMT Darian Unger, small-business executive Scott Brown and Democratic activist Arthur Jackson.
The vote, taken at the Silver Spring Civic Center, capped months of intense backstage politicking for the seat Raskin had held since 2006. He resigned Nov. 10, two days after he was elected to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen in Congress.
Smith and Moon both brought significant progressive credentials for the race to represent District 20, one of the state’s most liberal legislative districts, which takes up most of Silver Spring and Takoma Park. Both had served as campaign managers for Raskin — Moon in 2006 and Smith in 2010.
Smith, 34, a civil rights lawyer and intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, was endorsed by County Executive Isiah Leggett and Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), both of whom are African American, as well as the African American Club of Montgomery County and the Muslim Democratic Club of Montgomery County.
Moon, 37, a veteran grass-roots organizer and campaign strategist, collected support from a coalition of labor unions and progressive groups, including the Service Employees International Union, CASA and Progressive Maryland. He was also endorsed by the Hispanic Democratic Club and the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats.
Some observers said Smith appeared to benefit from the committee’s desire to have an African American senator from Montgomery County, where about 1 in 5 residents is black. The county’s eight-person Senate delegation includes one Asian American, state Sen. Susan C. Lee (D), who was elected in 2014.
Others said that Smith, who has passed more legislation than any other freshman lawmaker, may be better suited to the Senate than Moon, an organizer with a more hard-edge style.
“I think it’s a shame we didn’t have two open senate seats,” said central committee member Jennifer Hosey. “It came down to who would be more effective in working with a cooperative majority vision.”
Moon said that he would not run for the Senate seat in 2018, and instead would seek a second term in the House of Delegates. He called Smith’s election “a proud moment for the county.”
The competition also came at a time of transition for county and state Democrats, stung by declining turnout rates, the defeat of gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown in 2014 and the record-high popularity of Hogan.
The vacancy — one of several in the state Senate this year — also revived debate about the Maryland law mandating that legislative vacancies be filled by appointment. Critics say such openings should be filled in special elections, especially because whomever takes over the seat has the advantage of incumbency if they decide to run for a full term.
In Baltimore, the Associated Press reported, Del. Barbara A. Robinson (D) was nominated Wednesday to succeed former senator Catherine E. Pugh, who resigned after being elected mayor of the city.