The politically influential Montgomery County teachers union is considering withdrawing its endorsement of Board of Education member Christopher Barclay for the Eastern County seat on the County Council in the wake of reports that he used a school system credit card for nearly $1,500 in unauthorized expenses.
Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), which represents 12,000 classroom teachers and other school personnel, said Monday that the union’s executive board will meet Tuesday to discuss the issue. If the board decides to drop Barclay, it will take its recommendation to the MCEA’s representative assembly, which would vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
“There is a possibility we may rescind the recommendation,” Prouty said. He said union leaders have had a series of conversations with Barclay urging him to withdraw.
The move would be a serious blow to Barclay’s troubled candidacy in the June 24 Democratic primary. The MCEA endorsement gives contenders a spot on the union’s “Apple Ballot,” which is mailed to all registered Democrats in the county. Union members also distribute the ballot near polls on primary day.
Barclay, who has reimbursed the school system for the improper expenses, including restaurant meals and purchases from an online travel site, said Monday that he intends to remain in the race no matter what the union decides.
“My message to them is that I feel strongly that the best thing for me to do is to see this thing through,” he said, adding that he believes he is still the candidate best able to represent working families in the eastern Montgomery district, which stretches from Takoma Park to Burtonsville.
Prouty said union officials are concerned not only about the credit card issue but also Barclay’s failure to raise enough money to mount a competitive campaign. Campaign finance reports filed with Maryland last week show Barclay had $10,000 cash on hand, far less than his opponents, Del. Tom Hucker ($132,780), Silver Spring activist Evan Glass ($67,695) and Takoma Park community organizer Terrill North ($17,467). A fourth opponent, nonprofit leader Jeffrey Thames, had $346 in the bank.
“We had hoped it would be much better than it has been,” Prouty said.
Barclay said the union knew that fundraising would be a challenge for him given his late entry into the race (April) and his relative inexperience with raising money.
“There is a community of folks who contribute to campaigns,” he said. “It’s taken time for them to get to know me.”
Barclay’s other major endorsement was from Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents support staff at public schools and Montgomery College. Executive Director Dave Rodich did not return phone or e-mail messages Monday.
Prouty said that if the union did decide to drop Barclay, it might “pick somebody else up” from District 5 for the Apple Ballot. He did not elaborate, but the choice would almost certainly be Hucker, a founder and former executive director of Progressive Maryland who has close ties to MCEA’s leadership.
Hucker has won the MCEA endorsement for his state legislative campaigns. He would probably have received it again for his council run were it not for Barclay, whose position on the school board gives him major influence on budget and other policy questions. He did not have to resign to run for the council and has two years left in his term.
While the union has yet to make a final decision, Prouty sounded as if he were delivering a political eulogy as he expressed regret about Barclay’s situation and the possibility of withdrawing the endorsement, something he cannot recall ever happening.
“The last two weeks have been the most painful,” he said. “It’s the most ugly and painful thing we’ve ever had to go through. Chris is a very good friend and a very valuable member of the board. I’ve had a great relationship with him.”
Barclay entered the race with a huge kickoff, which included endorsements from MCEA, Council President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), council members Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) and Cherri Branson (D-Eastern County), former council member Valerie Ervin and Board of Education colleagues.
Navarro said Monday that she had “expressed concerns” to Barclay about the credit card charges and fundraising deficit. But it was his decision whether to remain in the race, she said. If he did, he had her support. “I supported Chris because I believe he has a very deep understanding of the issues in the district, especially in the east county,” Navarro said. “I believe that he still would be a very good representative of that district.”