District 18′s three incumbent delegates and state senator have formed a slate for another term, but a group of serious challengers has set up one of the more interesting set of races this Democratic primary season.
The district — which includes parts of Bethesda, Chevy Chase, North Bethesda, Silver Spring and Garrett Park, Kensington and Wheaton — is billed as the most diverse in the state.
Since 2002, Chevy Chase resident Ana Sol Gutierrez has represented it. But Gutierrez’s hesitancy about running in 2014 is at least part of the reason there are now two registered House of Delegates challengers.
“I had the opportunity to meet with her over the summer. She actually told me she wanted to retire and I’m sure I’m not the only person who had that conversation with her,” said candidate Elizabeth Matory. “But I had already made the choice to run for office, regardless of whether Ana Sol was going to run. I was already under the impression that it could be running against all three incumbents.”
Gutierrez joins two-term Del. Jeff Waldstreicher and Del. Al Carr, who took over Jane Lawton’s seat in December 2007 after Lawton died that November. On Thursday, transgender-rights activist Dana Beyer announced she will take on D-18 State Sen. Rich Madaleno.
Also in the mix for one of the district’s three delegate seats is Rick Kessler a Forest Glen government relations consultant and former Congressional staffer.
Both Matory and Kessler said raising the state’s minimum wage is a critical part of their platforms. There is a Gov. Martin O’Malley-backed push for a $10.10 per hour minimum wage in this year’s General Assembly.
“The issue with the minimum wage is why are there so many people working for the minimum wage? What happened to the American wage? That is the main driving force of our campaign and that what’s really resonating with voters,” said Matory, a local Democratic activist who has a law degree from Howard University and is completing her MBA at the University of Maryland.
“Running was never something I thought I wanted to do until my son was old enough,” said Kessler, who came to the area to work as a chauffeur for New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg. “I was OK with how things were going but it seemed like there would be an opening. Frankly, I decided we could do better. My goal is to be the first choice on people’s ballots. It’s not to oppose anybody.”
Kessler progressed from Lautenberg’s driver to New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone’s office, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee to chief of staff for Michigan Rep. John Dingell. He met his wife, progressive political activist Cindy Schwartz, when he began working for Pallone.
Kessler said he hopes to push for expanded affordable child care, lower taxes for energy efficient products, an evaluation of regressive taxes and increased use of renewable energy.
“Legislators write laws. They don’t write aspirations,” Kessler said. “The words that make up laws and policies matter and that’s what my experience brings.”
Kessler also brings encouraging campaign fundraising results from 2013. He raised the most money in the field and has the second most cash on hand ($68,782). Waldstreicher boasts a campaign chest of $113,873. Carr ($42,107), Gutierrez ($28,270) and Matory ($17,435) follow.
Matory boasts the endorsements of Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman and Silver Spring developer Bruce Lee, who praised Matory’s understanding “that our state cannot maintain progress without sustaining the strong economic infrastructure that our county has established but is slowly losing.”
Matory, 33, said she’ll also look at issues surrounding the estate tax and how to ensure success for college graduates.
“What’s really resonating with voters is they know that college is no longer enough. You have to be able to earn a living,” Matory said. “Our generation has had to deal with that question of where do I fit in? I would like to at least start here in Maryland, identifying really innovative ways that we can all come together, public, private sector, and tackle this head on.”
Photos via Rick Kessler Campaign, Elizabeth Matory Campaign and Jeff Waldstreicher