‘Unprecedented:’ Frederick Dems juggle numerous unknowns following court ruling

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Winchester Hall Building in Historic Downtown Frederick, Maryland((Photo by Christian Hinkle))

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Nearly a month after the primary, Frederick County Democrats who live in County Council District 3 still don’t know who their nominee for the fall campaign will be.

And due to a bizarre set of circumstances that the head of the county’s Democratic Central Committee called “unique,” it may be several days more before a nominee emerges.

“It is not ‘very unusual,’” central committee chair Deborah Carter said. “It is, in fact, unique. It’s never happened. It is completely unprecedented.” 

“It has so many moving pieces and it is so unprecedented, that we are consulting everybody we can think of and still don’t have clarity on some of the issues,” she added.  

This much is known:

Community activist Jazmin Di Cola (D) defeated Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) by a single vote in the July 19 primary — 2,298 votes for the challenger versus 2,297 votes for the two-term incumbent.

Keegan-Ayer signaled almost immediately that she intended to seek a free recount, which she was entitled to given the closeness of the outcome, a mere 0.02% of the votes cast.

Against that backdrop, Keegan-Ayer sued to have Di Cola declared ineligible, claiming that she moved out of District 3 in the spring and therefore failed the county charter’s requirement that a candidate live in their district they wish to represent for a year prior to balloting.

On Friday, after an all-day hearing, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Julia Martz-Fisher ruled that, in fact, Di Cola did not meet the charter’s residency requirement.

Di Cola has five days to appeal the judge’s ruling. Although she did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, she posted on Facebook on Sunday that she intends to fight on.

“Please do not feel discouraged about yesterday’s ruling; we will appeal the disqualification ruling,” she wrote. “This ruling wasn’t against me but against a whole community that took steps to raise its voice through voting.”

“Since selling my home, I have always maintained a residence and domicile in the District,” Di Cola claimed. A few paragraphs later, however, she wrote: “I recently found a home to purchase in District 3 that I’m waiting to close on the sale…”

“I do business in the District; I invest in the District, I do community in the District, I pay taxes in the District, I volunteer in the District, I provide work for business owners that live in the District, I mentor entrepreneurs that live in the District, I cry with the difficulties my constituents feel daily in the District, I advocate for the people in the District, I know the District and I’m the District,” she added.

This is where the situation gets even more complex.

If Di Cola wins the appeal and the recount, she becomes the Democratic nominee, said Carter.

If Di Cola loses the appeal but wins the recount, her victory would be nullified by the court ruling. The central committee would then appoint a nominee to the ballot vacancy.

If she loses the recount, her appeal to the Court of Appeals would become moot, because Keegan-Ayer would become the victor.

The Frederick County Board of Elections is scheduled to being the recount Tuesday at 9 a.m.

“What we do not yet have clarity on is what happens if (Di Cola) loses the appeal but then it’s a tie in the recount,” said Carter. “That’s what we don’t know yet.”

Another wrinkle still to be sorted out — at least in theory — is whether Di Cola cast a District 3 ballot inappropriately. Since the judge ruled that she is ineligible to seek the District 3 seat on the county council, how could she be a District 3 voter?

“That was not covered in the ruling,” said Carter. “So that is up in the air as well.” (Since Di Cola won by the one vote, it’s not an insignificant question.)

Reached by phone on Monday, Keegan-Ayer said she’s ready for the drama to be over.

“It is highly unusual,” she said with a laugh. “I liken it to a really bad ride at the carnival, and I’m not ever buying a ticket to this ride again. It’s been incredibly stressful.”

‘Rumors’ of information-sharing prior to the lawsuit

Di Cola also posted to Facebook a two-paragraph notice that the central committee distributed on Sunday.

In it, the committee said “it has come to our attention” that Carter was rumored to have been a “source of information” in the lawsuit. “A plaintiff in the lawsuit testified that during a friendly coffee meeting, Ms. Carter informed her of a rumor about Ms. DiCola’s residency, and implied support of the rumor.”

“We contend that this did not happen, and that we maintained neutrality throughout the primary,” the notice added. “No one on the Central Committee encouraged the lawsuit or even knew that there would be a lawsuit. We share in the pain this has caused for the community in district 3 and beyond…”

Keegan-Ayer said she “never talked to anyone on the central committee about” Di Cola’s potential residency issue.

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