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The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee on Tuesday picked one of its own, Aaron Kaufman, to fill a vacancy on the July 19 primary ballot.
The committee’s appointment process was undertaken in a rush after current Del. Al Carr (D) chose to withdraw from re-election at the last minute and run instead for County Council.
Because of redistricting-related delays in the state’s 2022 primary process, the committee had only four days — over a holiday weekend — to designate a new candidate for the ballot. Kaufman will be required to submit paperwork with the State Board of Elections by the end of the day Wednesday to complete the process.
He was one of nine candidates to take part in the central committee nominating process on Tuesday night.
Kaufman, 35, said he struggled with the decision on whether or not to seek the appointment because his grandmother died on Friday. “I was not sure I had the emotional energy,” he said. “…If appointed, I will also have to leave a job I love. But I determined that public service was the most important endeavor for me to engage in at this time.”
It is believed that if he’s elected in November, Kaufman, who has cerebral palsy, would be the only member of the legislature with a physical disability.
“Because of my disability, I have been constantly underestimated in my entire life,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “So I want to assure you, all of you, my disabilities will not in any way limit my ability to serve you to serve the people of District 18 or stand in the way of being an effective delegate.”
Kaufman, who has served on the central committee for 12 years, was most recently elected to the panel in a contested race in 2018, garnering 70% of the vote. He has also lived within the district for his entire life.
“Therefore, I believe my priorities and values are aligned with the voters of the district,” he said.
Kaufman also said he would be able to “hit the ground running in Annapolis.”
“My mentor [former Delegate] Sheila Hixson said that what mattered most in Annapolis was relationships. And I already have deep relationships with many members of the General Assembly,” he said.
He worked as an administrative assistant for the House Ways and Means Committee while Hixson was chair, is a long-time member of Maryland’s Developmental Disabilities Council and has worked at several levels of government and in Democratic campaigns, dating back to when he was a youth.
Kaufman fell short of the 13-vote majority that was needed in a first round of balloting on Tuesday, but clinched the nomination with 16 votes on a second ballot.
The other candidates who sought the appointment Tuesday were Cecily E. Baskir, Carlos Camacho, Marla Hollander, Marc Lande, Jose Ortiz, Joel Rubin, Ronald Sachs and Michael Tardif.
Rubin and Tardif were included in the second-ballot runoff, garnering three and two votes, respectively.
The only other candidate to receive a vote on either the first or second ballot was Ortiz, who was supported by central committee member Shruti Bhatnagar.
Leslie Milano, who finished fourth in the 2018 primary campaign for one of the three House seats, announced shortly before the meeting that she would no longer seek the appointment after initially expressing interest.
“Sincere thanks to everyone who reached out and encouraged me to run for the D-18 vacancy,” she tweeted. “…In the end, I’ve decided that it’s not the right time for me to run for another political seat but I truly appreciate your support.
The meeting was held over Zoom and much of the conversation in the related chat room focused on the rushed and closed nature of the process. Several members of the pubic sought more information about the tight timeline to name a candidate.
Carr said in an interview on Monday that he chose to keep his decision to withdraw from the race late Friday private to avoid the appearance that any candidate who filed to succeed him in an uncontested race was hand-picked. The central committee process, under the circumstances, was the “more democratic process,” he said.
Andrew Saundry, a member of the central committee, asked each of the candidates seeking the nomination Tuesday a question many of the observers had been waiting for: Would the candidates support reforms to the central committee appointment process in Annapolis?
Most of the group vying for the nomination agreed that some form of reform should take place.
Several sitting lawmakers reiterated support for their own efforts to reform the process, if re-elected.
Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) was among the elected officials invited to speak while ballots were being tallied at one point during the evening.
“I think we need a solution and I hope we can do better” than the current process, Kagan said. “And I if the voters of District 17 return me to Annapolis next year as vice chair of the committee that oversees all election stuff, I will be sponsoring legislation to make sure we can avoid this fiasco in the future.”
Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard), who has sponsored bills for the past three years that would establish special elections after an appointment to a vacancy, also attended the meeting. He noted that the measures have passed the Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates.
More than a quarter of all sitting lawmakers were originally appointed, rather than elected, to their seats.
Despite the rushed and confusing nature of the meeting, there was still some online celebration of the vote.
Del. Jared Solomon (D), one of the incumbents seeking re-election in the district tweeted: “While this process was far from ideal & one I hope we can reform, hearty congrats to @amkaufman19871 on his appointment! He will bring an important voice to Annapolis for our community.”
Del. Emily Shetty (D), the other current delegate for the district seeking re-election, called Kaufman a friend and also extended her congratulations.
“He is kind & extremely smart. His appointment is also shattering a pretty big glass ceiling,” Shetty tweeted. “Proud of him & look fwd to working together!”
Shetty, Solomon and Kaufman will face Republican George M. Cecala in the general election. The Democrats will be heavily favored to retain the three House seats.