May 15, 2014

Baltimore Co. Democratic club fails to endorse state incumbents in dispute over local race

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From left: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Dels. Dan Morhaim, Jon Cardin, Dana Stein

From left: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Dels. Dan Morhaim, Jon Cardin, Dana Stein

Photo caption: District 11 slate in 2010, from left: Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Dels. Dan Morhaim, Jon Cardin (now running for AG), Dana Stein.

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

jeremy@marylandreporter.com

A Baltimore County Democratic Club, based almost solely on battle of the local county council race, declined to endorse a contingent of State House incumbents, despite the fact that those lawmakers have been long-standing members in the group.

The Central Baltimore County Democratic Club Tuesday voted to only endorse House of Delegates hopeful Don Engel in District 11, comprising Reisterstown and Owings Mills. Montgomery County Del. Heather Mizeur also picked up the endorsement for governor over the recommended choice of Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. Incumbent Democratic County Executive Kevin Kamenetz failed to be endorsed on his home turf.

Incumbents Sen. Bobby Zirkin and his slate, Dels. Dana Stein and Dan Morhaim, all failed to pick up the group’s endorsement. All three have intermittently attended the club’s meetings, forums and events for at least four years. Only this year did Zirkin not pay his $20 dues, though he said he would never have called himself as an “active member.”

Leadership of the the club said some of the members were disenchanted with Zirkin and the others because the legislators, as well as Kamenetz, had thrown their support behind Jon Herbst, a Democrat running for Baltimore County council, rather than incumbent Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

Zirkin “couldn’t care less”

“I couldn’t care less,” said Zirkin, who is running unopposed both in the primary and general elections. “My job is to do just the best I can and help write public policy. I’m not concerned with special interests of any type.”

Shelly Hettleman, one of seven vying for the District 11 delegate seat vacated by Jon Cardin, also did not gain the club’s support, despite a hefty campaign account and endorsements from U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski.

Anne Neal, CBCDC president, remarked that the club sets high expectations of those they endorse — 60% of the roughly 70 members who vote on endorsements must agree, and half the pack voted in favor of Zirkin, by her estimate. The club will not release exact voting counts, she said.

Because six of the seven House of Delegates candidates are Democrats, the club was split in their support, explaining why Stein and Morhaim were spurned, Neal said.

Almond previously served as Zirkin’s chief of staff and ran with him, Jon Cardin, Stein and Morhaim as a slate in 2010.

Herbst ran in that same race against Almond, but as a Republican.

Herbst was a Republican

“He’s a Johnny-come-lately Democrat,” said club member Ruth Goldstein.

Almond is popular with Goldstein and some of her peers for her outspoken community efforts, particularly concerning Foundry Row, a development project anchored by a Wegmans grocery store off Reisterstown Road. Almond led the charge to rezone the location in 2012 and raze the dilapidated Solo Cup Co. plant.

Goldstein commended Almond on her “backbone” in county government.

“If they hadn’t turned their backs on Vicki, they should have coasted to an endorsement,” Goldstein said.

Zirkin said he felt disappointed by the “tone” and “rhetoric” from the Almond camp and the public political battles she wages — Almond has notably brawled in the past with Kamenetz.

Local development caused dispute

In 2012, during the infant stages of Foundry Row, Almond publicly asked Kamentez to condemn a referendum petition meant to impede the zoning changes she made in her district. The petition was linked to developers Howard Brown and Cordish Cos., politically active corporations with competing projects nearby — the referendum was rejected, but Kamentez did not act.

Zirkin received a $1,000 campaign donation from the David S. Brown Enterprise PAC, associated with Howard Brown, a pittance compared to the $200,000 balance his campaign account carried as of January.

Zirkin favored Foundry Row, but clashed with Almond over traffic studies for the project.

Goldstein said she noted a core of supporters for Mizeur among the group who mobilized and brought in an infusion of new membership prior to Tuesday’s vote. To vote on the CBCDC endorsements, members must have paid $20 dues by mid-April of this year.

Club President Neal said following the primary, the members’ job will be to support the Democratic candidate — no matter if it’s Gansler, Brown or Mizeur. “This is temporary,” she said of the endorsements.