By Glynis Kazanjian
For Maryland Reporter
Women are beginning to emerge as top tier candidates in Montgomery’s competitive District 18 legislative race at the same time some politicos are saying incumbent Del. Al Carr and Del. Jeff Waldstreicher, who is running for Senate, may be vulnerable.
“There are incredibly strong non-incumbents candidates in this race, and as a result the incumbents — both Jeff and Al — could lose,” said Susan Heltemes, District 18 Democratic activist and founder of a decades-old District 18 breakfast club. “That is a given because of the quality of the candidates.”
Paul Bessel, a political activist and chair of the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, agreed.
“Al Carr is a very nice guy,” Bessel said. “I think the world of him, but from everything I hear he’s vulnerable. Part of the reason is that he’s facing the strongest set of challengers of any of the districts.”
Bessel, who is known in Democratic circles as an objective observer, said he agrees with speculation that the Senate race may also be up for grabs. Waldstreicher’s biggest threat is Dr. Dana Beyer, a former chief of staff for a Montgomery County councilmember.
“Dana is a very formidable candidate,” Bessel said. “Not just because of money, she is very, very bright and knowledgeable on all of the issues in and around government.”
The District 18 race is considered to be the most competitive Democratic legislative primary of the eight districts in Maryland’s largest county. It includes eight candidates who are running for three House seats and three candidates running for the sole Senate seat. For a complete rundown of all the candidates, see the sidebar at the bottom of this story.
A number of circumstances created the openings in the race. Sen. Rich Madaleno is vacating his seat to run for governor. Waldstreicher, a three-term incumbent, is running for Madaleno’s seat, and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a four-term incumbent, is running for County Council in Council District 1.
Among the female candidates in the race for House of Delegates are Montgomery County Democratic Party Vice Chair Emily Shetty, Mila Johns, a full-time volunteer and political activist, Leslie Milano, a healthcare executive, and Helga Luest, a government contractor and violence prevention advocate. Beyer, a retired ophthalmic surgeon and civil rights activist, and Michelle Carhart, a small business owner, are running for Senate.
Other District 18 House candidates include Jared Solomon, an education policy consultant, Joel Rubin, a member of the Chevy Chase Town Council, and Ron Franks, a mid-county and Wheaton advisory board member.
Heltemes, who has hosted a monthly District 18 breakfast club for almost 20 years, said Waldstreicher is vulnerable because of allegations made against him by Luest.
According to Luest, in December Waldstreicher asked her to step out of the House race and instead run for Senate. Luest, who said she had nothing to gain from the move, presumed Waldstreicher wanted her to dilute the female vote in his Senate race. Both of Waldstreicher’s opponents are women.
Luest said she stayed quiet about the matter until Beyer went public with similar accusations.
Allegations about Waldstreicher
Beyer said Waldstreicher asked her “several times” to “down slate,” and run in the House race instead of for the Senate. After Beyer considered the proposition and declined, Waldstreicher offered Beyer to run on a slate with him. Again, Beyer turned down his offer.
“There is some concern in the District 18 Senate race about allegations that have been made about Del. Waldstreicher,” Heltemes, a former Democratic Central Committee member said. “This issue is resonating. People are thinking about it. I thought it might just go away, but in talking to people in Annapolis – legislators – they are talking about it.
“There is concern that the allegations by him were in poor taste, if he actually did that. There seems belief among voters that this did take place. I think Jeff needs to spend as much time knocking on doors as he can.”
Publicly, Waldstreicher has denied Luest’s accusations, dismissing them as “defamatory” and “malice.” However, another candidate in the District 18 race, who requested anonymity, said Waldstreicher told her that he made the comments. Another witness was present, the source said.
According to Luest, in January, Waldstreicher contacted her and asked her to “reframe” the conversation “as a joke.”
Luest said Waldstreicher’s request, “to have a conversation,” came a day after Luest contacted Seventh State blogger David Lublin about her allegations. She contacted Lublin after he published a story about Beyer’s allegations of Waldstreicher asking her to down slate and run for House. Beyer ran for Senate against Madaleno in 2014.
Luest said Lublin originally agreed to do the story, but then changed his mind, stating “it was giving him a headache.”
Citing a March 6 Bethesda Beat article, Lublin said he tried to learn more about Luest’s allegations, but Waldstreicher would not respond to requests for comment.
Who’s telling the truth?
District 18 candidate Shetty says she’s unsure whether Luest is telling the truth about Waldstreicher.
“It’s hard to say, because I’ve not been involved in that discussion at all,” Shetty said in an interview.
But on a Friday morning in March over breakfast, all the female candidates in District 18, excluding Senate candidate Michelle Carhart, did talk about it. The group of female candidates reviewed a draft letter Luest brought to the meeting that she asked them all to sign. The letter was meant to show support of Luest’s allegations, after Waldstreicher denied them.
According to one of the participants, a second draft letter was also brought by Luest. That letter was intended to show support for Senate candidate Dana Beyer.
With the exception of Shetty, who says she did not express support to sign it and eventually asked for her name to be removed from the draft, all the other women at the breakfast meeting initially indicated they would sign it.
However, neither letter was signed, even though some edits to Luest’s letter were made. Many of the women interviewed said the letter was other too litigious and needed to be softened, or a timeline Luest imposed, couldn’t be met.
Ryan Miner of A Miner Detail political blog recently had Luest as a guest for his podcast and said he believes Luest.
“I don’t think Jeff is telling the full truth,” Miner said. “I think Jeff is hiding something and he badly handled this. I don’t know if Jeff will be defeated or not, I haven’t seen any polling, but Dana [Beyer] is in this race to win, and Jeff did himself no favor whatsoever.”
In response to questions from MarylandReporter.com about the allegations made by Luest, Waldstreicher provided the following statement:
“I’m not paying attention to outside noise. Instead, I’m staying focused on the progressive values that inspire and uplift all Marylanders. After three terms in the House of Delegates, I remain fiercely committed to continuing our progress together. This includes investing in our schools and cutting class sizes, fighting for environmental protection and green energy, and cracking down on guns and violence.
“I’m a husband, father, Montgomery County native, and proud Democrat. I’m not running against anyone. I’m running for the State Senate to fight for my community like I fight for my own family.”
Legislative District 18 candidate biographies
By Glynis Kazanjian
Information included in biographies is from candidate campaign websites
Del. Jeff Waldstreicher is a three-term incumbent for District 18, first elected to the House of Delegates in 2006. He is a member of the Economic Matters Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, which passed historic legislation to ban predatory lending. He has served as Chair of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Chair of the NAACP’s Legal Redress Committee, and was Pro Bono Counsel to the Sierra Club. Waldstreicher received a B.A. from Emory University in Political Science and History. He received a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. Waldstreicher serves on the board of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, is an attorney and life-long Montgomery County resident. He lives in Kensington with his wife and three children’
Dr. Dana Beyer is a former senior adviser to Montgomery County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg and a retired ophthalmic surgeon who has performed thousands of surgeries on underserved communities in the U.S. and abroad. Beyer has an extensive background in gender rights, LGBTQ, and civil rights activism. Some of her experience includes leadership positions with Progressive Neighbors, the Progressive Working Group and Gender Rights Maryland. She is currently the national chair of the Board of Advisors of Freedom to Work. She served as vice president for Equality Maryland. She served on the board of Mobile Medical Care and helped found the Family Justice Center. Beyer resides in Chevy Chase, but grew up in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She has two children and two grandchildren.
Michelle Carhart is the owner of a gymnastics business in Montgomery County that employees over 100 people. She founded the business in 2009 with family members. Formerly, she co-founded the Financial Literacy Foundation, an organization designed to help disadvantaged students. For the foundation, Carhart taught workshops in juvenile jails, homeless shelters, after-school programs, and in dozens of Washington, D.C. public and charter high schools. Carhart worked for the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at Washington College of Law under then-professor Jamie Raskin, and at the Greater Washington Urban League. She served as chair of education for the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy and on the board of directors of Financial Education & Literacy Advisors. She has a B.S. in Agricultural & Natural Resource Economics and a J.D. from American University Washington College of Law. She lives in the Randolph Hills community with her daughter Kylin and her dog Bozley.
Del. Al Carr was appointed to the House of Delegates in 2007. He serves on the Environment and Transportation Committee and its subcommittees on Real Property, Local Government and Land Use and Ethics. He is Chair of the Metropolitan Washington Committee of the Montgomery County Delegation and is the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Federal Relations. Carr has successfully secured passage of legislation for environmental protection, education, open government, community parks, affordable housing, public safety, transportation and housing. He formerly served as an elected Council Member and Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Kensington. Carr has 20 years of private sector experience in business management, sales, marketing and engineering. He spent most of his career in the field of telecommunications. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Rochester and has a certificate in local government studies from the University of Maryland. Carr lives in Kensington with his wife and three sons.
Emily Shetty is the vice chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party and the founder of the Advocacy Committee within the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County. Shetty is currently working for a bipartisan team that advocates for a variety of healthcare and technology issues before Congress. Previously, she worked as legislative director for Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), where she managed his domestic policy portfolio. Shetty also served as senior director of Federal Legislative Affairs for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, where she advocated for cancer patients before Congress. She has a law degree from the Catholic University Columbus School of Law. She lives in Kensington with her husband, son and rescue dog.
Mila Johns is a full-time candidate and activist. She serves as the training coordinator for the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force, the WACDTF clinic coordinator for Dr. Carhart’s clinic in Bethesda, the volunteer coordinator for the Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County, and as the co-chair of the Silver Creek Middle School PTA’s LGBTQ Diversity Committee. Previously Johns worked as a researcher and terrorism analyst at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) in the Unconventional Weapons and Technologies division. Johns has been a longstanding activist for reproductive justice, domestic violence awareness, and expanding access to healthcare. She has a B.A. in Government & Politics, with a minor in Persian Studies, from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Masters of International Affairs in Comparative and Regional Studies of the Middle East, with a concentration in Intelligence and Terrorism from American University. She is lifelong Marylander and was born and raised in Baltimore. She currently lives in the Town of Chevy Chase with her husband, daughter and dog.
Leslie Milano is the executive director of a public health organization that provides infection prevention and control expertise to the nation’s healthcare facilities. She has negotiated more than 2000 contracts in her career, including multi-million dollar federal contracts for training healthcare workers, prioritizing patient safety, and keeping healthcare facilities safe from healthcare-related infections and diseases. She has volunteered in the U.S. and abroad, in domestic violence shelters, orphanages, hospitals, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. She has taught English as a Second Language to Latino immigrants and helped to run a youth group for Haitian girls. In her role as president of the board of directors at the Esther Peterson Child Development Center at the U.S. Department of Labor, she led the negotiation of a multi-million dollar contract that incorporated a profit-sharing component to raise teacher salaries on an annual basis. Leslie has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from St. Joseph’s University, a Master’s degree in Theology/Ethics from Union Theological Seminary, a Master’s degree in International Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University, and a certificate of leadership from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. She lives in Chevy Chase with her husband and two children.
Helga Luest is a federal government contractor with clients in health, behavioral health, education, justice, and the environment. For 14 years, she ran a national nonprofit in Maryland that addressed gaps in publicly funded programs and systems for survivors of violence and psychological trauma. In 2016, she was appointed to the Maryland Governor’s Family Violence Council and has served on the U.S. Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus Advisory Group for more than a decade. In 2010, she received the U.S. Congressional Unsung Hero Award for advocacy work on violence prevention and response. Luest has lived in Montgomery County for more than 20 years. She lives in Randolph Hills with her two children and dogs. Luest has B.S. in marketing from American University and an M.A. in international management from the University of Maryland University College.
Jared Solomon is assistant vice president for Bose Washington Partners, a D.C. public affairs firm where his focus is on education policy. Solomon is also the board chair of The Intersection, a program that teaches Baltimore high school students civic leadership and college readiness skills. He has helped Intersection student leaders run campaigns to pass the Maryland Dream Act and the Firearm Safety Act. Solomon also served as a founding board member of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. He has been a teacher, policy leader, and activist, who has spent his life working in public service to his community. Over the last seven years, he has worked focused as a policy advisor to Sen. Bob Casey. D-Pa.,, and previously as vice president of budget policy for First Focus, a bipartisan national kids advocacy organization. Solomon is the local Democratic District 18 precinct chair. He has served on the board of the District 18 Caucus and the board of the Montgomery County Young Democrats. Previously, Solomon worked as a staff member for the chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools, where he partnered with families, teachers, and administrators to mediate and resolve problems. He began his teaching career at Northwestern High School in Baltimore City. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and received his Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Johns Hopkins University. He lives with his wife and rescue dog in Rock Creek Forest.
Joel Rubin has nearly 20 years of experience in local leadership, political activism, and public service. He currently serves as a member on the Chevy Chase Town Council, is a Visiting Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s public policy graduate school in Washington, D.C., a foreign affairs consultant, an opinion columnist for the Washington Jewish Week, and a frequent progressive national security commentator on MSNBC. Previously, Rubin was a volunteer for the Environment Education Peace Corps, a federal civil servant, a U.S. Senate aide, and a nonprofit activist focusing on energy, Middle East, and national security issues. He was also an Obama administration deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs. He ran for Congress in 2016 and lost to then-Sen. Jamie Raskin in the 8th Congressional District. Rubin has a B.A. in Politics and Elementary Education, with a minor in Near Eastern Studies, from Brandeis University and a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management, with minors in Business Administration and Sustainable Development, from Carnegie Mellon University. He lives with his wife, mother-in-law and three children in Chevy Chase.
Ron Franks lives in Wheaton after relocating several years ago from New York City and originally Kansas. He is the vice chairman of the Mid-County Citizens Advisory Board and a member of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee. Previously Franks worked for a New York City Councilmember working with local nonprofits in his district helping them organize, network with other organizations and obtain city funding. Many of the organizations he worked with helped immigrants acclimate in to the community and connect them with the resources they needed. His first job was working at a non-profit that assisted inmates on Rikers Island with re-integrating back into the community. Franks has a B.A. from the University of Kansas and a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law.
Linda Willard is the lone Republican candidate who has filed for the three seats in the House of Delegates. She currently has no biographical information on her Facebook page and she does not have a website.