The Democratic primary for the House of Delegates in Montgomery County’s District 39 has turned unexpectedly sour after the district’s senator and two of the incumbent delegates decided to publicly endorse a non-incumbent for the third House seat, outraging the other candidates.
Sen. Nancy J. King and Dels. A. Shane Robinson and Kirill Reznik are backing Lesley Lopez, a communications professional and political activist. Del Charles E. Barkley (D), the third House incumbent, is not seeking reelection to run for a County Council seat.
“We looked at the candidates that were around and expressed interest and Lesley was…the most impressive of the candidates we talked to,” King said. “She has shown us that she is ambitious and ready to do the job.”
Robinson said the decision was made after looking at the Democratic candidates’ work histories and experience, which convinced the incumbents that Lopez is the most qualified of all the contenders.
“We each individually came to the conclusion that Lesley was the right person for the job, in our opinion. She would be a successful delegate for District 39,” Robinson said. “She would also be my candidate and, of the candidates, I would prefer her to be my delegate and represent me.”
Lopez said was honored by the incumbents’ endorsement.
“To know that they see potential in me as a legislator is very meaningful,” she said. “It gives me confidence on the tougher days.”
Lopez said she decided to run because the legislature works on the issues she is passionate about, especially early childhood education and the cost of community college.
“It seemed like it’s a good time for me to step up and get involved,” she said.
Lopez has been a resident of the district since 2016, but it is not a disadvantage, she said. She mentioned that she has deep ties to the community, citing her work with the Montgomery County Board of Social Services and the fact that she is a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 500, among connections.
“I’ve basically been knocking on doors since the moment I decided to run so I’ve probably knocked on more doors than my opponents combined,” she said.
Lopez—who is not Hispanic but uses the last name of her stepfather who adopted her—is among a diverse group of candidates in one of the most diverse districts in the state. District 39, which includes all of Montgomery Village, the Town of Washington Grove, parts of Clarksburg, Germantown, and non-municipal Gaithersburg, is about 36 percent white.
The other Democrats are union organizer Gabriel Acevero; Bobby Bartlett, who helped found a professional women’s soccer team; attorney Andy Hoverman; and real estate agent Clint Sobratti.
Verelyn Gibbs Watson, an entrepreneur, is the lone Republican – though the Democrats will be heavily favored to sweep all three House seats in the general election regardless of who the nominees are.
Assuming the incumbents are likely to prevail, the battle for the third House seat in the Democratic primary appears to be between Acevero and Lopez. Acevero is not happy with the incumbents’ decision to endorse Lopez.
“We’re a democracy, not a monarchy,” he said. “We don’t coronate candidates, we elect them.”
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has endorsed Acevero – and embraced his narrative against the District 39 lawmakers. Leggett decried their “smoke-filled room” tactics.
Despite not having the support from the elected officials in the district, Acevero is still confident about his position in the primary. As an organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1994, which represents the lion’s share of Montgomery County government employees, he has garnered large union support, including from the District of Columbia Nurses Association, SEIU Local 500, and UFCW Locals 400 and 1994.
“They’re both great candidates,” Christopher Honey, communications director for SEIU Local 500, said of Acevero and Lopez.
“Acevero…fit our priorities the best,” Honey said. “He has talked a lot about early learning and childcare, and we represent childcare providers in Maryland.”
“I think you can learn a lot about a candidate and the campaign that he or she is running based on the support and the people that are stacking alongside that individual,” Acevero said. “The fact that we have earned so much union support, it speaks to the work I’ve done around economic justice.”
Along with “[ensuring] that more of our residents are economically mobile,” Acevero said his other priorities are quality public education, debt-free college by making public colleges and universities tuition-free, a more efficient transit system and universal health care.
In contrast to some other Montgomery County districts, the Democratic primary appears to be a fairly low-budget affair: Through mid-January, Lopez had $11,000 in her campaign account and Acevero had just under $10,000. Bartlett had $5,800 and Hoverman had $1,300; Sobratti had not yet begun raising money.
By contrast, Reznik had more than $90,000 in his campaign account, and Robinson had just short of $35,000.
“Our campaign is focused on the issues that matter most to District 39 residents and we’re going to take our case to the real deciders of this election: the people,” Acevero said.