Frederick County Democratic committee narrowly chooses incumbent in contested race
In what has been a protracted and tumultuous primary season, Frederick County Council Speaker MC Keegan-Ayer (D) is heading for a re-election fight in November’s general election.
Keegan-Ayer was nominated Thursday night by the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee on a vacant ballot in the District 3 council race after her main opponent, Jazmin Di Cola, was disqualified by a county judge last week.
The emotionally charged vote was 6-5, with five members backing Tarolyn Thrasher, the candidate backed by Di Cola after the judge’s conclusion.
Di Cola wrote on Facebook that she chose not to appeal the judge’s decision.
The central committee faced a deadline on Friday to nominate a candidate for the vacancy; the paperwork to convey Keegan-Ayer’s name to election officials was signed Thursday night. The Republican nominee in the District 3 race is Shelley Aloi, a former Frederick city councilman and 2014 lieutenant governor candidate. She was uncontested in the Republican primary
After a new tabulation of the votes and a recount in the District 3 Democratic contest earlier this month, Keegan-Ayer lost to Di Cola by a single vote: 2,297 to 2,298. Simultaneous to the recount, Keegan-Ayer filed a lawsuit in court in Frederick County Circuit to challenge whether Di Cola met the residency requirement for the council seat. After a day-long hearing, Di Cola was disqualified.
In written comments, dozens of interested community members pleaded with the central committee to fill the vacancy in a way that would not disqualify voters, a difficult task given the unprecedented circumstances.
“No matter what happens here tonight, there will be about half of the voters who actually showed up and voted in County Council District 3 who will feel disenfranchised and disappointed,” Thomas Jackson said. , member of the central committee.
Stirring up division within the county party was a quote from Keegan-Ayer after the court ruling.
“I think there is a desire for the immigrant community, and the Hispanic community in particular, to have a voice in our government,” she told the Frederick News-Post Last week. “But they have to be honest and they have to tell the truth about who they are.”
On Facebook and in a next articleKeegan-Ayer apologized for her phrasing and released a statement that her comment was not intended to refer to the city’s Hispanic and immigrant communities, which make up a significant portion of the council’s district, but specifically to candidates and elected.
This explanation was not enough for some central committee members, including Jackson.
He said he could not vote in good conscience for Keegan-Ayer to fill the vacancy based on his recent and past statements.
Other committee members, however, felt backing Keegan-Ayer was the right course of action, given his previous two terms on county council and the proximity to the primary race.
“She put her name on the ballot and campaigned for the position and almost won – or maybe tied,” said committee member Tom Slater.
There are concerns about whether Di Cola could face legal action for winning the ballot in the race, although a judge later found she did not reside in the district. Several central committee members noted that state law would have required the committee to choose a non-disqualified contestant if the race had ended in a tie.
Mari Lee, the vice chair of the committee, wept during comments before the vote and expressed her admiration for Thrasher. Lee said she was torn over how to vote, given that a future court ruling could determine the race would end in a tie if Di Cola’s ballot was rejected. At the moment, there is no dispute on the matter.
Lee ultimately backed Keegan-Ayer for the nomination, although she said the board chairman’s comments were, “insensitive and divisive at best.”
Violet Williams, who had served as committee secretary, resigned shortly after the committee voted 6-5.
“Today we picked the wrong one. Today we picked a controversial and biased woman who lost her primary,” Williams said, reading from a slip of paper as others in the meeting reacted to the vote that had just ended.
Outside the office, Williams and Thrasher kissed. Some Di Cola and Thrasher supporters wept at the result.
Thrasher, who placed fifth in the primary race to represent Legislative District 3 in the House of Delegates, said she was not particularly surprised with the result and noted that Frederick County did not elect of color to a countywide position in the past.
“Frederick has a long way to go,” Thrasher said, referring to representation in elective offices from the city’s immigrant and minority neighborhoods.
Lee and others have suggested that Keegan-Ayer will have to work hard to unify party membership.
Keegan-Ayer said in a phone interview after the vote that she intended to meet with people from across the community.
“I am pleased with the vote, but it is clear that there is a need for healing in the community and I am committed to continuing to reach out to stakeholder groups to address their concerns and to ensure that everyone feels their voice is heard and they have a seat at the table,” she said. “The healing process begins now.”
Central committee members said they also plan to meet with Keegan-Ayer.
The central committee was already planning a unity party for county Democrats next Sunday, an event Williams had helped organize.
After a break from the vote on the vacancy, members returned to the meeting to continue planning the event.
“It has to happen,” said one of the central committee members.