Buckle yourself in, Dear Reader, as I weave a trail of political intrigue in Maryland District 19, as related to me by some insiders there only today. I warn you up front that I am relating the story as I’ve heard it, from people I consider to be highly trustworthy; however, with the election looming on Tuesday, I do not have as much time to research it as I would like. I think this is a story worth telling, just the same, and I invite feedback from anyone who might have more perspective than I.
District 19 has been represented the past four years by Senator Roger Manno (who beat Mike Lenett in 2010 after Lenett invoked anti-Muslim hysteria and Nazi boxcars in the campaign), and delegates Sam Arora, Bonnie Cullison, and Ben Kramer.
This story starts with Arora, who infamously campaigned as a supporter of marriage equality in 2010 and betrayed the voters and human dignity by switching sides after he was elected. Arora’s substantive flip-flop was bad enough. What made things even worse was his lying about the issue. When he switched sides, he first tried to hide from the media and constituents. Then he claimed that he had never seriously thought about the issue before 2011, even though there is abundant evidence that he had — he had backed marriage equality, in writing, more than once. In other words, Sam Arora turned out not only to be a bigot, but also a liar. (See David Moon’s great coverage of this story.) Apparently it was God who told Arora to be a liar and a bigot.
Manno, Cullison (and legions of others — the story got national attention) rightly took huge offense at Arora’s actions. (Cullison is married to a woman, for what that’s worth.) They determined then and there that they would not form a slate with Arora in 2014 and that they would seek someone else to slate with in order to knock Arora out of office. Part of the story I learned today is that Kramer, who shows no signs of being anti-gay himself, was lonely in his defense of Arora. As reported by Maryland Politics Watch, D18 Senator Rich Madaleno spoke about Arora’s betrayal in 2011:
“I think Sam Arora distinguished himself as someone not to be trusted, and I don’t think he will have a long career in the House of Delegates,” said Madaleno (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington, the Senate’s only openly homosexual member.” . . .
“When you co-sponsor a bill where the lead sponsor is the majority leader from your county who worked very hard to get you elected and you change your mind on the day of the vote, you damage, potentially fatally damage, your credibility,” he said.
Kramer responded by saying:
“I do think that Sen. Madaleno saying that in a public forum was inappropriate and unnecessary,” he said. “I can understand that Sen. Madaleno has a perspective based on a particular issue, but I don’t think that it is accurate or reflective of Del. Arora’s abilities or potential in the legislature.”
“A particular issue”?!
I got a similar response from Kramer when I spoke with him today. He described Arora as a “big boy” who “made a political decision” and knew there would be political consequences. Kramer said that Arora was reponsible for “some good political initiatives” and that the latter’s position on gay marriage was “his own business.” Three individuals I spoke with today separately remembered Kramer’s saying at the time that Arora’s bigoted vote was just one of 400 that Arora had cast and had been blown out of proportion; however, no one (including me) could find that quote anywhere online.
This is enough, though, for me to consider Kramer to be soft on bigotry. (I absolutely am not calling Kramer a bigot.) For me, bigotry is among the very few human attributes that is always, completely condemnable. I don’t care how much good work you may have done on other issues, if you are a bigot, I not only have no room for you in my life, but I also feel an obligation to name your behavior publicly. Further, I give no pass to0 bigots who claim a religious exemption. I don’t give a shit if your version of god has ordered you to hate or discriminate against gays. I don’t give a shit if you think Muhammad has ordered you to hate Jews or vice versa. I am extremely disturbed that Kramer felt Arora’s actions were mundane.
In any case, Manno and Cullison were determined to find someone willing to run as delegate, whether or not Arora was seeking reelection. As it turns out, Arora dithered on his decision to run until last November 1, when he finally pulled out of the race. Meanwhile, Manno and Cullison settled on Maricé Morales, who had been working as a legislative aide to Manno, to run with them. Morales is very young and did not even live in the district at the time. (She lives there now.) The two incumbents seem to be extremely impressed with Morales, but insiders also say the two had tried and failed to find anyone else willing to take Arora on.
Ben Kramer and others were incensed that a carpetbagger had been selected by his D19 teammates, whom he had already agreed to slate with. I get Kramer’s point — I have been on record opposing both Chris Barclay (running for MoCo Council D5 without living there until recently) and Hans (The Liar) Riemer, who declared his candidacy for MoCo council before the paint was dry on his first East Coast domicile. (See Point 3 of my criteria for evaluating candidates.)
Apparently, quite a feud developed between Kramer, on the one hand, and Manno/Cullison on the other, even though they were still ostensibly campaigning as a team. For what it’s worth, no formal slates (PACs in support of a team of candidates) had been formed as of a few weeks ago. Manno/Cullison were providing assistance to Morales, but their alliance wasn’t formal and neither was their alliance with Kramer. Just within the past few weeks, though, Kramer formed a slate with Charlotte Crutchfield.
My calls today revealed positive feelings about Crutchfield, even on the part of some who are supporting Manno/Cullison/Morales. But, it has also been revealed to me that (1) Crutchfield considered Arora’s anti-gay vote understandable, on religious grounds and (2) when she had been approached by Manno/Cullison, she refused to run against Arora. She did not enter the race until after Arora declared he would not run. (Again, I have not heard a hint that Crutchfield is anti-gay, herself.)
But wait, it gets even uglier. There is a man named Alec Stone who is widely considered the leader of D19’s large Orthodox Jewish community. Stone took at least as much umbrage at Morales’s presence in the race as Kramer had. After deciding himself not to run this year, Stone became chair of Kramer’s reelection campaign. He began promising people that he would destroy Morales by running another minority candidate against her. Crutchfield (who is African American) was his weapon of choice and Stone became chair of the Kramer/Crutchfield slate. Some suggest that Stone’s level of outrage is largely about his having been accustomed to calling the shots in D19 and that he felt insulted by Manno’s/Cullison’s having rebuffed his efforts to determine outcomes this year.
Roger Manno is running unopposed for reelection, so no matter how angry Kramer and Stone may be at him, they saw no point in going after him. But they saw Cullison as vulnerable. Stone — along with other associates — has been hitting back at Cullison with a whisper campaign accusing the latter of being an anti-Semite.
I mentioned that Cullision is married to a woman. Well, it turns out said woman is Jewish and the two of them were married in a Jewish ceremony. If Cullison is an anti-Semite, she’s an odd one, indeed. In fact, even as Stone has been smearing Cullison as an anti-Semite, one person I spoke with today accused her of the exact opposite: carrying water for the Orthodox Jews in the district.
This past week, Stone made the mistake of putting his smear campaign in writing. Responding to a Cullison campaign email in support of Morales, Stone wrote the following email to Ira Ungar, Cullison’s legislative aide:
On Jun 20, 2014, at 3:23 PM, Alec Stone <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
For shame, for shame. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself. You are working for an anti-Semite, but in addition, this proves that Bonnie has no integrity at all with this endorsement [of Morales]. And now we all know that neither do you.
From: Ira Ungar
Date: June 20, 2014 at 4:03:43 PM EDT
To: Alec Stone <email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Support Maricé Morales for Delegate in District 19!
I am very proud to support Bonnie and the support she’s given this community. I completely deny your charge of antisemitism against her. It’s absurd. Be concerned with your own integrity Alec.
Now, I consider false charges of anti-Semitism to be a form of bigotry. As a Jew, I am very sensitive to anti-Semitism, wherever it rears its ugly head (like in France, where anti-Semitism is sweeping the country). When Jews frivolously toss this accusation around, they not only serve to muddy the real cases of anti-Semitism that abound, they also discredit all Jews, everywhere.
When I spoke to Kramer this afternoon, I had heard about Stone’s libel, but had not yet seen the email. I asked Kramer: “If you knew that Alec Stone were falsely accusing Bonnie Cullison of anti-Semitism, would you be concerned?” Kramer answered, “Absolutely.” I forwarded Stone’s email to Kramer at around 3:30pm this afternoon. It is nearly 10pm now and I have heard nothing back.
Regarding Crutchfield vs. Morales, my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, if I lived in D19, I would be suspicious about someone so new to the district running for office. On the other hand, I’m offended by Crutchfield’s giving Arora a pass on the latter’s bigotry and her refusal to enter the race until he got out (which was, at best, cowardly). I do note that Progressive Neighbors has endorsed Manno, Cullison, and Morales (but not Kramer) and I have been a Manno fan for years, ever since Jamie Raskin and Marc Elrich sung his praises to me. Were I a D19 voter, those factors would probably sway me Morales’s way.
I do not think it is sufficient for public figures simply not to be active bigots. I think they have a moral responsibility to condemn bigotry wherever it is found. It is clear to me that Ben Kramer has failed this moral test, at least vis-a-vis Sam Arora. It remains to be seen whether Kramer is willing to denounce his own campaign chair in the waning hours of the campaign.
©2014 Keith Berner