This story was updated at 1 p.m. July 22, 2022, to include that Seth Grimes has decided not to run for Takoma Park mayor.
Shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday, activity was bustling — as it typically is — in Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. About half a dozen skateboarders were honing their craft. Friends were chatting, and Guys in Thin Ties, an ’80s cover band, was preparing for Silver Spring’s weekly summer concert series.
Meanwhile, steps away in the Silver Spring Civic Building, scores of county and state Democrats — including both elected officials and candidates for county and state offices — were chatting over sandwiches, cookies, and beer, wine, and cocktails. The county’s Women’s Democratic Club was hosting its “Kiss and Make Up” gathering, a quadrennial event that has taken place after every gubernatorial primary, spanning 30 years.
Typically, the “Kiss and Make Up” event is meant for Democrats to unite around their prospective nominees in preparation for the November general election. But with the ongoing count of mail-in ballots playing a critical role in this year’s results, not many races could be officially called — which led to less coming together, perhaps, than in previous gatherings.
David Blair, challenging County Executive Marc Elrich for the second time, saw his lead over Elrich shrink from over 1,100 votes initially to less than a 600-vote advantage after the first round of mail-in ballots were counted on Thursday night. David Naimon, secretary for the county’s Board of Elections, told those gathered that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots and 9,000 provisional ballots still needed to be counted.
Democrats who had commanding leads in their races — like Marilyn Balcombe and Kate Stewart, frontrunners in the County Council District 2 and 4 races, respectively — chatted with each other, and other attendees. But other candidates who had made an appearance had departed by the time club President Laura Stewart called them to the stage.
After speeches by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore city) — the Democratic nominee for Comptroller — and others, Laura Stewart called Democrats from each state and local race up the stage for pictures.
John McCarthy, the county’s State’s Attorney who appears to be in a strong spot to win a fifth term, was seen mingling early on during the event, which ran from 7 to 9 p.m. But when Stewart called him and the other state’s attorney candidates to the stage, only two of his three challengers, Tom DeGonia and Bernice Mireku-North, were present. A Bethesda Beat reporter did not see Perry Paylor, the third challenger in that race, during the event.
Earlier in the evening, no one showed when Stewart called the county executive candidates to the stage. Elrich, locked in a tight race with Blair, and another challenger, County Council Member Hans Riemer, had been present, she said — but by around 8 p.m. or so, both had left. Blair did not attend the event.
Still, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who easily won his re-election bid in the Democratic primary, and state Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore city), who had secured the party’s nomination for state comptroller, urged attendees to get behind Democratic candidates, especially in the governor’s race, for the November election.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport. We need everyone on the election playing field so that we can elect candidates that represent our values,” Van Hollen said to loud cheers.
But as Van Hollen was calling for unity, there still were unanswered questions in local races. And Laura Stewart said that might have changed the overall feel of the occasion.
Stewart has been president of the Women’s Democratic Club for roughly three months, taking over after Leslie Milano. Milano, the past president, stepped down to be considered by the Democratic Central Committee as a candidate for the House of Delegates District 18 vacancy in the Democratic primary.
The vacancy occurred because Del. Al Carr (D-Kensington) announced he was no longer seeking re-election and instead running for County Council District 4 on the day of the deadline to file to run with the state.
Stewart said in an interview that the ongoing count of mail-in ballots does make an event like Kiss and Make Up more “trepidatious.”
“The atmosphere is a little bit different … but there are always people who thought they were going to do better, and they didn’t,” Stewart said. “And they have to work to be happier. And some people just won’t come because they lost in a way that they weren’t comfortable celebrating.”
Seth Grimes, a former Takoma Park City Council member and nominee for the county’s Democratic Central Committee in District 20 — which includes Silver Spring and Takoma Park — said in an interview that “everyone here has motives beyond Kiss and Make Up.”
For Grimes, that meant eyeing a run for Takoma Park mayor, should Stewart, the current mayor, become the County Council District 4 nominee. On Friday afternoon, however, Grimes wrote in a Twitter direct message that he was no longer considering running for mayor, as Takoma Park City Council Member Jarrett Smith is already running.
Even for losing candidates, Grimes said, it was important to attend to show support for the local Democratic Party.
In close races like the county executive contest, though, there are reasons why the candidates wouldn’t want to show up together at an event like Kiss and Make Up, Grimes said.
“There’s a huge amount of anxiety in running for office, especially if you’re an incumbent or you’re a multi-time challenger like David Blair now is,” Grimes said. “And I don’t want to over psychologize about them — but if I were in their shoes, in a race like this, there’s certain anxiety involved. And it’s not like if you’re in here, it’s going to change anything, because the votes are all cast.”
Kristin Mink, the leading candidate for County Council District 5 — which covers East County from White Oak to Burtonsville and includes Colesville and other communities — said in an interview that she was in good shape. She led by more than 1,500 votes after the first round of mail-in ballots were counted, according to the State Board of Elections.
Still, like other candidates, she said she was awaiting the results before declaring victory. And that sentiment likely changed the mood of the gathering.
“I’m sure for races that are close — and even some that are not — to have some question marks hanging in the air is not ideal,” Mink said. “But ultimately, an event like this is about everybody who’s in the Democratic Party coming together.”
Perhaps the one candidate in the auditorium who could truly breathe the easiest was Andrew Friedson — the Democrat representing County Council District 1 (including Bethesda, Potomac and most of Chevy Chase) who was running unopposed.
Friedson said he campaigned just as hard as he would have against an opponent — and visited every polling place in the district on Election Day. He empathized with many of his fellow Democrats, who weren’t facing such clarity because of outstanding mail-in ballots.
“There’s certainly a different feeling, a different tenor,” Friedson said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty for a lot of different races … for those of us who are ready to start working towards November and the future — it’s certainly a challenge for those [other] candidates.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org