Alsobrooks crosses Montgomery County line — and picks up support in her U.S. Senate bid

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks paid a visit to Montgomery County’s vote-rich Leisure World community this past week, in search of support for her bid for U.S. Senate — and was rewarded with the public backing of two state legislators who represent the area.

Full-throated endorsements by District 19 Sen. Ben Kramer of Derwood and Del. Charlotte Crutchfield of Silver Spring — delivered at the end of a half-hour appearance by Alsobrooks before a crowded meeting room — appeared to signal an acceleration of local political activity in the contest to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Baltimore, in the wake of decision by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park to seek re-election rather than become a candidate for Senate.

“I told [Angela] that if Jamie was not in, you’ve got my support,” Kramer said in a brief interview after delivering his endorsement speech — during which he asserted, “Folks, being honest about this, this is a two-person race.”

It was a reference to Alsobrooks’ main rival, U.S. Rep. David Trone of Potomac, co-owner of a nationwide chain of retail alcohol beverage stores who already has invested nearly $10 million of his personal assets into an effort to win the Democratic nomination in next May’s primary; Montgomery County Councilmember (At-Large) Will Jawando is also a candidate in the Democratic Senate race. A top-tier Republican contender for the seat has yet to emerge in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-1 registration edge.

Crutchfield, in an interview following the event Tuesday afternoon at Leisure World, said that, unlike Kramer, she had not specifically been awaiting a decision by Raskin. But she added, “I wanted to see who else might get in the race, and I know that [Raskin] was one of those folks. I hadn’t heard about anybody else.”

Immediately after Raskin demurred, Crutchfield said she spoke with Alsobrooks and pledged her endorsement, telling Alsobrooks, “You got it, and let’s just go ahead and make it public.”

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More than one-quarter of Montgomery County’s 35-member all-Democratic state legislative delegation are now off the sidelines in the contest pitting Alsobrooks against two Montgomery County-based Senate contenders — with four legislators, including Kramer and Crutchfield, backing Alsobrooks; another four behind Trone; and one supporting Jawando.

In an interview immediately prior to her Leisure World appearance, Alsobrooks said she is anticipating further endorsements from within the county. “I have been really pleased to work so well with a number of individuals from Montgomery County, including [former County Executive] Ike Leggett, whose endorsement I was able to get right away,” Alsobrooks said. “And there will be a number of others who will come out.”

Crutchfield indicated she had developed a working relationship with Alsobrooks after her election to the General Assembly in 2018, the same year that Alsobrooks was elected to the first of two terms as county executive. It capped a career in Prince George’s County government for Alsobrooks going back to 1997, including eight years as state’s attorney.

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“Angela is the best candidate. I think she’s the most qualified and experienced as far as having relationships with people in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of our state government,” Crutchfield said in the interview, adding that her decision was not motivated by any negative sentiment toward Trone. “No blowback on Trone,” she said. “I honestly just haven’t had a relationship with him at all.”

Kramer was more pointed in his remarks to the Leisure World audience, while not naming any names.

“They say the United States Senate is the greatest elite club in the world — maybe, maybe not,” Kramer mused. “But it is comprised overwhelmingly of older white men who are not necessarily there to represent the best interests of their constituents, but for the power.”

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He added, “I can tell you for a fact that Angela Alsbrooks is not a candidate for this seat because she is seeking power or to be feeling elite.” If elected, Alsobrooks would be the state’s first Black U.S. senator and only the third Black woman in history to serve in the Senate.

The absence of any women in the Maryland congressional delegation since the retirement of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Baltimore in early 2017 has been viewed as a political factor working in favor of Alsobrooks among the Democratic electorate. She was not shy about bringing it up this past Tuesday, at the end of a 20-minute stump speech that dwelt on her family history and her record in office.

While praising a delegation that “has had really high-quality people representing us in Washington,” Alsobrooks continued: “We have eight congressmen and two senators—and all 10 are men. And I think this is a wonderful time for us to also be able to send a woman.” The audience, composed predominantly of women, greeted her comment with loud and sustained applause.

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The gathering was organized by Leisure World resident Helen Mays-Patrick, who has known Alsobrooks since the latter was 16. “Angela is a dear family friend. … It was my aim to get the residents in Leisure World to meet her and to learn more about her, because some people out here had never even heard of Angela Alsobrooks,” Mays-Patrick said afterward.

Mays-Patrick and Alsobrooks are also members of Delta Sigma Theta, a 110-year-old Black college sorority — as is Crutchfield, along with several other women whom Mays-Patrick invited to the event.

The sorority has a 501c4 arm, D4 Women In Action, which endorses candidates for office, and which announced its endorsement of Alsobrooks two weeks ago. Delta Sigma Theta’s worldwide membership of 300,000 includes 500 members in two chapters covering Montgomery County —which Crutchfield suggested could be a political asset as Alsobrooks seeks to make inroads locally.

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“Many times when I have had a fundraiser — and even as I was campaigning—my sorority sisters came out and assisted and supported me … as individuals,” Crutchfield related. “I do believe there’s a great possibility for a lot of traction [for Alsobrooks] given that.” Members of the sorority “do a lot of service around political efforts, just getting people engaged,” Crutchfield added.

In the wake of the decision by Raskin — who has emerged as a leading voice of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing — not to run in the Senate primary, both Trone and Jawando have gone to lengths to label themselves and their policies as progressive in an apparent effort to appeal to voters who might have been inclined to support Raskin.

Alsobrooks, while less aggressive than her rivals in embracing the progressive label, said that it is consistent with her record both as county executive and state’s attorney.

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“I think you’ll look at a record that is full of support for education [and] about investing in youth, in addictions care, mental health care, affordable housing. You’ll notice economic equity and justice. And these are all policies and work that I think is part of a larger progressive agenda that I have been very much a part of,” she said in the interview prior to her Leisure World appearance.

She cited starting one diversion program as state’s attorney to direct “first-time non-violent drug offenders” into community college and workforce development and another to combat school truancy “to cut off the path to what would later be students dropping out and thereby ending up in the criminal justice system.” Pointing to such efforts, she added, “I think it’s been a part of what anyone in the progressive space would agree with.”

At the same time, she is seeking to balance discussion of such initiatives with an emphasis on safety at a time of rising crime, as she pointed to a 50% decrease in violent offenses during her two terms as state’s attorney in her talk to the Leisure World audience.

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“People are often asking me, ‘What do you think about safety, because we have spent the last few years talking about justice?’” she related. “I speak about it this way: I think justice is important… I know that the laws ought to apply equally to all of us, that the justice system ought to be transparent and respect our dignity. But I also believe in freedom — the freedom for each of us to walk to the gas station without fearing you will be carjacked. I don’t want my mother hit over the head trying to get to the grocery store.”

She continued: “Mental health care investments will be especially important; all of these investments that help us to build healthier people are important. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to hold people accountable. I believe very much the two have to go hand in hand: Make the investment, but we cannot allow people who are violent to continue to victimize our community over and over again without penalty.”

Given her background, it is little surprise that Alsobrooks — asked during the interview about Senate committees on which she’d be interested in serving — cited the Judiciary Committee, with its power to vet Supreme Court and other federal judicial appointments. But she also expressed an interest in serving on the Intelligence Committee because “protecting and defending the country is something that I’m interested in as well.”

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Seeking to succeed Cardin — who has emerged as a leading Senate voice on foreign U.S. policy abroad in three terms on the Foreign Relations Committee — Alsobrooks’ grasp of this sphere of issues appears to remain a work in progress. Asked by an audience member during her appearance to “speak a little bit about the international, because senators have to look at the world beyond, Alsobrooks responded by speaking enthusiastically about a trip to Israel she took in late 2019 while generally expressing her support for the relationship between Israel and the U.S.

However, she did not address the highly controversial vote taken by Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, a day earlier restricting ways in which Israeli judges can overrule the government. And while asserting, “I think we should continue to be a leader in the world, that we should be interested in peace, that we should support our allies,” Alsobrooks made no mention of last year’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia and U.S. efforts to aid the Ukrainian war effort.

While not mentioning Trone by name during her appearance, some of Alsobrooks’ comments appeared aimed at drawing distinctions between herself and the multimillionaire businessman in terms of day-to-day life decision-making while questioning his ability to grasp the needs of rank-and-file voters.

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“You deserve a senator who not only fights, but understands the everyday issues that families confront at their kitchen table: challenges around economic opportunity, job creation, what we do to have access to health care,” she declared. “And I believe you need a senator who understands and shares the concerns of the people that they represent. Very often in the Senate, we have people who don’t live like the people they’re supposed to represent.”

She described herself as a member of the “sandwich generation. I am not only caring for a teenager, but I am left also to care for two aging parents.” Alsobrooks noted that her father, a long-time newspaper distributor and used-car salesman, is back selling cars to help meet expenses after her mother was diagnosed last year with early onset Alzheimer’s.

“But you know what? My family is not alone,” she continued. “There are families across Maryland and everywhere who are making the same decisions every day — how to care for your aging parents, how to care for your children, how to make ends meet. And I believe it’s important to have people who represent us who understand the everyday struggles of so many families who are just like my family.”

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One story that Alsobrooks said she often shares on the campaign trail seems certain to strike a chord with Black voters, who comprise an estimated 40% of Maryland’s registered Democrats. Like Alsobrooks, many of them are descendants of families who fled the segregated South in the pre-civil rights era.

Her mother’s family, Alsobrooks said, came from South Carolina, where her great-grandfather, J.C. James, suffered from epilepsy and was prone to seizures. In 1956, her great-grandfather had a seizure and was accused of being drunk in public by a sheriff’s deputy. As Alsobrooks related the story, “There was a white man who stood up for him and said, “He is not drunk. That’s J.C James, and I know him’. And that greatly embarrassed the sheriff’s deputy, who was contradicted in public. The sheriff’s deputy said to my great-grandfather, ‘You know what, I’m going to get you’.

“And sure enough, on July 4th of 1956, he saw my great-grandfather walking along the road, approached him — first shooting at his feet and telling him to dance, and then shot him in his abdomen. And he died there on the side of the road.” Alsobrooks continued, amid gasps from several audience members.

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A week later, her mother’s family visited the county courthouse. “And, as you’ve seen so many times in history, they were told no crime had been committed,” Alsobrooks said. “But they were also told that, if they didn’t leave, they would kill the whole family.” A week after that, family members, including Alsobrooks’ mother, migrated to the Prince George’s County town of Fairmount Heights.

Given a solid political base in her home county and some key endorsements in the Baltimore area — which is without a major contender in the Democratic Senate race — it remains unclear how much time and effort Alsobrooks will invest in Montgomery County in the run-up to 2024 primary race. Her campaign did not provide further information in response to a request from MoCo360 for public appearances she has scheduled in Montgomery over the next couple of months.

Alsobrooks appears to be devoting much of that period to traveling out of state to raise money for her campaign, according to an internal campaign memo obtained last week by Maryland Matters. The memo noted at least one forthcoming Montgomery County event: a fundraiser for Alsobrooks in Bethesda this fall hosted by Robert Youngentob, executive chair of EYA LLC, a development firm, and his wife, Linda, a Montgomery College faculty member.

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