With four-term delegate not seeking re-election, activist poised to run

September 16, 2021

By: Steve Bohnel

Read the full article here.

With a long-time state delegate not seeking re-election in District 17, a community organizer and activist will seek the seat, avoiding a potential Democratic primary against an incumbent. 

Del. Jim Gilchrist (D-Rockville) announced in a letter on Aug. 30 that he would not seek another term in District 17, which covers Rockville and Gaithersburg. Gilchrist, 56, was first elected to the House in 2006. His current term ends in 2022.

For months before Gilchrist’s announcement, state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Rockville) had been recruiting Joe Vogel, an Uruguayan immigrant and community organizer and activist, to run for District 17. Vogel formerly worked on Kagan’s campaign in 2014.

In an interview, Kagan acknowledged her efforts to recruit Vogel. She added, however, that she appreciated Gilchrist’s 16 years in office and wished him well after his term ends.

Kagan had differences of opinion with Gilchrist.

She specifically pointed to two instances this year, when Gilchrist declined to sign letters with other Democratic lawmakers. One letter requested that the state extend enhanced unemployment insurance benefits. The other letter opposed Gov. Larry Hogan’s project to widen I-270.

Kagan said Vogel, with his background, could better represent the district, which has one of the most diverse populations in the nation. Vogel is expected to announce his campaign kickoff online as soon as Friday.

Maryland Matters previously reported on Gilchrist’s decision not to run again.

“Joe Vogel is a very talented, young, dynamic, bilingual progressive leader whose family immigrated here when he was 3, and that kind of life experience and everything he’s done since then brings a perspective that we don’t have yet in District 17 and frankly, not enough of from around the state,” Kagan said.

In an interview, Gilchrist denied that Kagan’s recruitment efforts had an effect.

“That didn’t have an impact on my decision — almost none,” Gilchrist said. “That just as much provokes you to run again as it does to not run again.”

He added that he considered many factors.

“Every four years, I try to figure it out,” Gilchrist said. “And as one former legislator used to say, there’s lots of good reasons to run for re-election, and there’s lots of good reasons not to run for re-election.”

Regarding the letters about I-270 and unemployment insurance, Gilchrist said it’s possible he missed the letters Kagan is referencing. He added that he supports extending those benefits, even if he didn’t sign on to the letter. 

There were other letters that he and Kagan signed regarding their opposition to the I-270 project, including one a few months ago, he said.

Gilchrist said he, Kagan and state Sen. Jennie Forehand, who represented District 17 for two terms before Kagan, also worked well together on some issues, like bond bills.

But he added that he and Kagan are different politically.

“She did not endorse me four years ago, and I think it’s pretty clear she wasn’t going to do it again this time. … That was our political relationship right there,” Gilchrist said.

Vogel’s story

Vogel, 24, grew up in Rockville after his family emigrated to the United States when he was 3. 

A gay Latino man, he volunteered on Barack Obama’s campaign when he was 15, then on Kagan’s campaign in 2014. He was a policy fellow for the county’s Interfaith Works and started Learn It Together, a nonprofit to support children of essential workers as they transitioned to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview, Vogel said running for delegate is no different than much of his prior work on campaigns and as a community activist and organizer in Rockville and Gaithersburg.

“What I see is that in our community right now, we have a concerning degree of economic stagnation combined with concerning economic inequity. … There are so many people struggling to get by, and we are seeing an economic slowdown,” Vogel said.

Vogel said there should be more Latino representation in Annapolis. There are some good advocates, like Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel/Prince George’s), but there could be more, he said.

“I think we need to send some backup and be able to send some more people to elevate those voices,” Vogel said.

When asked about Kagan’s involvement in pushing him to run, he credited her and others with seeing his potential and encouraging him to seek a seat in the House of Delegates.

He said multiple times he has been focused on local issues for months, and not focused on the politics of who might run.

“I am not a political pundit,” Vogel said. “I have spent the last nine months listening to neighborhoods across the district. … People have been bringing up real issues that they have been facing.”

“I’m not here to evaluate the ideological spectrum of where everyone falls,” he added when asked how his political views compare to Gilchrist’s. “I am prepared to be an effective legislative advocate for the district.”

The primary election is scheduled for June 28, 2022, and the general election is scheduled for Nov. 8.

As of Thursday, no one had filed for delegate in District 17. The filing deadline is Feb. 22.