Montgomery County school board candidates rely on message, not money -- Gazette.Net


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Walking into the Montgomery County Board of Education primaries this year, Philip Kauffman had a $5,000 advantage, endorsements and name recognition.

Kauffman, an at-large Board of Education member, received 28,554 more votes in the April 3 primary than his closest competitor, Morris Panner of Chevy Chase, according to unofficial results. Kauffman had $4,651 of cash to rollover from his previous election and received 39,690 votes; Panner had no funds before campaigning for the primary and received 11,136 votes.

With less than seven months until the Nov. 6 election, Panner and other newcomers in the school board race are hoping that their message means more than their opponent’s money.

Three seats of seven are open on the school board this year — the seats of Kauffman, Christopher S. Barclay (Dist. 4) of Takoma Park, and Laura V. Berthiaume of Rockville (Dist. 2), who is not seeking re-election. Barclay faces Annita Seckinger, while Fred Evans is seeking the District 2 seat. With absentee ballots still to be counted, District 2 candidate Rebecca Smondrowski of Gaithersburg is holding on to a 451 vote lead against Jeanne Ellinport of Gaithersburg.

Board members, who serve staggered four-year terms, are responsible for overseeing 146,000 students and a more than $2 billion budget.

Panner said his clear message of budget reform is a strong one.

“[The message is] how to reverse long-term budget imbalances,” he said. “We are not going to be able to invest in anything current if we do not address that. We are going to be swamped by a set of obligations that have grown beyond any expectations.”

Panner said he will spend the summer campaigning, attempting to close the nearly 30,000-vote gap.

Doug Prouty, president of Montgomery County Education Association said that, historically, it has been a combination of funding and presentation that makes a winner.

“A lot of it is how you present yourself to the voters, and your take on the issues,” he said.

In the 2010 Board of Education race, winners included Shirley Brandman (At-large), who spent about $18,300, Judy Docca (Dist. 1), who spent about $6,400, Patricia O’Neill (Dist. 3), who spent about $8,400, and Mike Durso (Dist. 5), who spent about $4,700, according to campaign finance reports.

Getting your name out there is important, especially during a presidential election, when people are more focused on that race, Prouty said.

Evans of Rockville has spent the most of all candidates so far, handing over $2,000 for a staff member to organize his campaign and additional funds for 40,000 flyers and automated phone messages for a total of $4,815. He has reported $7,805 in donations, although $6,000 is his own money.

He will continue to raise money this summer and get his name out there, attending all of the candidate forums, he said.

Smondrowski, who will run against Evans unless absentee ballots push Ellinport ahead, pointed to the amount Ellinport raised and said that there is more to running a campaign than raising money.

Ellinport fell 451 votes behind Smondrowski, with 14,837 and 15,208 total votes, respectively, according to unofficial results. Ellinport raised $18,099 and spent $1,116, according to campaign finance reports, while Smondrowski said that she raised about $4,000 and spent about $3,000. A campaign report for Smondrowski was not available.

Smondrowski said that she hopes her message will be more important than her funding; she calls herself an independent voice.

“I’m up against an excellent candidate, who is very qualified, but I think that we need a different voice right now,” she said. “I’m a mother with two kids in the school system. I have spent the last 10 years working directly with the schools.”

Barclay, current board vice president, will be raising money for the first time — he was uncontested when first elected in 2008.

He will defend his District 4 seat against Annita Seckinger of Silver Spring; the two were uncontested in the primary.

Barclay said that now that the primary is over, he is ready to start campaigning.

Although he is a familiar name, he said there is plenty of work to do.

“You have to continue to get out there and get to know the community,” he said.

jbondeson@gazette.net