For­mer Mar­riott ex­ec­u­tive Kath­leen Matthews is elected chair of the state Demo­cratic Party.

For­mer ho­tel ex­ec­u­tive elected over­whelm­ingly, but party is left un­happy

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY BILL TURQUE bill.turque@wash­post.com

Mary­land Democrats, hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on a surge of anti-Trump ac­tivism to help un­seat Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) next year, elected Kath­leen Matthews, the for­mer Mar­riott In­ter­na­tional ex­ec­u­tive and one­time con­gres­sional can­di­date, on Satur­day to lead their state party.

Matthews, 63, who en­joyed the back­ing of the party’s se­nior elected of­fi­cials, was the over­whelm­ing choice of the more than 170 county cen­tral com­mit­tee mem­bers who gath­ered in Green­belt. She had been in­terim party chair since March 1, when Bruce Poole stepped down.

The elec­tion of a state party chair, who tra­di­tion­ally leads fundrais­ing and can­di­date re­cruit­ment ef­forts, is a non­event for most vot­ers. But Satur­day’s de­ci­sion car­ried added sig­nif­i­cance for a Demo­cratic Party still reel­ing from Ho­gan’s up­set vic­tory over then-Lt. Gov. An­thony G. Brown in 2014 and stunned by Don­ald Trump’s de­feat of Hil­lary Clin­ton last year.

Matthews said the party must call Ho­gan, who sel­dom crit­i­cizes Trump, to ac­count for the Repub­li­can’s poli­cies in the White House.

“We must de­feat a gov­er­nor who is silent at ev­ery turn,” said Matthews, who added that Thurs­day’s House vote to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act “just made me sick to my stom­ach.”

Matthews promised to re­new a state party in­fra­struc­ture that has de­te­ri­o­rated in re­cent years, es­pe­cially out­side tra­di­tional Demo­cratic strongholds in Bal­ti­more City and Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties. She promised to pur­sue an “all-Mary­land strat­egy” to re­cruit and sup­port can­di­dates.

Matthews, who last year lost a bid to be the Demo­cratic can­di­date for Mary­land’s 8th Con­gres­sional District, cam­paigned ag­gres­sively for the un­paid party post, con­tact­ing party lead­ers in all 24 coun­ties and Bal­ti­more City. She has also met with mem­bers of grass-roots groups re­sist­ing Trump’s and the con­gres­sional GOP’s agen­das in an at­tempt to bring those groups into the party tent.

But pro­gres­sives, in­clud­ing many who sup­ported the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), charged that Matthews’s rise was em­blem­atic of the sta­tus quo main­tained by long­time party in­sid­ers such as Sen. Ben­jamin L. Cardin and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer. Left-wing ac­tivists are also an­gry with the Demo­cratic es­tab­lish­ment for not sup­port­ing what they saw as key bills in the most re­cent Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion.

Matthews’s lone op­po­nent in Satur­day’s vote, Mont­gomery County party ac­tivist Tony Puca, voiced the skep­ti­cism of those on the left.

“We do have a bro­ken party right now, and that’s what this is all about,” said Puca, a for­mer Mont­gomery County cen­tral com­mit­tee mem­ber and con­gres­sional can­di­date who drew ex­pres­sions of sur­prise and a few laughs when he de­clared him­self not only the best choice for state chair, but also “prob­a­bly more qual­i­fied” for chair­man­ship of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee than new chair Thomas Perez. His work in state and na­tional pol­i­tics dates to 1964, when he or­ga­nized New York City high school stu­dents for Lyn­don B. John­son.

Puca said the party will not win over groups such as Our Revo­lu­tion and In­di­vis­i­ble by turn­ing to “the same old peo­ple run­ning it the same old way.”

The meet­ing opened with a pep talk from Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who urged Democrats to be­come ac­tive in this year’s Vir­ginia gu­ber­na­to­rial race as “a warm-up drill for 2018.”

“I will tell you that the outcome of the gov­er­nor’s race in Vir­ginia will set the po­lit­i­cal psy­chol­ogy for the first year of this new [Trump] ad­min­is­tra­tion and how we’re fight­ing back,” Van Hollen said.

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