In a debate where five Maryland 6th Congressional District hopefuls agreed on most issues, audience members could catch flashes of difference.
Dr. Nadia Hashimi, Total Wine & More owner David Trone, Army veteran Andrew Duck, state Sen. Roger Manno (D-District 19) and state Del. Aruna Miller (D-District 15) largely agreed on issues like immigration and gun violence at the May 22 debate, held at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac and sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
They called for a permanent solution for recipients of DACA — an Obama-era executive order that protected immigrants who came into the United States illegally as children — and for background checks on gun sales.
Here’s where they differed:
On security and rising anti-Semitism
Miller and Manno pointed to steps taken on the state level to help institutions targeted.
“In the General Assembly, we saw what was happening here in Maryland,” Miller said, “and we were able to give more funding to the Bender [Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville] and push more money for schools to combat this.”
Other candidates criticized President Donald Trump for emboldening bigots. Hashimi recalled walking home in New York after 9/11 and people yelling “terrible things” at her. She said she understood what it means to be personally affected, and advocated for strong laws to prosecute those who perpetrate crimes, as well as strong partnerships between the federal government and community organizations.
On gridlock in Congress
“I’ve had to operate on a bipartisan level my whole life,” Nashimi said. “My father is a Republican.” The crowd laughed and then she got more serious. “I never demonize anyone who doesn’t identify with the same politics I do.”
Duck, who lives in Frederick, touted his voter registration increase efforts in the 6th District when he ran in 2006 and 2010.
“I didn’t do that by just talking to other Democrats,” he said.
Miller and Manno pointed to their bipartisan bills and issues in the Maryland State Assembly, where they said they have proven track records.
Miller told a story about her husband accidentally putting a large campaign sign in the yard of a Republican, who then called her campaign angry. Miller said she took the sign down and went to apologize. She ended up talking to the guy for a while “and to this day, he supports me,” she said.
The candidates all said they support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But the question of how to balance security for Israel and humanitarian needs in Gaza drew a range of responses.
“Obviously, I support Israel,” Duck said. “And I support Israel’s right to exist and to exist in peace.” But, he added, the same should be true for Palestine. “You cannot achieve peace at the point of a gun.
“I would rather much rather have boycott than bombs,” said Duck, who is a U.S. Army veteran. “I will support non-violent approaches every time because I have seen what that violence does.”
Manno said it was a trip to Gaza that convinced him “there is no military solution to the crisis in Gaza.” He instead advocated for economic advancement “because mothers from East Baltimore to East Jerusalem want the same things for their kids.”
Trone spoke stridently against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, known as BDS. He was the only candidate to voice support for Sen. Ben Cardin’s (D-Md.) anti-BDS bill, which is supported by many Jewish groups, but has raised concerns with civil liberties groups.
“Israel has a right and must, must defend itself,” he said, calling it maybe “the most progressive society in the world.”
On criminal justice reform
Manno turned personal in addressing the criminal justice system. He said he lived on the streets for a time, and was saved by the empathy of a juvenile court judge.
“I believe in second chances,” he said. “I have to. I came up hard.”
He condemned mandatory minimum sentences and advocated instead for a more “holistic” look at how to “heal people.”
Nashimi, who works in the emergency room of the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, said she has seen kids brought in in handcuffs and watched them leave feeling like she hadn’t been able to really help them. She called for better rehabilitation and opportunities while empowering law enforcement through training and community involvement.
The only rebuttal of the debate came after Duck criticized Trone for being a large supplier of alcohol, a substance that can be abused.
“I personally don’t think a guy who sells $3 million in alcohol can combat substance abuse issues,” he said.
In response, Trone said he was a “responsible” business owner and one of the few to support the tax increase on alcohol that would go to education and health programs.
Eight candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the June 26 primary. The 6th District includes parts of Montgomery and Frederick counties and much of western Maryland. Rep. John Delaney is vacating the seat to run for president.
So why were only five of the eight candidates present at the debate? The five were the most “viable” candidates, according to JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber.
To gauge viability, the JCRC looked at candidates with at least 15 percent as much money raised as Trone, the candidate with the largest coffers. That would only have included Miller.
So the JCRC also considered the results of a straw poll of Democrats in western Maryland. The five top vote getters were the ones at the debate.
Candidate Chris Hearsey, who didn’t make the JCRC’s cut, was barred from attending as an audience member after the JCRC saw campaign materials that said he planned to disrupt the debate, Halber said.
The remaining candidates are George English and Chris Graves.
Former state Del. Saqib Ali, wearing an “I Support Palestinian Rights” shirt and representing Freedom 2 Boycott, said he wanted to hear how candidates talked about Israel, the U.S. embassy move and BDS. He was most impressed by Duck.
“He said it forthrightly — there cannot be peace until there is freedom,” Ali said.
Mark and Lauri Friedman, wearing Aruna Miller T-shirts, said the debate confirmed their decision to support Miller. She’s organized and well-respected among other legislators, Mark Friedman said.
Ellen Robin and her daughter, Rachel, of Germantown, are still undecided.
Ellen Robin said she had narrowed down her vote to two candidates, but declined to say which two. She hadn’t had a chance to do much research on her own yet, she said, so she was glad the debate addressed so many major issues.
“I was really interested to hear them talk about Israel and how they would support Israel,” said Rachel, a high school student. “I wish they would have talked more about education, since I’m still in school.”