Six women poised to change the face of the Montgomery County Council

By Katie Shepherd November 13, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EST

Montgomery County voters elected a historic slate of candidates to the County Council on Tuesday, adding Latina, Asian and Black representatives to a body that will be majority-female for the first time.

The six incoming members — all women — have their own priorities and beliefs that range from moderate to ultraliberal. On the whole, the changes are expected to shift the body further left in a deep-blue county that already prides itself as a haven for progressive ideas and policymaking.

“I’m really excited that we finally have a council that reflects the rich and beautiful diversity of our county,” said Laurie-Anne Sayles, who was elected to an at-large seat Tuesday.

In interviews, the newcomers cited plans to boost affordable housing and pedestrian safety and road quality, bolster the county’s mental and behavioral health resources, restore jobs lost in the pandemic and improve wages. Several campaigned on promises to improve equity for disenfranchised residents here, in one of the wealthiest counties in a state frequently ranked among the wealthiest in America by median household income.

Similar pledges lifted candidates across the state and nation to “firsts” this cycle: voters elected Maryland’s first Black governorfirst Black attorney general and first immigrant and woman of color to serve as lieutenant governor. Nationally, voters elected the first female governors in Massachusetts and New York, and the first openly lesbian governors in Oregon and Massachusetts. Arkansas also elected its first female governor, Republican Sarah Sanders, though her politics are a stark contrast to the Democrats who made history in other states.

In Montgomery,where people of color make up nearly 6 in 10 of the county’s 1.05 million residents, incoming council members said they recognized the significance of representing people who aren’t accustomed to seeing themselves in the county’s elected leadership.

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The new members include an accountant, a mayor, a Venezuelan immigrant and dreamer, an adoptee who serves as an assistant state attorney general, a first-generation Chinese American born and raised in the county and a first-generation Jamaican American who works in public health.

In addition to Sayles, also elected Tuesday were Marilyn Balcombe (D-District 2), Kate Stewart (D-District 4), Kristin Mink (D-District 5), Natali Fani-González (D-District 6) and Dawn Luedtke (D-District 7). They will join five incumbents who secured reelection.

The incoming council will be tasked with taking up implementation of the controversial Thrive 2050 planguiding growth and development that passed last month, appointing a new planning board after the entire body resigned amid scandal earlier this year, and continuing efforts on police reforms and steering Montgomery’s coronavirus recovery.

The council is expanding from nine to 11 members this year under a plan voters backed to alter the body’s makeup in 2020. District lines were redrawn to create seats that better represent residents in the eastern reaches of the county. Throughout the campaign cycle, voters and candidates have questioned whether the equity-minded countygovernment has done enough for the county’s east side, where immigrant communities and predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods have for decades gone without investment that helped other parts of the county prosper.

Mink will represent one of the new districts carved out to better represent east county residents, which consolidates Four Corners through Burtonsville. Mink ran on a liberal platform supporting rent stabilization and eviction protections, free bus rapid transit and substantial economic investment in White Oak and Burtonsville Crossing, among other progressive issues.