Kathleen Matthews Hires New Executive Director for State Democratic Party

By Ana Faguy and Josh Kurtz

The Maryland Democratic Party has hired Stephanie Potter, a national Democratic strategist, to be its executive director, Chairwoman Kathleen Matthews told Maryland Matters on Tuesday.

Potter’s hiring was approved by the party’s executive committee Monday night – the first such meeting Matthews has presided over since becoming the permanent Democratic leader a month ago. Potter has been on the job since late last week.

Potter spent the 2016 election cycle as executive director of Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee closely aligned with Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate. She held other positions at the PAC in the previous two elections cycles and prior to that worked on the legislative and campaign staffs of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

The state party has been without an executive director since Chuck Conner moved on to join the staff of Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) earlier this year.

Matthews said Potter’s hiring is part of an ongoing effort “to revitalize the governance team for the party, making it have a broader reach.”

The party recently brought on Brittany Oliver, a former communications associate at the ACLU of Maryland, to handle digital media, and is expected to hire a seasoned Maryland political director in a matter of days. A finance director will be brought on in the near future.

“Stephanie and Brittany are experienced veterans who know how to sharpen our strategy ahead of 2018 and build winning campaigns for Democrats,” Matthews said.

The hires come as Matthews is activating an early strategy to mobilize Democratic voters across the state.

MDP is calling this the “Summer of Resistance and Renewal” — a twist on the Democratic National Committee’s “Summer of Resistance.” The state party plans to send canvassers out in all 24 jurisdictions to focus on what voters care about and what issues are going to get them to the polls.

Local parties have begun training and organizing volunteers on canvassing strategies they will implement over the summer and use throughout the 2018 election cycle. Door-knockers are already on the ground in Howard County, a pivotal battleground in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

“The anti-Trump sentiment helps,” Matthews said. “It’s a wind in your sails.”

Key to the strategy is cooperating with more than 30 progressive organizations across the state – many of which have sprung up in reaction to President Trump’s election. While these groups have often been estranged from party leaders, Matthews said her hope is to harness their energy to aid Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

Matthews has revived and expanded the state party’s diversity leadership team that was first created by one of her predecessors, former chairwoman Yvette Lewis. Matthews has added a designated “progressive” to that group of diversity chairs – Sheila Ruth of Baltimore County, a web developer involved with several liberal Democratic organizations.

“I think ideological diversity is as important in my term as gender and geopolitical diversity,” she said.

The African-American chair is the Rev. Todd Yeary of Howard County, senior pastor of the Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore.

The Asian-American and Pacific Islander chair is Devang Shah, an immigration attorney in Montgomery County who has held a variety of positions in national and state Democratic politics.

The Continental African chair is Malik Lendzondzo, a data analyst for a charter school in Washington, D.C., who lives in Montgomery County.

The Latino chair is Silvia Perez-Rathell, the national chief development officer at the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. She lives in Prince George’s County.

Reappointed as LGBT chair is Manley Calhoun III, a Baltimore city resident who is legislative director for state Del. Karen Young (D).

Reappointed as Veterans chair is Ed Holland of Charles County, a former Marine who served in Iraq.

Reappointed as the People With Disabilities chair is John Pare, a Baltimore city resident who is executive director for advocacy and policy at the National Federation of the Blind.

Even though the Democrats have no obvious frontrunner in the battle to take on Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Matthews said she sees value in having several emerging candidates question the popular governor at this early stage of the campaign – particularly his unwillingness to criticize some of Trump’s recent policy decisions.

“I feel like we’ve got this head start right now,” she said.

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