The mailer was meant to highlight the accomplishments of David Yungmann, a Republican vying to represent the largely rural District 5 on the County Council. It noted his “unsurpassed financial and budgeting skills” and opposition to a “huge school/mosque” seeking property in Cooksville.
A private Muslim school in 2014 wanted to acquire a vacant Catholic school and 66 acres so it could build three, seven-story buildings, an underground parking garage and a mosque large enough to accommodate its 800 families. The group’s eventual pullout resulted in a victory for Yungmann, a member of “Residents for the Responsible Development of Woodmont,” which feared the influx of people would bring traffic congestion in the rural area.
“Notice how...Yungmann... proudly boasts leading the opposition of a proposed mosque in western HoCo on his mailer,” said a Howard County Democratic Central Committee Facebook post. “This is the sort of Islamophobia and xenophobia we are up against,” the post said, urging voters to support China Williams, Yungmann’s Democratic opponent.
In a response, Yungmann wrote “the project was widely opposed by people of all religions, national origins and political parties because of its overwhelming and precedent-setting size.”
“If you are a voter in District 5, think long and hard about the values that this attack post represents. It aims to divide us by religion and spread inaccurate facts all to win an election,” Yungmann said in the Facebook comment.
The episode, playing out on social media, occurred two weeks before the start of early voting and was triggered by Howard’s Democratic Central Committee. Some commenters supported Yungmann, who has reached out with an apology and clarification.
“Shame on the Admin of this page to post such an inflammatory post especially when it is not true,” one commenter wrote.
Others believed his mailer was ill-advised.
“Opposition is not the relevant legal standard,” a commenter wrote. “You would think someone running for Council would know that.”
The mailer incensed Ainy Haider-Shah, president of the Howard County Muslim Council, who in a now-deleted post denounced the mailer.
“[Yungmann] never would have used that strategy if he didn’t think it was going to work,” Haider-Shah said in an interview, adding there is anti-Muslim sentiment in both political parties. “It’s acceptable to say things about Muslims that is not acceptable for other groups. That’s unfortunate.”
Haider-Shah has since accepted an apology issued by Yungmann, who wrote on Facebook he understands “how the wording of that mailer led to concerns by our Muslim neighbors and others in our community.”
“While some of the opposition was legitimate and based on logistical reasoning, much of the sentiment was rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry,” Zainab Chaudry, director of Maryland Outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an interview.
Chaudry said the wording of the years-old campaign was used to attract voters.
“As unfortunate as the situation was, it led to pretty positive outcomes for us all to connect and find ways for us to move forward and get to know each other better,” Yungmann said in an interview.
His apology was also welcomed by County Executive Allan Kittleman and Yungmann’s Democratic opponent, Williams, who in a Facebook comment emphasized the importance of forgiveness.
“Building an inclusive community means that we acknowledge when we’ve been insensitive,” Williams wrote in a Facebook comment. “No one will always succeed all of time. But we should all get the chance to do better next time.”
Yungmann in an email declined to speculate on the “motives of the timing of the post,” but wrote he’s “happy that some good came out of it in the form of valuable dialogue with members of the Muslim community.”
The political committee made the post after learning about the flier last week and “still stands by it,” said Maureen Evans Arthurs, its spokeswoman, in an interview.
“I do believe it’s a dog-whistle tactics. I think this poor choice of words alienated an entire community. He’s a part of a party that relies on fearmongering to rile up its base,” Arthurs said.
Arthurs said it is not the committee’s place to accept his apology because they “aren’t the gatekeepers for that.”
“His apology is a step in the right direction. But I question why it was released and why [his team] thought it was a good idea,” Arthurs said.
Yungmann, Haider-Shah and Chaudry plan to meet in the coming weeks to discuss inclusivity and acceptance.
This story was updated to include comment from Howard’s Democratic Central Committee and Maryland Outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.