Progressive House candidate says recording shows Maryland Rep. Hoyer tried to pressure him to end campaign

A candidate in a Colorado Democratic primary says Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer and the Democratic party went too far by using “top-heavy tactics” to encourage him to leave the race.
A candidate in a Colorado Democratic primary says Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer and the Democratic party went too far by using “top-heavy tactics” to encourage him to leave the race. (Zach Gibson / AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — — A Colorado congressional candidate said Thursday he secretly recorded a conversation with Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland in which the No. 2 Democrat in the House tried to pressure him into leaving the Democratic primary race in favor of the national party's chosen candidate.

Levi Tillemann said he carefully considered whether to take the unusual steps of recording a conversation with Hoyer last December in a Denver hotel — and then releasing the smartphone audio to the media.


"This was a very difficult decision to make," said Tillemann, who is running in a June 26 primary. "I respect confidentiality and I respect privacy."

But he said he moved forward with the plan after hearing from reporters that the national party was trying to undermine his campaign in favor of another Democrat. He said his concerns were realized when Hoyer "leaned on" him to leave the race in favor of attorney Jason Crow, the favored candidate of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's House elections operation.

Hoyer has been eying the top spot for more than a decade, living in the shadow of a San Francisco Democrat who has a white-knuckle grip on power. Now, as the party wrestles with its ideological impulses and younger lawmakers push for a generational shift, Hoyer may be looking for one more play.

Hoyer is the House Democratic whip. He raises money and travels the country trying to help his party recapture the House, now controlled by Republicans.

Asked about the recording Thursday, a Hoyer aide released a statement: "Whip Hoyer is committed to taking back the House, and that involves working with local leaders to identify and support the strongest candidate for that district."

A site called The Intercept on Thursday posted the conversation about the race in Colorado's 6th congressional district.

Tillemann and other progressive candidates say the national party plays favorites — raising funds for its choices — before voters have a chance to weigh in.

"Congressman Hoyer is a very charming man," said Tillemann, 36, an inventor and entrepreneur who wrote his doctoral dissertation at Johns Hopkins University. "And in his old-school Maryland way he leaned on me to get out of the race. Or at the very least to refrain from engaging in a robust conversation about any of the issues that might damage his chosen candidate."

In the recordings, a man — identified by The Intercept as Hoyer — says: "Yeah, I'm for Crow. I am for Crow because a judgment was made very early on. I didn't participate in the decision."

The site says Tillemann responded: "So your position is, a decision was made very early on before voters had a say, and that's fine because the DCCC knows better than the voters of the 6th Congressional District, and we should line up behind that candidate."

"That's certainly a consequence of our decision," Hoyer responds, according to the site.

Hoyer's office did not dispute that it was his voice on the recording. The office did not make the congressman available Thursday to be interviewed.

Tillemann declined to discuss how he recorded the talk without Hoyer knowing.

"I don't really want to get into the cloak and dagger of the conversation," said Tillemann, whose grandfather, the late Tom Lantos, was a longtime Democratic House member.

"For me, the breach of decorum involved in recording the conversation was much less important than the systemic undermining of democracy that the DCCC and its allies are engaged in," he said.


On Twitter, Tillemann wrote "huge thanks" to Lee Fang – whose byline appears on the Intercept account – "for helping to expose the DCCC's top-heavy tactics this year. We on the other hand are a bottoms up campaign."

The tweet also said: "Help a progressive lead the blue wave!"

Colorado's 6th House District seat is currently held by Republican Mike Coffman, who is seeking re-election.

Progressives have long complained that the national Democratic Party has sought to preordain the outcome of primary races. Many point to leaked emails in 2016 that appeared to show favoritism for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders during the presidential primaries.

After the emails became public, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida resigned as the party's chairwoman.

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