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Elections

After similarities surface in voter guide responses, Baltimore County statehouse candidate questions campaign manager’s actions

After two Maryland House of Delegates candidates submitted answers to questions for The Baltimore Sun voter guide that, in some sections, contained identical phrases and sentences, their campaigns said they were looking into how that happened.

The candidates pointed to one link between their campaigns in Dean Scott, a community leader, retired teacher and founder of Baltimore County Leaders and Citizens, a Randallstown organization. While working as a paid campaign manager for Baltimore County Democrat Aisha Khan in District 44B, just west of Baltimore City, Scott also supported and advised another Democratic statehouse candidate, Ruben Amaya, in neighboring county District 10.

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Both candidates said Tuesday that they were concerned that Scott misled them about the responses to the voter guide questionnaire.

Amaya said he was disappointed to discover another campaign claiming his words as theirs. In late April, Scott asked Amaya for his responses to the voter guide questions. Amaya, who described Scott as an informal adviser to his campaign, sent the answers along without thinking much about it.

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“Obviously, I had trust in him. We had a rapport,” he said in an interview.

But within hours of receiving the responses from Amaya, Scott sent similar statements to Aisha Khan’s husband and campaign chair, Raees Khan, according to text messages Raees Khan provided to The Sun. Raees Khan said his understanding was that Scott had written the responses, drafting text that Aisha Khan could submit for the voter guide.

For his part, Scott said Tuesday that he made significant changes to Amaya’s text before sending anything to the Khans.

“I personally made some changes. I read the questions and made tons of changes,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it plagiarism. I’m a writer myself. I am a writer. I know how to write. That’s what I do. I know what I’m talking about.”

But the voter guide responses submitted by Khan and Amaya include several identical sentences, in addition to shared phrases and common themes. Overall, roughly 30% of Khan’s statement appeared to be identical or nearly identical to that of Amaya. The Baltimore Banner reported the similarities Monday.

For example, both responses said: “Currently I believe food insecurity, economic mobility, and quality education are big issues within the district.”

“I will bring this sense of urgency to Annapolis,” both said.

From Amaya’s published responses: “Access to free and expanded public transportation is not only important for providing working families with economic mobility, but is also critical in addressing the climate crisis.” From Khan’s entry: “Access to free and expanded public transportation is critical to provide working families with economic opportunities and addressing the climate crisis.”

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After ballots cast in person were counted Tuesday, Khan had earned about 23% of the vote in her primary, leaving her narrowly in second place among six Democrats vying for two seats. In a crowded field of 10 for three seats in District 10, Amaya ended primary day with about 10% of the vote from early voting and voting on Tuesday. That put him in fourth place while awaiting the start Thursday of the counting of mail-in ballots.

Scott said he wanted the best for both candidates.

“I was just trying to help the both of them. I’m sorry to have gotten involved,” he said, calling politics a dirty game. “All this neck slitting and back stabbing and bickering and arguing — that’s not what Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King wanted. This is not what the Constitution says.”

Raees Khan said he read the draft responses from Scott carefully and noticed some obvious inaccuracies — for example, a reference to the candidate being Latino. A Pakistani immigrant, Aisha Khan has no Latino roots, her husband said. But Amaya does: His parents immigrated here from Central America and a winning campaign would make him the first Latino to hold a state office in Baltimore County.

After fixing that and other problems in the text from Scott, Raees Khan said, he submitted the responses to The Sun.

Those statements were posted in the newspaper’s online voter guide when it went live May 18. The guide allows candidates to provide their background, policy and platforms on issues, in their own words. Their responses are unedited.

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After the questions about the similarities surfaced Monday, The Sun removed Aisha Khan’s responses pending further review.

Amaya, 21, hopes to become the youngest Democratic legislator in state history. The Stevenson University student said he launched his campaign because of big, pressing issues like climate change, criminal justice reform and growing income inequality — issues that have left his generation with “so much uncertainty in our future,” he said.

Amaya said he wrote his answers to the voter guide questions along with members of his campaign team.

“Those were my personal responses, what I’m fighting for,” he said, calling the discovery of the similarities bizarre. “I’m just as dumbfounded as you and the other people trying to figure this out.”

He said any candidate for public office should present their own ideas so voters can make informed decisions at the polls: “Voters deserve to hear from that candidate individually, what they have to say.”

Aisha Khan questioned why Amaya would agree to send copies of his responses to someone who works for another campaign. She said she trusted Scott and her husband to accurately convey her policy positions in responding to the Sun questionnaire.

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Amaya said he met Scott through his Randallstown organization, which is based on “progressive ideas, bold actions, and a strong foundation of support,” according to its website. A Princeton University graduate, Scott spent decades teaching in Baltimore County schools before starting the nonprofit.

Reaas Khan said Scott was well-known and well liked within the community, which was partly why the Khans made him campaign manager. Campaign finance reports show he received $8,700 for his work from January to June. The campaign did not submit a required July campaign finance report; Aisha Khan said she was unaware of the issue.

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“Now, he could be in trouble if he’s getting money from me and working for somebody else,” Reaas Khan said. He said Scott remains campaign manager despite the recent turmoil, though that could change in the future.

“Whatever Dr. Scott did for me, I’m very disappointed. I was not expecting that from him,” Aisha Khan said in an interview. “This is too much.”

The voter guide responses marked the second time in recent weeks that questions of alleged plagiarism have surfaced in her campaign.

The Banner reported last week that text from her campaign website, including biographical information and descriptions of her priorities, match statements on the website of state Democratic Del. Dalya Attar, who represents a Baltimore City district next to the one where Khan is running. Khan told The Banner someone changed the site without her knowledge, saying she believed it was a setup. Her website was recently modified to eliminate the questionable text.

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Khan, 38, owns and operates child care centers in Catonsville and Woodlawn. Along with Amaya, she’s a member of the Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee.

Reaas Khan said the recent allegations should not reflect badly on his wife, who he said had nothing to do with how Scott handled the voter guide questions.

“She hasn’t done anything wrong and she shouldn’t be punished for that,” he said.


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