On June 22, 2015, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that he had been diagnosed with late stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hogan spent the next several months fighting the rare and aggressive cancer – gaining countless friends and well-wishers along the way.
Vaughn Stewart, a young attorney, was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer two years later. Now, after just being given a clean bill of health following four rounds of chemotherapy, he’s seeking a seat in the House of Delegates from Montgomery County’s District 19.
Stewart, a 28-year-old Democrat, is running in a largely Democratic area that takes in portions of Silver Spring and Rockville, including Leisure World. He may look like a shoo-in from the outside but with so many other Democrats running he will, after fighting cancer, face another battle — differentiating himself from the pack. His story may help him do just that.
“I actually got cancer for the first time when I was 18 years old,” Stewart said. “At that time I thought, we’re really not guaranteed tomorrow, I should really try to do the best I can to make a difference.”
An Alabama native who currently works for the Washington, D.C., law firm WilmerHale, Stewart attended the University of Pennsylvania for his undergraduate degree, and while there he taught debating skills to underprivileged kids. He then went to New York University Law School. At WilmerHale, he focuses on government litigation and investigations, but also does pro bono work assisting refugees.
Several months ago, Stewart was diagnosed with cancer again. With a similar mindset, he began thinking about what he was going to do this time around to make a difference.
During his chemotherapy treatments, he studied health care policy.
“I remember receiving the chemo cocktail in my right arm while holding my iPhone in my left hand and reading about the congressional Republicans trying to gut care for those of us with pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Stewart is not only critical of congressional Republicans and their health care agenda but Hogan as well.
“As you might imagine, my experience has not ingratiated me to the governor’s position on sick leave or congressional Republicans’ eagerness to slash protections for those of us with preexisting conditions,” he said.
Stewart, who served as policy director to Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-Md.) congressional campaign, is advancing proposals to regulate generic prescription drug manufacturers like public utilities and to create Maryland’s own universal health care system.
As Hogan was after his treatment, Stewart is currently bald. On his campaign announcement video, he jokes that his baldness “is not a fashion statement.”
Hogan in an interview last week said he had not heard of Stewart, but wished him well.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to him as a fellow cancer survivor,” the governor said. “We’re all part of the same club.”
Hogan said even after going into remission it’s tough to be in the public eye right away.
“It takes a while to get your strength back and it’s really grueling,” he said.
(Hogan was not apprised of Stewart’s policy criticisms during the interview and did not have an opportunity to respond.)
Stewart credits his socioeconomic status for his successful fight against cancer.
“I live in Montgomery County, I live in one of the wealthiest counties in one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest country of all time, and yet there are people who die from diseases like I had because they didn’t have health insurance,” he said.
Stewart is one of several candidates who have officially entered the race for three seats in the House of Delegates. With state Sen. Roger Manno (D) now running for Congress, Del. Ben Kramer (D) is looking to move up to the Senate. Del. Marice Morales (D) and Del. Bonnie Cullison (D) are running for re-election.
Also running for the House as Democrats are political novices Brian Crider, a software developer, and Jade Wiles, who is getting a doctorate in health administration.
Charlotte Crutchfield, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Merit Systems Protection Board, and Marlin Jenkins, an attorney with the American Federation of Government Employees, are also pondering the Democratic race.
Stewart acknowledges that his interest in running is not solely a result of his cancer battle.
“The truth is, since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in public service,” he said. “I think I’ve got a unique perspective on the precariousness of life and how close death is and I think most importantly the absurdity of our health care system.”