I’ve found the Montgomery County Council frustrating. On important issues around growth, development and transportation, many councilmembers don’t take much of a stand and vote in unanimous or near-unanimous numbers even on controversial and vital issues.
Many seem to prefer finding a consensus where they can vote unanimously or nearly-unanimously, regardless of the merits of that consensus. The I-270 battle was a good case in point, where advocates’ opposition to SHA’s plan got the Council to postpone a vote, then meet for a work session to agree on a compromise, which passed unanimously. As a result, most members avoided ever having to really stick up for or against something.
The County Council needs a strong advocate for Smart Growth and sustainable transportation issues. That would likely be Hans Riemer, if he is successful in his bid for one of the four at-large seats. Hans is a longtime Smart Growth proponent and an active member of ACT. He set out clear and excellent positions in his interview with Cavan.
The four incumbents are all definitely superior to the rest of the challengers besides Riemer. Those incumbents each have their pros and cons.
Marc Elrich has been a strong proponent of a Bus Rapid Transit network, pushing the idea tirelessly and making it a signature issue. However, he’s also the strongest defender of traffic-based tests that in effect hinder walkable development.
Nancy Floreen pushed through the White Flint plan, one of Montgomery’s biggest opportunities for meaningful transit-oriented development, and opposes the traffic-based tests that Elrich likes. On the other hand, she also opposes most rules that would limit development in rural areas far from transit. She generally advocates building in the county and is less discerning about what or where.
George Leventhal has been a leader in the fight for the Purple Line, and for transit in general in the county. Yet he also strongly supported widening I-270, and basically favors any transportation project of any kind in any location. Duchy Trachtenberg has been good on the environment and transit issues as well and not a road booster, but hasn’t shown as much leadership on growth and transportation issues generally.
I’d recommend Montgomery residents (like my in-laws) vote for Mr. Riemer and decide among the other candidates based on the other issues, like schools, budgets, labor relations and many more. If you’re not sure of some of the candidates, it’s also fine to vote for only two or three. Leaving a blank or two on the ballot makes the votes you do cast count even more, as the top four total vote-getters win the seats.
Two district seats are also contested, which happen to be the two that had Montgomery’s greatest development debates in the last few years. District 1 includes Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, and has significant numbers of residents who oppose the Purple Line and/or White Flint. Roger Berliner, the incumbent, has championed both projects a good future for his area despite the short-term political risk. Meanwhile, his challenger, Ilaya Hopkins, has chosen to throw her lot in with the antis. Mr. Berliner should be reelected to prove that anti sentiment doesn’t drive Montgomery politics.
In District 2, the suburban and rural northern part of the County, former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson is the best choice for the open seat. He’s been a strong proponent of Smart Growth on the Planning Board, and was largely responsible for the Agricultural Reserve, the large belt of (mostly) protected land at the County’s edge, much of which is in that district. His support for the sprawl development at Gaithersburg West was more of a disappointment, but his multi-decade track record warrants your vote.
The other district members, Phil Andrews, Nancy Navarro, and Valerie Ervin, do not have primary challengers.