The filing deadline isn’t until February 27th, but the races for Montgomery County Executive and (especially) Montgomery County Council are already almost as crowded as Red Line trains single-tracking on a workday.
The big issues
Montgomery County is the nation’s most affluent (by median income) majority-minority county. It has evolved from rural farmland to suburban bedroom communities to a diverse place filled with multiple popular walkable urban centers. Managing that growth — and doing so inclusively — is key. The county will need to provide for residents of all incomes and walks of life, while attracting jobs amid significant office vacancies in areas like North Bethesda and, with the loss of Discovery Communications, downtown Silver Spring.
As in other jurisdictions in the region, transportation is a top issue on county voters’ minds and almost every candidate lists transportation as one of their top priorities on their campaign websites. But the solutions they propose vary.
Will the candidates balance the needs of people using different modes, including rail and bus riders, cyclists, and those on foot? Are they looking beyond moving cars and thinking more holistically about moving people in a safe and environmentally-sustainable manner? Are they committed to Vision Zero and improving bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure?
We’ll be paying attention to candidates’ past and projected record of support for transit projects, including the Purple Line, which is finally under construction. In 2013 the Council unanimously approved a transformative Bus Rapid Transit plan with over 60 miles of dedicated lanes, but a lack of funding and political will threatens to leave Route 29’s Flash BRT stuck in traffic and we wonder if we’ll live long enough to ride BRT from Rockville to Langley Park along Viers Mills Rd/University Blvd. Will candidates commit to prioritizing BRT and the Purple Line over costly new highways like M-83 and Montrose Parkway East? Do they have ideas to make Ride-On bus services more effective in the meantime?
Montgomery County, like most of the metro area, is becoming prohibitively expensive for those not lucky enough for six-figure white collar jobs. There are pockets of more affordable housing, particularly in East County and the Upcounty, but these are often the areas least well-served by transit and farthest from good paying jobs.
What are candidates’ solutions for combating our affordable housing shortage? Will they seize opportunities to build housing near transit on sites like the old Silver Spring Library? How will they address regional disparities in quality of life issues such as walkability, schools, and access to jobs and transit? Do they see social and economic integration as a goal, and if so, how do they propose to move towards making this a reality?
We’ll be paying close attention to candidates’ views of development, especially infill development close to Metro stops, BRT, and commercial centers. We care about making sure candidates support growth patterns that minimize sprawl, promote equity and economic integration, and cut down on the need for long car commutes.
Montgomery County politics are looking very different this year than in the past, for two reasons.
First, voters imposed term limits in 2016, and as a result, many of the county’s elected offices are now open seats, including county executive, three of four at-large seats on the county council, and one district seat (District 1).
Second, a ballot initiative to allow public financing passed in 2016. To qualify for matching funds from the county, candidates must receive a minimum number of donations (500 for county executive, 250 for at-large, and 125 for the district races) of under $150 each from verified county residents. They also must refuse donations from PACs, corporations, unions, and other organizations.
Three-term County Executive Ike Leggett is retiring (he would have with or without term limits), and six Democrats and one Republican are vying to succeed him.
Those include current at-large councilmembers George Leventhal and Marc Elrich and deputy planning director Rose Krasnow. Three candidates hail from the general Bethesda/Potomac area: District 1 councilmember Roger Berliner, businessman David Blair, and state senator and House majority leader Bill Frick.
Robin Ficker, the activist who successfully backed the term limits initiative, is also running as a Republican.
Leventhal and Elrich have filed for public financing, met their thresholds, and already received matching funds. Krasnow and Ficker have also filed to accept public financing.
As Pagnucco explained, “This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.” That’s because Elrich has a significant base among anti-development community activists, and he has already lined up endorsements from unions and powerful groups like CASA, which organizes Latino residents. More recently, the Montgomery County Sierra Club, another organization that can influence many votes, endorsed Berliner.
Among the five council districts, only Berliner is term limited out. Nine candidates are hoping for the District 1 seat, which runs along the Potomac from Bethesda and Chevy Chase to Poolesville. Eight are Democrats: Bill Cook, former Kensington mayor Pete Fosselman, Andrew Friedson, Jim McGee, Reggie Oldak, Dalbin Osorio, state delegate Anna Sol Gutierrez, and Meredith Wellington. There is one Republican, Richard Banach.
In the Upcounty District 2, Democrat Tiquia Bennett and Republicans Ed Amatetti and Tom Ferleman are challenging freshman incumbent Craig Rice.
Democrat Ben Shnider hopes to unseat District 3 (Rockville, Gaithersburg) incumbent Sidney Katz, who is also finishing his first term. Shnider got a boost with a Sierra Club endorsement.
So far, nobody is challenging Nancy Navarro in District 4 (Wheaton, Olney) or Tom Hucker in District 5 (East County).
But the real crowded field — by far the most of any race in the region in 2018 — is for the four at-large County Council seats. Hans Riemer is the only one of the four sitting at-large councilmembers eligible for re-election.
At current count, 32 county residents (28 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 1 for the Green Party) have filed the paperwork to be candidates, and several other Democrats are considering putting themselves forward. One joined the pack even between the first draft of this article and publication, so it's still a moving target. This bodes for a crazy primary race on the Democratic side. The Sierra Club's endorsements went to Riemer, Evan Glass, Will Jawando, and Danielle Meitiv.
Between at-large and district county council seats, 28 candidates have filed to accept public financing. Currently eight, including incumbents Riemer (at large) and Katz (District 3), have received matching funds from the county. Several other candidates are also close to meeting the threshold for public financing or have raised a significant amount of money using traditional financing.
The Elections Committee at Greater Greater Washington will be looking closely at all the Montgomery County executive and council candidates in contested primaries, regardless of how much they’ve raised to this point in the race, and will be evaluating them on their views on our core issues. We'll be reaching out to candidates soon.
What do you think are the most important issues to look at? What do you think of the candidates and the race so far?