Besides the incredibly crowded race for Montgomery County’s four at-large seats, there are races for the Democratic nomination in all five council districts. It’s here in the council district races where parochial concerns about specific transportation and development projects have a tendency to take over, and strong contrasts have emerged.
Greater Greater Washington’s endorsed candidates — Reggie Oldak in District 1, Ben Shnider in District 3, Nancy Navarro in District 4, and Tom Hucker in District 5 — have shown substantial courage to stand up for an inclusive and transit-oriented future and deserve your support in Maryland’s June 26 primary.
We make no endorsement in District 2's Democratic primary, where neither incumbent Craig Rice nor his challenger, Tiquia Bennett, have shown much enthusiasm for a shift away from car-dependent communities. The three Republicans running for the seat did not respond to our questionnaire, so we also make no endorsement there.
District 1: Reggie Oldak
District 1 covers Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Potomac, and communities along the river all the way to the county line. This is Montgomery County’s most affluent district, and some neighbors have fought hard to keep new people, buildings and transit out of the area, depriving other of the opportunity to access the district’s many jobs, shops and top schools.
The current councilmember, Roger Berliner, is term-limited and running for County Executive, making this the only open seat of the five. As such, the Democratic primary has attracted a field of eight candidates with sharply contrasting views on urbanist issues. Seven of the eight responded to our questionnaire: videographer Bill Cook, former Kensington mayor Pete Fosselman, former aide to state comptroller Peter Franchot Andrew Friedson, state delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, attorney and former Berliner chief of staff Reggie Oldak, social worker Dalbin Osorio, and former planning board member Meredith Wellington. (Click on a name to see the questionnaire responses).
Unfortunately, several of the candidates have been vying for the anti-new-residents, anti-new-jobs vote, as illustrated by a March debate covering this subject. Wellington and Cook seem to blame all the county’s ills on “unbridled development” and “reckless development” respectively. Referring to the potential location of Amazon’s HQ2, Jim McGee, an eighth candidate who did not complete our survey, complained “that they’re going to plop the equivalent of two Pentagons in this neighborhood doesn’t sit well with me.” None of these three, nor Dalbin Osorio, have been enthusiastic about the Purple Line, which is currently under construction and will run through the district.
Even Former Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, who earned well-deserved praise for shepherding through a new Kensington sector plan, seemed to play on these fears, stating that he would have opposed the Bethesda and Westbard sector plans and noting that “buses are not really transit.”
We believe three candidates are willing to make the case for housing and transportation investments in the district, as Berliner has often done. They made our decision difficult with arguments for any, but in the end, we believe Oldak is the best choice.
The Community page of her website leads with a statement that “sprawl development strikes at the heart of our environmental, economic, social, and physical well-being. It’s enormously difficult to reduce our energy use when our homes and workplaces are widely dispersed. Walkable neighborhoods, close to shopping and schools, will enhance livability.” She also notes that “transforming Rockville Pike into a grand boulevard with trees and improved crosswalks is key to placemaking.”
Oldak is consistent in prioritizing transit over highways. She supported the Purple Line publicly in her 2006 run for delegate. At a recent Friends of White Flint forum, she talked about giving people more “convenient, safe, affordable options to get where they want to go without driving, and the backbone of this is BRT.” On I-270 and the Beltway she says,“I oppose extensive construction that would cause unacceptable environmental and property impacts and promote sprawl development” and, regarding M-83, “given its enormous fiscal and environmental costs, I believe the County would be far better served by examining possible transit alternatives and capacity improvements along existing roads.”
We were disappointed she did not support affordable senior housing at the Silver Spring library, but in questionnaires, Oldak does voice support for affordable housing throughout the county and an array of creative housing options for seniors because “this variety contributes to community vitality and enhances the quality of life for every resident.”
Ana Sol Gutierrez is a longtime state delegate for District 18, which overlaps with about half of council district 1. Unlike some of her fellow legislators, she has been steadfast in support of the Purple Line in spite of fierce neighborhood opposition. Her questionnaire responses highlight her solid urbanist credentials, but at the White Flint Forum, we were disappointed by her skepticism towards the enterprise of placemaking that will be so critical as we seek to transform Rockville Pike’s strip malls into a vibrant urban corridor.
Andrew Friedson, a former staff member of Comptroller Peter Franchot, shows no such qualms. In fact, his strident vision for a more urban Montgomery County led the White Flint moderator to comment that,“you paint a beautiful picture.” He says,“Montgomery County is a great place, but it’s not the same community where I grew up. We have to embrace that change with a forward focus.”
Friedson also fought for the Purple Line as student body president at the University of Maryland, but we’re concerned that he said parts of Governor Hogan’s plan to add four toll lanes to the Beltway and I-270 “have a lot of merit.” His website also casts prioritizing transit over highways as a “false choice.”
Much as we appreciate Gutierrez' record and Friedson's damn-the-torpedoes style, we choose Oldak based on her positions on the issues and council experience, which will equip her to bring along constituencies with divergent perspectives on District 1’s growth. Her embrace of public financing also puts her above reproach in a district where “in the pocket of developers” is a frequent accusation.
Greater Greater Washington endorses Reggie Oldak for the Democratic nomination in District 1.
District 3: Ben Shnider
District 3 includes the historic railroad towns of Rockville and Gaithersburg, notable New Urbanist communities like the Kentlands and King Farm, and sprawling new office parks. Despite being centered a half dozen miles outside the Beltway, District 3 boasts high transit ridership with five of Ride-On’s 10 busiest routes, seven Metro and MARC stations, and some 31 Capital Bikeshare stations. The Corridor Cities Transitway and 355 BRT could further knit these places together, if they’re ever built.
The incumbent, Sidney Katz, has served one term on the council. Katz supports transit and has a history of fighting for MARC service as mayor of Gaithersburg. However, Katz also favors road projects, including building M-83 and the potential of tolled reversible lanes on I-270.
This year, District 3 provides a rare opportunity to elect an urbanist champion in Ben Shnider, who served on the board of Action Committee for Transit and even posed with a Capital Bikeshare station in a campaign photo (above).
Shnider is unequivocal in saying, “I oppose widening I-495 and I-270, and oppose constructing M-83 and Montrose Parkway East. I strongly support a predominantly fixed-guideway BRT network — including the long-planned Corridor Cities Transitway — and all-day, bi-directional MARC service on the Brunswick Line.”
Shnider shows a great deal of sophistication on our issues. For example he argues that MCDOT and SHA engineers should have “a presumption in favor of pedestrian and bike safety, without blindly using the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as an excuse for inaction or delay.” His response to Progressive Neighbors was full of creative ideas that flip typical narratives and harness development as a tool to decrease rather than increase inequality.
On housing affordability, he “will push to increase the overall amount of transit-oriented development and related transit, pedestrian and biking facilities” and “would move to increase the minimum MPDU mandate to 15% countywide and go even higher when County land is redeveloped.”
In our head-to-head questionnaire comparison tool, readers voted for Katz’s questionnaire responses over Shnider’s only 4.5% of the time, versus giving Shnider the win 63% of the time (and “don’t know” for the remainder).
We hope Montgomery County Democrats nominate Ben Shnider in Distict 3.
District 4: Nancy Navarro
District 4 comprises Wheaton, Kemp Mill, parts of Kensington, Olney, and Laytonsville. It includes urbanizing areas in the downcounty with a growing number of immigrants from Central America and Asia, as well as more traditional suburban and exurban bedroom communities.
Nancy Navarro has represented this district since 2009 when she won an off-year election to fill a vacant seat. Navarro has been a champion of outreach to the Latino community in Montgomery County, including implementing Spanish language information sessions.
She has often taken a more balanced approach to land use decisions, such as in a redevelopment of an office building in Aspen Hill, where she voted in favor of zoning changes to allow small retail, but that would prohibit a large commercial property like a Walmart. Navarro has been a long time supporter of the Purple Line and the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan in east county.
Navarro is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Jay Graney from Olney. Graney’s answers to our questionnaire were vague or non-committal and suggested a lack of knowledge of housing or transportation issues. Navarro's responses were much preferred in our reader head-to-head (59% of the time to 14% of the time).
Navarro supports BRT on Route 29, implementing the CCT(Corridor Cities Transitway), and the expansion of MARC service. When asked about increasing affordable housing, she wrote in support of building new housing, “We must use our HIF, zoning policies and incentivize builders in order to produce more affordable units that serve this segment of our population. If we stop residential construction, we will never reach our affordable housing goals.”
Greater Greater Washington supports returning Nancy Navarro to the council representing District 4.
District 5: Tom Hucker
District 5 spans the eastern part of Montgomery County, including Silver Spring, Takoma Park, White Oak, and Burtonsville. Like District 4, it is a majority-minority district with a significant immigrant population, particularly from Latin America and Africa. It also includes the nexus of progressive politics in the county in Takoma Park and close-in Silver Spring.
First-term incumbent Tom Hucker is being challenged in the Democratic primary by Kevin Harris of Four Corners, who literally announced his candidacy while testifying against dedicated bus lanes, as well as Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd, an African diaspora community activist. We sent a questionnaire to Hucker and both challengers, but did not receive a response from Harris.
A long time community organizer, Hucker founded Progressive Maryland and served in the House of Delegates. He has earned a reputation for being very responsive to constituents and has supported neighborhood organizers in pedestrian safety initiatives, most recently on Dale Drive and at the Forest Glen metro station. He has withstood significant community opposition to the Better BRT proposal to support the implementation of BRT in dedicated lanes on Route 29 and has been a proponent of the Purple Line since his time in the state house.
Hucker opposes M-83 and supports moving money from Montrose Parkway East to non-road transportation options. He wrote on our questionnaire, “We also need to continue to invest in improved sidewalks, additional crosswalks, bike racks and lockers and protected bike lanes. Taken together, I believe these improvements will tremendously reduce pedestrian fatalities in our county and can serve as a model for pedestrian safety nationwide.”
Hucker is in favor of setting aside a portion of MPDUs (moderately priced dwelling units) for those making less than 50% AMI. While he did not support building low-income senior housing on the old Silver Spring library site, saying that there was merit to the childcare center alternative as this was also a pressing community need, he pledged to push for increased housing elsewhere.
Malikidogo-Fludd’s answers on our questionnaire were enthusiastic and generally supportive of mass transit investments, but lacked in-depth awareness of issues surrounding current housing and transit initiatives. While we wish Malikidogo-Fludd well in her future activism, the choice for district 5 is clear: vote to renominate Tom Hucker in the June 26 Democratic primary.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.