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Doug Duncan back in the saddle, running for office

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Published on: Thursday, February 21, 2013

Doug Duncan, 57, needs little introduction if you live in Montgomery County.

A local businessman, former Mayor of Rockville and one of the most high profile County Executives ever to hold office, he served three terms as county executive from 1994-2006.

During the infamous sniper incident in Washington D.C. and Montgomery County, television viewers across the country got to know him as he stood by the local police as they hunted down a serial killer.

Praised by his friends, condemned as an autocrat by some of his enemies, Doug Duncan is a man used to the spotlight, controversy and even his detractors say he is a man who can get things done.

He was a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland against Martin O’Malley, but dropped out of the race because of depression. Now, after seven years out of politics, Duncan decided to run for an unprecedented fourth term as county executive in 2014. Duncan received his Bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1976 and served terms on the Rockville City Council from 1982-87, and was Rockville mayor from 1987-1993.

Sentinel: Why are you deciding to run again? Why come back and get involved with politics again?

Duncan: Well it’s very exciting. I’m very pleased to be back in politics and running for office. I want to make Montgomery County the best county in the country. That was my goal when I was county executive before and it will continue to be my goal. We need a county government that’s going to work to help make that happen for the people of the county.

Sentinel: What’s not working right now?

Duncan: We’re coming out of a recession. We’re not doing well in Annapolis. We’re not doing well in terms of job growth. We’re not doing well in terms of transportation improvements. We need to make sure we’re moving forward in a lot of those areas to help improve the quality of life for the people of the county.

Sentinel: When you say we’re not doing well in Annapolis what do you mean?

Duncan: We are not getting the dollars back that we should be getting back. We are not fighting for the county’s interests as well as we should be. You need to bring everybody together. What concerns me is we have the county council fighting the school board, fighting the delegation, fighting the county executive—sort of fighting everybody, and we need to bring everybody together and go to Annapolis with a unified purpose.

Sentinel: How are you going to go about fixing that problem? You’ve mentioned forming a new slate.

Duncan: It’s really a question of vision and priorities. Let’s speak with one voice as a county in Annapolis. Let’s agree on what the vision should be and move from there.

Sentinel: Is a part of that getting some new faces on the county council?

Duncan: I think there will be turnover in the county council in the upcoming election. A lot of them are looking to run for different offices, so it’s a time for some new faces on the council.

Sentinel: Who would you want to see on the council?

Duncan: It’s way too soon for any of that discussion. I’m looking at seeing who’s interested in running, who would be a good candidate and what they might be able to do to help.

Sentinel: When you last ran for office you were running for governor. You dropped out because of some personal issues. How are things going now?

Duncan: I dropped out because I was suffering from depression. It was a very unhealthy situation. I would not wish depression on anyone. It’s a horrible, horrible way to try to live. But the good news is you can get rid of it. You can take medication, you can talk to therapists, there’s treatment for it. That’s what I did. I basically took time out, caught my breath, sought treatment, got it, and am doing much, much better now. I’m ready to get back in it and try to help serve the people of Montgomery County.

Sentinel: Do you think it will be an ongoing question for you?

Duncan: You know what, I hope it is because when I announced I was suffering from depression and I needed to take time out to get better, in the next week there were over 1,000 people who called the mental health association of Montgomery County looking for treatment as well. I think that the more we talk about it, the better the message is that it can be treated, you can get better, and people are who are suffering this need to seek that treatment and to feel better.

Sentinel: Do you see yourself as a role model to those who do have or are suffering from depression?

Duncan: I wouldn’t call myself a role model but I would call myself a visible spokesperson for the benefits of treatment and the fact that you can get better.

Sentinel: Is there any way that if you get reelected that the stress of the job would cause it to resurface?

Duncan: Nah, I’m taking medication. I’m still getting treatment, so I feel very good about it. I am not worried at all about it and know the signs and know that if my mood starts to change that I know what to do about it.

Sentinel: You’re running for county executive. Why that office and not another one?

Duncan: I looked at some different offices, and I decided if you really want to get things done that the best position to do that is county executive. You’ve got a lot of leeway to make things happen. I’m a native of Montgomery County, I love Montgomery County. I loved being county executive in the past so I would to get more things done for the people of Montgomery County.

Sentinel: When we last talked you said you wanted to offer your talents and expertise. What specifically can you offer in terms of talent and expertise?

Duncan: What I think I brought to the county was an ability to get things done. Montgomery County suffers too often from paralysis by analysis. We’re always debating issues, we’re always talking things over and we’re never coming to a decision and implementing the decision and moving on it. When I came into office we changed that. It started off with the dump fire up in Trevilla where the county had been watching this illegal dump burn for a couple months and saying there wasn’t much we could do about it. I came in and in a week the fire was put out, the community was brought back to ease. It was sort of a great way to start my years in office by showing we’ll do things a little bit differently. We’re going to get things done and move on to the next problem. Whether it’s fixing downtown Silver Spring or getting Strathmore, whether it’s doing the other town centers in the county, whether it’s getting the Montrose parkway built, whether it’s getting the ICC built--things like that. We can solve our problems in this county, but to do that you have to make a decision and implement that. That’s what I’m known for and that’s what I’ll continue to do.

Sentinel: What you learned since you last were in office? What challenges did you face back then that you’ve learned from now?

Duncan: I would I say I was learning while I was county executive before. At one point I was too confrontational with the county council, and I publicly acknowledged that and said we need to change and work more closely with them if we want to succeed not just here in the county but also at the state level in Annapolis. You’ve got to have a good team you can work with at the council level. You’ve got to get everybody on board with the same message, the same vision for the future of the county.

Sentinel: What do you think the major issues are that county s facing?

Duncan: They’re in many ways the same issues we’ve been dealing with for some time. Education, the quality of our schools, the quality of higher education in the county, transportation improvements, what are we doing to help ease congestion around here. Economic issues—how are we promoting job growth? How are we promoting tax-base growth to help pay for the services that we provide? We’ve been through a recession. Those are challenges that we are facing that we need to have improved and show progress on. And then obviously dealing with Annapolis and speaking as one voice and making sure our interests are looked at and getting our fair share of dollars backs is very important us.

Sentinel: You said the economy is an issue.

Duncan: We’ve had little if any job growth the last several years. Montgomery County should be the economic engine of the state of Maryland. We need to get back to being that. We can’t afford to not have economic growth in the county. What happens then is you start to raise taxes, you continue to lose tax-base and you start that spiral that urban centers around the country have gone through that will really just destroy the quality of life we’ve come to enjoy here.

Sentinel: So taxation is another issue.

Duncan: Well it’s all part of the economy. We need to grow the tax-base in the county. We’ve got to make sure we find a way to do that. You’ve got to focus on job growth and focus on town center growth, and technology growth. Clearly that’s something we need to do even harder. With the federal government looking at some restriction, with concern about are we going to have the federal impetus in the county that we’ve had in the past. We need to stimulate technological growth as best as we can. The county council has got to be on board with that. And we need to look to add jobs.

Sentinel: You’ve mentioned some of the things you’ve done in the past, and said you’re a guy that gets things done. Some of your critics would say you were a part of the problem in the county, and not someone who was helping. How do you respond to those criticisms?

Duncan: Well I would say that I was very clear in the vision I had for the county and very clear in what my priorities were and there are people who disagree with those priorities. The Intercounty Connector—there are people who never wanted that road to be built, still want it to be closed, and I disagreed very strongly with that. There are people who didn’t want to see Silver Spring happen. We have a lot of different viewpoints in the county, and I respect that very much, but we want to make progress in Montgomery County. We want to get things that done that will improve the quality of life for the people of the county and transportation improvements is one of those big things. There will be people who will never support me because I supported the ICC and I supported the Montrose parkway and pushed to get them done, but I think they are very important for the future of the county just as transit improvements. The purple line and the Corridor Cities Transitway are important and we need those road improvements.

Sentinel: I noticed you said supported, not support. Do you not still support the ICC?

Duncan: Oh no, no, no. The ICC is a beautiful road and works very well. It’s a big asset to this county and to the entire state of Maryland. It connects the I-270 life sciences center with 355 and with that Baltimore-Washington corridor. It’s going to help job growth throughout the entire state.

Sentinel: The question on the ICC is that there’s been a couple proposals. One at the state level that’s not getting a serious look but has considered selling the ICC and leasing it out and secondly lowering the tolls on the ICC in order to encourage more usage of the ICC. Would you support either of those two?

Duncan: Well if you look at selling the ICC and trying to make money there, I think the challenge is that to make money on that you would have to raise the tolls even more. I don’t see that happening and I think we have a good structure in terms of building the ICC and operating it. The tolls are what they’ve been set at to return the investment to the people of Maryland. They’ve recently raised the speed limit on that and perhaps may raise it even more as a way to help attract more people.

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