Newest County Council members look toward the future

Sidney KatzAfter a sweeping victory for Democrats in all County Council districts, the two new members are eager to bring their experience to the table.

Former Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz ran unopposed for Phil Andrew’s District 3 seat. Andrews, who has been on the council since 1998, could not run again this year because he ran in the primary against County Executive Ike Leggett.

Katz emphasized that he will not just focus on Gaithersburg, but on the entire District 3 region. District 3 includes Rockville, Gaithersburg and Washington Grove, among others. Katz said about two-thirds of the district is municipal areas, so he will bring his municipal government experience to bear on that relationship.

“I want to make sure that we’re coordinating with the municipalities as best we can,” Katz said. “My office will be an office where constituent service remains important to everyone.”

From the other direction, State Delegate Tom Hucker will be coming to the county level in the District 5 seat, which represents Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Burtonsville and White Oak. District 5 candidate Cherri Branson was only in the post for about a year to fill in for Valerie Ervin, who left last December to head up the Center for Working Families.

“Eight years in Annapolis certainly teaches you how to bring people together, build coalitions,” Hucker said. “I’m looking forward to working with the state delegation to get all the resources for Montgomery County that we can for school construction, environment projects and pre-K.”

But securing state funding for the county is a new challenge now that Republican Larry Hogan won the governor’s election over Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

“It remains to be seen how supportive the governor-elect will be of Montgomery County’s priorities, but I’m hopeful we’ll be able to work closely with him. I’ve had a lot of success working with Republicans in Annapolis in environmental issues, on expanding pre-K and good government issues as well, so I’m hopeful we’ll find a good partner in the governor’s office,” Hucker said. “At the same time, because he campaigned on tax cuts, I think we’re going to have to prepare ourselves to meet our needs for potentially getting less funding from the state.”

At the local level, Council President Craig Rice said he was particularly proud of the work the council has done in recent years to look at master plans for different areas of the county. Most recently, the council approved an updated White Oak Science Gateway master plan.

“I think us doing more of that gives our residents as well as our businesses a more stable outlook in terms of what direction we’re headed,” Rice said, explaining the master plans as essentially business plans for a particular area.

Rice is also looking ahead to two bills he said he hopes will get passed by the end of the year: a bill encouraging county procurement from minority-owned businesses and a bill giving preference to local businesses.

While Hucker looks toward pre-K, Rice also wants to focus on job development for students and providing internships in many business arenas. Rice, currently the chair of the council’s education committee, said he plans to work with Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove to brainstorm new programs.

Rice will be council president until Dec. 1, when Vice President George Leventhal is expected to become president. Leventhal, who chairs the health and human services committee, served as council president in 2006 and has been on the council for 12 years.

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