For months a new face has appeared on television airwaves, on banner ads for websites, at Metro stops, and commercials on YouTube.
While admittedly an unknown six months ago when he entered the race for Montgomery County Executive, businessman David Blair has used his own money to fund an advertisement blitz six weeks away from June 26 Democratic Primary.
Blair, who served as chair of Accountable Health Solutions before he decided to run for County Executive, has used online and traditional marketing to help bring his name recognition to voters in the County, including a commercial of him standing outside the White House saying while he is a rich businessman with no experience in elected office, he is the “opposite of the Donald Trump.”
“Montgomery County is still an amazing place to live, but we’re slipping in certain areas,” Blair said.
Blair has relied on his business experience as way to frame his candidacy, as a person who has seen how businesses have struggled through the County’s “red tape” and has a plan to fix it by streamlining the regulatory process.
Blair does not want to be confused for Donald Trump, and he is spending his own money to help make sure voters know. According to his annual campaign finance filing submitted by Jan. 17, Blair had put $301,640 of his own money into his campaign.
Blair, a self-described “pragmatic progressive Democrat,” has been reluctant to criticize some regulations that business owners complain about and progressive activists champion, such as the County’s $15 minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave. While Blair said he supports causes and policies that progressive voters support, he has attempted to differentiate himself through his economic message of building the County as an entrepreneurial hub by providing free office space for startups and creating a more business-friendly regulatory climate.
“The performance of our County has been stagnant, Blair said. “I don’t think there is one reason for that; I think there are dozens of reasons for that.”
While Blair has had the most aggressive advertising push, he’s not alone.
Delegate Bill Frick, who has represented Bethesda in the 10 years he’s been a member of the House of Delegates, has recently starting running online advertisements in the hope of from framing his candidacy for voters. In his 15-second ads, Frick poses outside the County Council building in Rockville, saying, “In the last election Montgomery County voters overwhelmingly supported term limits, but some people didn’t get the hint,” Frick said, referencing the approximately 70 percent of County voters who chose term limits for members of the County Council and County Executive in a 2016 referendum.
Frick, like Blair and other candidates, has gone after the County’s record on business, taxes, and quality-of-life issues, choosing most of his main critiques for his three opponents, Roger Berliner (D-1), Marc Elrich (D-at large) and George Leventhal (D-at large), who currently serve on the Council.
Frick has been particularly critical of the 8.7-percent property increase the Council unanimously voted for in 2016, saying the tax hike incensed many residents who used the term-limit referendum as a way to vent their frustration. Frick told the Sentinel he would have instead voted for the slightly-lower tax hike that County Executive Ike Leggett recommended in his budget instead of the 8.7-percent increase the Council ultimately passed.
“I think I represent the ideal sweet spot in terms of experience,” Frick said. “I’m someone who can come to the County government from the outside and make the reforms we need to make.”
Former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow said a deficit in campaign funds will not stop her from becoming the next County Executive. Krasnow pointed to current County Executive Ike Leggett’s 2006 campaign, in which his main opponent in the Democratic Primary, Steve Silverman, raised more in campaign funds.
Krasnow, who elected to participate in the County’s public campaign finance system, which matches small donations with taxpayer dollars, said due to relatively small war chest, she needs more a of ground-level focus.
Krasnow, like all non-Council members running for County Executive, has been critical of the County’s business climate, saying County regulations and enforcement – particularly the property tax increase the Council passed – have stymied economic development
“It kind of put us at a tipping point where our residents don’t want to pay any more in taxes, and that is interesting to me,” Krasnow said.
A former three-term mayor of Rockville, Krasnow has attempted to differentiate herself as the only candidate with executive experience in elected office. This is something she has made sure to repeat at candidate forums and something each candidate has tried to do – a difficult task in a Democratic Party primary with six people running.
Unlike the three non-County Council members running, Leventhal, Berliner and Elrich have each taken their own approach in a race where their opponents have decried the Council establishment.
Leventhal, who came into office in 2002, has taken a unique approach in his marketing strategy by claiming he is a government insider and that is a reason people should vote for him.
When asked what issues voters find most concerning, Leventhal answered that residents told him that there was both too much and too little development in the County. Unlike candidates that place blame on the County Council for the region’s traffic congestion and perceived unfriendly business environment, Leventhal has gone so far to claim that traffic is a sign people want to live in Montgomery County noting that places that do not have any traffic congestion are places where few people want to live. Leventhal likes to say that candidates should be weary of bashing the County lest they damage its reputation.
“I think we should have a County Executive that relentlessly markets the great County we have here,” Leventhal said.
Like Leventhal, Berliner has had to come up with his own way to market his record while candidates have attacked the body he has served on since 2006. Berliner has often repeated a familiar description that likes to mention was used in a Washington Post editorial to describe him “progressive and pragmatic.”
Berliner has cited his record claiming to be a strong environmentalist, a person willing to take on big corporations like Pepco while also exercising prudence when it comes some proposed regulations on businesses – most notably the minimum wage.
“Truth is often a little more nuanced. I’m someone that believes in nuance. I’m not a bumper sticker candidate,” Berliner said.
During the debate to raise the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, Berliner, to the ire of labor activists and fellow council members and support from Leggett, added more business-friendly amendments to the bill to alleviate the impact on businesses – something Berliner has frequently called “reconciling two truths.”
“I see the job of someone who is leading our county is to reconcile those truths,” Berliner said about being progressive verses being pragmatic, “to bring them into harmony much like a conductor of an orchestra that brings disparate sounds into harmony.”
The last Democratic candidate, Elrich, who did not return a phone call to be interviewed for this story by deadline, is seen at least according to one poll by one of his competitors as the favorite in the race. Elrich is often the lone “no” vote on the County Council and seen by many as a more progressive and antiestablishment voice who cautions about overdevelopment and led passage of the legislation to increase the County’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.