It may be stating the obvious, with no incumbent running, but the 2018 Democratic Primary for County Executive is a new experience for each of the candidates who are running.
With current County Executive Ike Leggett, who has been in office since 2006, set to leave along with four of the nine members of the County Council, 2018 will have a massive shift in the County’s political makeup.
Whether you blame it on Leggett’s planned retirement in 2018, a term-limit referendum that ensured Leggett along with three of the candidates for County Executive who are currently on the Council (Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal), would leave office or a new system that uses taxpayer money to help fund County campaigns, the candidates said they feel the 2018 election is set to be a uniquely historic one for the County.
“I think from a political science standpoint, this will be a very interesting election when it's all said and done,” said former Rockville mayor and candidate for County Executive Rose Krasnow.
Krasnow, like the other two candidates who are not members of the Council running for County Executive, has been critical of how things have been run in the County, saying there has been an unfriendly business culture that needs to be changed. While Krasnow said she supports regulations such as the County’s increased minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that some business owners complain about, Krasnow said the County has not done enough to market itself to businesses around the country.
Krasnow said part of the problem is the County needs to grow its tax base rather than increase property taxes as way to fund the County’s need for growing services.
“The going wisdom in the County was that people didn't mind paying more in their taxes because they liked the services they were getting, and now they really felt that this last tax increase was kind of the tipping point,” said Krasnow referring to the 8.7 percent property tax increase the Council passed in 2016.
An open Democratic primary field is nothing new for County races.
But while there is a lot new in the 2018 primary race, new candidates, new ways of raising funding, something remains an common issue for the candidates running – lack of name recognition.
“I’m running against guys who have been in government for more than 12 years,” said County Executive candidate and Potomac businessman David Blair.
Blair, the former executive chairman of Accountable Health, has also echoed the need for the County to raise its tax base rather than raise taxes. Blair, who is running for political office for the first time, has pitched to voters that if he were elected he would help make the County into the start-up mecca of the East Coast by having the County provide free incubator space to prospective entrepreneurs, in hopes the next great tech company is born locally.
Blair said there are multiple things that stymie entrepreneurship in the County – its regulations, its cumbersome inspections and its mismanaged procurement, which he has said make the cost of starting a business in the County too high.
“There is no one regulation that has been implemented that has been a kiss of death, it’s the cumulative effect of everything,” Blair said.
Blair added that one of his biggest problems is name recognition – something that is not unique to his candidacy. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a polling firm the Leventhal campaign hired, said 58 percent of voters in the County are undecided. The poll, which has also been sighted by at least two of Leventhal’s opponents positively – Krasnow and Blair – shows both an opportunity and a problem according to the candidates.
Leventhal has embraced his long experience on the County Council, promising not to solve all the County’s problems but rather be a good steward of the County’s government.
Leventhal has also tried to cast himself as one of the more socially-progressive candidates in the race and as being most attuned to the issues facing the County’s large immigrant population, touting his fluency in Spanish and members of his family who are immigrants.
“I think I understand the changing demographics of this County the best, I think I’m the only candidate running in the race who speaks Spanish,” Leventhal said. “I think I understand the things that make Montgomery County special.”
Leventhal’s poll shows that Elrich is in the lead with 11 percent support, Leventhal in second with 10 percent, Krasnow with 7 percent, Blair with 6 percent, Berliner with 5 percent and State Delegate Bill Frick with 2 percent.
Elrich, unlike the other two members of the Council running for County Executive, has been more critical of the current state of County leadership especially when it comes to development
Elrich has critiqued the County’s various master plans that he said have led to major development and population growth in the County without providing the funds for proper infrastructure such as roads, transit and schools. He said the County should create development districts, similar to Howard County to help manage growth and accumulate funds to help offset the cost on infrastructure for the increased population.
Elrich has blamed the problem in part on other members of the County Council who he said are influenced by campaign donations from developers.
“You've got one campaign that is being funded by developer money and another campaign that is just rich and could afford millions of dollars in campaign spending,” Elrich said of Berliner’s and Blair’s campaigns respectively .
Berliner and Delegate Bill Frick did not respond to an interview request by publication time of this article.