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Up-County issues take center stage in Darnestown debate

DARNESTOWN — With the June 26 primary closing in, candidates for County Executive continued their campaign tour to the up-County, this time making their pitch to voters in Darnestown.

While most of the County Executive forums have featured only the Democratic candidates running for office, the forum hosted by the Darnestown Civic Association included the County’s sole Republican candidate – Robin Ficker – as five of the candidates squared off to woo voters in one of the more rural parts of Montgomery County.

Unlike many other forums, the questions were provided to each of the candidates about a month in advance, but candidates stuck to their typical ad-libbed answers, choosing not to read any prepared statements.

Among the major themes at the forum was how and if the candidates would preserve the semi-rural lifestyle those in Darnestown enjoy. Each of the candidates promised to stop a proposed additional bridge over the Potomac River, which would likely bring more traffic, and perhaps more development to more rural communities in the north and western parts of Montgomery County.

Businessman David Blair, who has made the County’s slow economic growth a central message of his campaign, said that taxes and regulations have hurt businesses, particularly in Darnestown.

Blair, who grew up in Darnestown, spokes about the issues facing his hometown – namely, increased development, traffic congestion, and cost of living. 

“The cost of living has gotten so expensive to live here right,” Blair said. “We’ve cranked up the taxes so much a lot of our young people who leave for college can’t come back.”

Blair, who is largely funding his own campaign – loaning himself $1.6 million of his own money – has promised to streamline regulatory enforcement, to not raise taxes, and to subsidize office space for startup companies in an attempt to make Montgomery County an entrepreneurial hub on the East Coast.

Council member Marc Elrich (D-at large), who has the backing of many of the County’s labor groups, championed his fight to prevent the second bridge over the Potomac from being built, as well as his experience fighting developers who want to build more in the County.

Elrich promised that if elected, he would preserve Darnestown’s semi-rural lifestyle.

“There are a lot of people who look at this and would love to have it, and there are some people who look at this and say they would love to take it over because they can put a lot of cheap housing and less expensive housing up here,” Elrich said. “That would be a real tragic loss for the County.”

Republican Robin Ficker, who is running unopposed in his party’s primary, took the time to tee-off on the County Council for raising taxes and ignoring the up-County.

Ficker, an attorney from Boyds, repeatedly referred to himself as “up-County Robin,” taking repeated shots at the Council. He said they were “Takoma Parked,” ignoring the needs of residents in Darnestown, Clarksburg, and Germantown in favor of the concerns of down-County residents.

Ficker spoke about his successful referendum campaigns, such as term limits for members of the County Council and an amendment to the County charter requiring unanimous approval by the Council if they want to raise property taxes above the rate of inflation.

“We need to let small-business owners know that there is a certain future,” Ficker said. “We’re not going to be raising your taxes; we’re going to keep the playing field level.”

Ficker said the County’s tax-and-spend policies have hurt businesses and wasted money; he promised to have more police officers patrol Darnestown and said he would put in a bid for the new FBI Headquarters, if elected county executive.

Former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow has repeatedly criticized the County Council’s decision to raise property taxes in 2016, saying some of the County’s taxes and regulations have made living unaffordable for many and put businesses in a bind. 

Krasnow said she got into the race in part because the County government keeps increasing spending, but no longer has the tax revenue to cover its increased spending.

Krasnow said she supports development, but that the County needs to do a better job of accommodating the needed infrastructure that comes with growth – most notably, schools. 

“I don’t think development is really our problem,” Krasnow said. “I do think that we need a strategic plan, however we’re going to address the shortage in school classrooms.” 

Council member George Leventhal (D-at large), has run a campaign in which he said he won’t make promises he can’t keep. 

Leventhal, who has likened himself to a County government insider who knows the ins and outs of the bureaucracy, criticized other candidates for pandering to the audience in Darnestown and making promises they won’t be able to keep if elected.

“I’m trying to get through this campaign feeling good about myself,” Leventhal said. “I don’t know if I am going to win – I hope I do, but when it’s done. I want to know that I was straight with you. That I didn’t engage in magical thinking, that I didn’t engage in hyperbole or overpromising. That’s what I offer you.”

Leventhal has touted his background as a fluent Spanish and Portuguese speaker, who is married to an immigrant from Brazil and can be a voice for the County’s under-represented Latino and immigrant community.

At the forum, Leventhal pushed back against some of the worries some of the candidates talked about – namely, development in Darnestown – saying Darnestown is in the County’s agricultural reserve, meaning, it is already protected from future development. In addition, Leventhal promised to not raise property taxes and to recommend a “prudent” cut to the County’s energy tax. 

Democratic candidates Roger Berliner and BIll Frick had been invited to attend the forum, but both said they could not attend.

@neal_earley

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