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County Executive candidates debate issues in Sentinel forum

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County Exec Candidate DebateFrom left to right: Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Executive Editor Brian Karem, George Levanthal and Bill Frick joined the Sentinel-hosted candidate forum to debate issues this week.     PHOTO BY MARK POETKERROCKVILLE — The four Democratic candidates running for Montgomery County Executive squared off in a debate Monday night to make their cases to County residents.

The debate, hosted by the Sentinel Newspapers, was an opportunity for the four men vying for the Democratic nomination for County Executive – Council members Marc Elrich (D-at large), George Leventhal (D-large), Roger Berliner (D-1) and Del. Bill Frick (D-16) – to separate themselves from one another.

New in this year’s election, is a campaign finance system. For those participating in it, the program limits donations to county executive candidates to $150 and matches a portion of donations with public money.

Debate moderator and Sentinel Newspapers Executive Editor Brian Karem asked the candidates if they took campaign contributions from developers.

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County’s HHS amends minimum wage proposal to $15 an hour

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MoCo LogoThe County Council Health and Human Services Committee voted to make two amendments to the current proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The HHS committee voted 2-1 to extend the implementation period by two years and change the definition of a small business from one of 25 employees or less to 50 employees or less.

“It’s very difficult to project what can to happen in the future. We have a madman in the White House,” said Council member and HHS Committee Chairperson George Leventhal (D-at large). “We don’t know where the economy is going to go. Currently the economy remains strong despite the uncertainty of our federal leadership.”

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County executive candidates square off

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POTOMAC – Saturday’s candidate forum was one of the first opportunities for the four men filed to run for County Executive to take the stage together and speak to the public directly.

On Saturday, the Montgomery County Muslim Council hosted a forum at the Potomac Community Center for the four people who filed to run for County Executive candidates and current County Council member Roger Berliner (D-1) Marc Elrich (D- at large), George Leventhal (D- at large), and attorney and former member of the Maryland House of Delegates Robin Ficker.

The candidates answered questions about diversity, profiling, schools and taxes.

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Sentinel Hosts Live Stream Debate Among Democrat Candidates for County Executive on Oct. 16

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MoCo LogoROCKVILLE -  The Montgomery County Sentinel will be hosting a live stream debate among the Democrat candidates for County Executive on Monday, Oct. 16, in the Council Hearing Room (third floor) in the County Council Building at 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville. 

Brian J. Karem, the executive editor for The Sentinel Newspapers, will moderate the event which is scheduled from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. 

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Levanthal proposes video chat county testimony

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Testifying in front of the County Council could get a lot easier, or if you’re not tech savvy, a lot harder.

On June 5, Council member George Leventhal (D-at large) suggested the idea to allow residents to testify at County Council hearings through online video chat services such as Skype or Google Hangout.

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Race for county executive, county council touched by public financing law

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Robin Ficker remembers raising $200,000 for his unsuccessful 2014 run for State Senate.

Now, public contributions to his 2018 campaign for County Executive can be matched up to $750,000 by the County Public Financing Fund, a potential fundraising boon to his campaign. Even more importantly, his campaign could change the political landscape of Montgomery County. Public financing itself could create a more democratic election and encourage voter participation in 2018.

According to Ficker, a former member of the House of Delegates, the County Public Financing Fund “gets the big moneyed interests out of [the race] and gives power to the average person in Montgomery County.” Ficker notes that the fund’s ability to match citizens’ donations “gives the average person some clout” especially since the first $50 donation to a campaign is matched six-to-one and adds $300 to the campaign, something that Ficker considers unique, saying “There is no jurisdiction in the United States that has anything close to this.”

Although Ficker says he has never taken contributions from PACs, unions, or other groups, this law forbids participating candidates from taking such contributions, another attempt by the Montgomery County Council to expand the impact of private citizens and limit the influence of large organizations. Furthermore, officials say that the Public Campaign Financing law requires candidates to accept only donations from Montgomery County residents and only donations between $5 and $150.

However, there is some debate as to the effectiveness of the program’s limits on donations from large organizations. According to George Leventhal, the program is “an experiment in democracy which is intended to reduce the influence of big money in local politics.”

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Council gets its turn to comment on budget

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ROCKVILLE – Last week the County Council heard from the residents. Now it has its chance to craft a budget.

After County Executive Ike Leggett released his $5.4 billion proposed budget in March, the Council took comments from the community in a series of public hearings before it deliberates during the next month or so to craft a budget.

Unlike last year in Leggett’s proposed budget, this fiscal year’s does not contain any considerable tax increase, and Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) said a tax increase over the County charter limit is not on the table this year.

Many of the people who showed up last week to testify asked the County to fund their particular interests, whether they are Montgomery College or one of the County’s nonprofit partners such as Manna Food Center.

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Candidates test new campaign finance system

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MoCo LogoMore than a year from the 2018 primary election, candidates for County offices are heading in to a new territory of publicly-financed campaigns,

In 2014, the County Council passed a law to publicly finance County elections in hopes to counter the impact of campaign donations from large businesses and political action committees.

Montgomery County is the first county in the state to have publicly-financed elections, meaning the new funding system for candidates is untested.

“It leads some people running for office to look more to grassroots and small donations,” said Ed Amatetti, a Republican candidate for County Council District-2 on the new campaign finance system.

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Berliner says budget aggression will not stand

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Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner reassured activists and professionals in the Jewish community last week that the County’s proposed budget that includes a 1 percent cut in funding for nonprofits will not stand.

“It just simply can’t stand, and I know my colleagues feel the same way,” Berliner told the 60 participants at the 12th annual Jewish Community Relations Council’s Montgomery County Advocacy Day on April 6.

The reduced funding is proposed to come out of the Department of Health and Human Services Non-Developmental Disabilities Provider Services Contracts budget, which many nonprofits rely on to provide services to County residents.

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Takoma Park seals its reputation as a political nesting ground

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The center of power in the county, state and even at times the federal government is not Washington D.C., but a cozy city nestled just north of it.

During the last few decades, Takoma Park has transformed from a small town home to minority religious community to a progressive political haven and the crucible where political careers begin.

For a small city of 17,000 people, it is home to a long list of political players, such as Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), newly elected Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot and three members of the County Council George Leventhal (D-at large), Marc Elrich (D-at large) and Hans Riemer (D-at large).

“When you have a political belief, be absolutely fearless in promoting it,” said political activist Robin Ficker, who was born in Takoma Park. “Speak your mind and speak your mind until the heavens fall and don't let anyone intimidate you. It's a belief that springs from Takoma Park.”

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