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Andrews discusses plans for county executive race

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Published on: Friday, November 30, 2012

By Christa Puccio

ROCKVILLE - Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews said he plans to run for county executive in 2014, while a spokesperson for County Executive Isiah Leggett said Legget will decide if he is running again after the New Year.

Phil Andrews was elected to serve Montgomery County residents of District 3 as a Montgomery county councilmember in 1998.  He was re-elected in 2002, 2006 and 2010.  Andrews served as the council president in 2009, has chaired the public safety committee since 2000 and is a member of the education committee.  He also chairs the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and serves as the County Council’s representative on the County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

The current Montgomery County Executive, Isiah Leggett, was elected to a four-year term in Nov. 2006 as the first African American to be elected as county executive in Montgomery County.  He was re-elected in Nov. 2010 and is in his third year of his term.  He was also the first African American to be elected to the County Council in 1986 as an At-Large member.  Leggett served as county council president in 1991, 1998 and 1999 and vice president of the council in 1990, 1997 and 2002.

“[Leggett] has not changed his mind about not seeking a third term but at urging of many will reconsider after the New Year,” said Patrick Lacefield, a spokesperson for the county executive.

We recently sat down with Andrews for a brief conversation about the upcoming race:

The Sentinel: Why are you running for County Executive?

Andrews: Well, I’ve served for 14 years on the County Council and I’ve been a leader on the county council on a number of issues – not only on a number of fiscal reform issues, such as ending the abused disability retirement system and ending the use of a canceled pay raise in a calculation of pension contributions, which saved $280 million by eliminating that provision, but I’ve also been a leader on a lot of social reform issues, like, smoke-free restaurants, the living wage law, and expanding the county’s hiring of people with disabilities, which we’re in the process of implementing as we move forward with the legislation to implement the charter amendment that just passed by the voters 80 percent to 20 percent back earlier in November.  

So, I’ve worked on a lot of different issues that certainly the county executive would deal with, but I think the main reason is this – in the coming years, the main issues are going to be fiscal ones.  It appears the federal government’s going to be leveling out its funding or perhaps reducing its funding for state and local governments.  We’re facing an increasing pressure from the state that is clobbering Montgomery County when it comes to its policies – shifting pension costs to the counties (a big bill for Montgomery County because we have so many teachers and yet we don’t set the salaries and don’t control the pension funding) and also the maintenance of effort law (which puts a barrier really in terms of the county’s ability to manage during tough fiscal times like we’ve had).  

When I was president of the council in 2009, during really the first year of the major recession and during the depth of the recession when the national economy was losing about four or five hundred thousand jobs a month, I lead the council through a very tough year where for the first time in a decade and a half roughly, we froze cost of living adjustments, which saved a $130 million, we protected essential services and we avoided employee layoffs by those decisions not to fund a pay increase. And so, that is the sort of approach it is needed, a balances approach.  One that is fair to employees, fair to tax payers and that protects essential services, but that always has an eye on what is not only affordable in the short run, but sustainable in the long run.  

There were a lot of labor contracts that were proposed by different county executives, the current one (Mr. Leggett) and the former county executive (Mr. Duncan), that really put the county in a hole and that were only affordable for a short time and were certainly unsustainable and that proved to be when the recession hit.  I was the only councilmember that stood up and blew the whistle on those labor contracts, years before the severe recession hit.  And the type of leadership we need in the county is a county executive who will get ahead of issues like that because if the county had not had such large pay and benefit increases over those years before the recession, handling the recession would not have been as difficult and would not have required as many drastic actions as were taken.  

So in short, I think the main challenge is going to face the county in the coming years will be fiscal and we need a county executive who is going to have a strong record of leadership on that that has that credibility and that will find a way to ensure that the county is better treated by the state because we’re getting clobbered by Annapolis at this point.

The Sentinel: Are there any specific taxes that you would want to change, either by getting rid of them or instituting different ones?

Andrews: I’ve been a strong advocate over my years at the council for keeping the property taxes and the property tax rate at a reasonable level and trying to focus on revenues from other sources.  The income tax is a far fairer revenue source in my view than the property tax because it’s tied income where property taxes are not.

There are a lot of people in our county who have seen and did see especially in the middle of the last decade their homes appreciate right under their feet by huge amounts that made it very difficult for them to afford, especially if property taxes had continued to increase and I lead efforts in 2004, 2005 and 20066 that reduced the property tax rate by 10 percent.  

I was disappointed that the council in the last two years by the urging of the county executive raised the property tax rate in both of the last two years.  I voted against that because I think that that is not the long run way to go and I think it will really hurt our residents as property values start to appreciate again that they’ll see that higher property tax rate likely, unless the council reverses that, stay at that high level.  So, I argued that this was likely to be a permanent increase if the council approved it and I don’t see any signs that the council is likely to reverse that in the next year or two at least.  

So, I think that how you structure taxes is important.  We have a wide array of different taxes in the county and that provide stability.  The income tax is a fair tax because it is tied to people’s ability to pay.  

The Sentinel: How do you plan on running your campaign without any PAC money?

Andrews: Well, since I first ran for the council in 1994, in all those elections, I never accepted any contributions from Political Action Committees or from development interests and it’s not because I think that all PACs are bad or all development is bad, but it is because I think it is incumbent upon people that run for office and serve in office to do everything possible to maintain public confidence in government and that’s one of the ways I do that and I find that the public appreciates that.  

It makes it harder to raise funds.  It takes longer to raise funds because PACs and development interests give a sizable share of contributions in county elections.  And so it does take me longer to raise the same amount of funding that other candidates may raise, but I think it’s healthier.  It means I go out and I talk to more people and I have to have a broad base of support from many, many individuals, but so far, it has been a successful way to go and I believe in it and that’s why I do it.  

Before I ran for office, I was executive direct of common cause of Maryland and I lead the fight for six years in Annapolis for campaign finance reform and I lead the effort that resulted in the first limits on political action contributions in Maryland state and county elections so I’m walking the talk here and following through on how I think elected officials should conduct themselves and setting an example in that way and I think the public appreciates it, but it does mean I have to work longer and harder to raise the funds necessary to communicate to the public.  I do a lot of door knocking and I think that’s important.  It’s of course more difficult to do that in a county-wide race, but I believe grassroots campaigns are the best types of campaigns not only for candidates to run because they learn a lot as they do it, but for the political system as a whole.  

And I also think it results in more competition, which is a good thing for the public and system too.  

The Sentinel: So who are you running up against?

Andrews: Well, that’s hard to say because first of all it’s very early.  We’re a long way away and I don’t think most people were paying attention yet and I would completely understand that.  We just finished up the presidential election, the holidays are approaching, people aren’t focusing on what’s going to happen in 2014 yet, and they won’t for a while.  So there may be a number of people thinking about running, that seems to be the case, I’m running period – there’s no doubt.  No ifs, ands or buts there.  I can’t speak for any other candidate about what their commitment for running for county executive or any other office so I won’t.   

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