Category Archives: Adam Pagnucco

Ike Leggett’s Greatest Achievement

By Adam Pagnucco.

As the primary election approaches and the six Democratic candidates for County Executive make their case, it’s worth considering the incumbent they are seeking to succeed: Ike Leggett.  The county’s steady helmsman is approaching the end of a thirty-year career in politics and he deserves much respect for his knowledge, temperament and savvy.  But it is Leggett’s greatest achievement that sets an example for all who follow him and poses an important lesson for the next term.

Simply put, Ike Leggett saved the county from financial disaster.

When Leggett assumed office in December 2006, he was determined to cut back the rate of budget growth overseen by his predecessor, Doug Duncan.  In his first budget, Leggett proposed giving MCPS $19.7 million less than its request.  That was still a $117 million increase over MCPS’s prior-year budget, but it was a smaller increase than the schools wanted and the education community revolted.  The council worked it out.  The following year, Leggett proposed a big property tax hike which was mostly passed by the council.  These events may seem unrelated, but they weren’t: Leggett smelled trouble coming and he was battening down the hatches.

And boy, did trouble come.  In 2010, the Great Recession hit the county’s economy and budget with a fury that no one in government had seen before.  Leggett proposed what was then the ugliest budget of all time.  It included hundreds of millions in cuts and double-digit reductions in many departments.  750 work years were reduced through attrition and position abolitions.  A fire truck and an ambulance were to be taken out of service and four police sub-stations were proposed for closure.  Employee raises were eliminated and furloughs were instituted.  Healthcare for the uninsured was reduced.  And Leggett proposed increasing the energy tax by $50 million.

The Executive didn’t sugar-coat it.  In his press release, he said:

To those who object to these reductions, I have a simple message: I do not like these any more than you do… Hard choices must be made, and not just talked about, in this difficult economic and fiscal environment.

And then, unbelievably, things got even worse.  Revenues were written down twice while Leggett’s budget was under consideration by the council.  The county’s FY10 reserves were literally dwindling to zero.  Leggett was animated by two goals: save the county’s bond rating and save as many county employees’ jobs as possible.  To do that, he was going to have to battle every group that helped him get elected.  In the end, Leggett and the County Council worked together to pass the baddest budget ever, a $4.3 billion nuke bomb that had the biggest county spending cut since the current charter was passed in 1968.  And that wasn’t the end of it – two more years of not funding collective bargaining agreements and fighting with the school system were ahead.  But the bond rating was preserved and mass layoffs were avoided, laying the groundwork for recovery.

This was the county’s worst hour.  It was Ike Leggett’s finest hour.

Leggett didn’t do all this alone.  The council stayed with him and all ten of them jumped off the ledge together.  But as the Executive, Leggett’s role was absolutely critical.  He could have pointed fingers at Council Members who voted for earlier large budget increases, thereby blowing up the teamwork between the two branches that was critical to getting through the crisis.  He did not.  He could have papered over the problems with band-aids and said next year would be better.  That would have been very tempting for Council Members to go along with – let’s remember that 2010 was an election year.  He did not.  He simply told the truth and made the hard choices the voters paid him to make.  And in the end, it worked out.

Your author has had many policy differences with the administration over the years and the Executive is leaving significant unfinished business for his successor, as all Executives have done.  But let’s recognize a central truth.  Leaders are not remembered for doing twenty small things really well or maybe not so well.  They are remembered for how they deal with a crisis.

Ike Leggett passed that test.

And now we are charged with picking Leggett’s successor.  The economy is not healthy enough to pay our bills and the county is now resorting to quick fixes to balance the budget.  The entire Washington region is not as strong as it once was.  Most ominously, since the average business cycle lasts 5-6 years, we are due for a recession during the next term.  That doesn’t guarantee that the next one will be as bad as the earth-shattering Great Recession, but it won’t be fun.  The voters are about to make a judgment on which group of elected leaders will deal with our coming challenges.  Bearing in mind the example set by Leggett, who deserves your support?  There are important policy issues at hand, but on the personal traits of the candidates, here are a few ideas.

Vote for adults.  We will be well served by people who do their homework, take their responsibilities seriously and are willing to do the thankless chore of reading hundreds of pages of dreary, bureaucratic reports on everything the county does.  People who are not interested in that kind of drudgery will not be equipped to make tough but intelligent decisions.

Vote for civility.  This is one of Leggett’s greatest strengths.  Sure, he will push back on what he sees as inaccuracies or misrepresentations but he preserves his ability to work with everyone.  That paid off in a huge way during the Great Recession.  Elected officials who blow up at others won’t be able to assume a unifying role in an emergency.

Vote for honesty.  If someone tells one group one thing and then tells another group something completely different, be skeptical about that.  Trust the person who says no when necessary and not yes every single time.  And someone who tap dances all over the place on his or her record and positions is not going to be a reliable leader at crunch time.

Most of all, vote!  And do your best to make sure that the people you pick are ready to deal with the next crisis – just as ready as Ike Leggett.


On Comments

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, a reader asked on our Facebook page why there were no comments directly on Seventh State posts.  Well, we have a history with comments.

Our old blog, Maryland Politics Watch, originally allowed anonymous comments.  That was a mistake!  Many of them were vile, personal, racist and downright deplorable (just like a certain President’s Twitter feed).  Eventually, the anons chased out almost all of the people commenting under their own names.  The final straw came when a candidate dropped out of a race because of a terminal illness in his family.  An anonymous commenter accused him of making up the illness and dropping out because he allegedly knew he would lose.  The candidate went ballistic.  That’s when we banned anonymous comments and required people to use their real names.

But that wasn’t enough.  Under our old platform, Blogger, it was very easy to register a Google or Blogger account under any name and use it for commenting.  How could we tell if they were real or not?  The issue came to a head during my war with the “Boy King,” an intern hired by the Washington Post to write editorials about MoCo and Maryland.  The Boy King became so alarmed by my writings that he sent a college friend to troll us using a phony name.  So I tracked him down and printed the troll’s real name!  That was great fun, but I thought, “Why am I spending so much time on this when I could be writing real stuff?”  The new policy was ineffective.

Accordingly, when David Lublin started Seventh State, I totally understood why he was uninterested in going down that road again.  But we had a new tool for interaction that had not yet ripened in the old days: Facebook.  For better or worse, Facebook has become Seventh State’s de facto comment page.  There are certainly phony Facebook accounts and some of them played a role in our last presidential election.  But sadly, Vladimir Putin seems to not care about who gets elected to the Montgomery County Council, so there don’t seem to be a lot of bots here!

The quality of interaction that we get through Facebook far exceeds what we were able to obtain in the Maryland Politics Watch days.  I personally read every single comment on the Facebook page.  I like most of them and learn from a lot of them, even – and perhaps especially – from the folks who disagree with me.  There have been several occasions when a reader’s comment caused me to think, “Hmmmmm, I should look into that.  That could be a great post!”

Overall, the comments we receive reinforce what David and I have known for a long time – you are the best media audience in the county and perhaps in the entire state.  No one knows our politics and our community better than Seventh State readers.  Maybe more importantly, no one CARES more than Seventh State readers.  That’s why elected officials, candidates, advocates and other muckety-mucks come on here.  They may not care what David and I think, but they care what YOU think, and they should.

Thank you for reading Seventh State.


On Marc Elrich and Socialism

After all this time, it still often ends up amazing me how much fracas a single turn of phrase can cause. Adam’s recent comment referring to Marc Elrich as “a decades-long socialist” has been one of those moments.

In many ways, I saw Adam’s description as  a stereotype of how many voters will see Marc. Adam has also argued with justification that it’s simply true. Moreover, while it’s tempting to say “labels are for cans,” they are also highly useful shortcuts in identifying political views and general outlook.

The problem here is the way the word “socialism” has been used in American politics. Back in the day of the Soviet Union, well within the lifespan of the bulk of Democratic primary voters, socialism was often used as a synonym for communism. The full name of the USSR, after all, was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Americans rightly reviled this soul-destroying system that murdered millions of people and was imposed on the peoples of Eastern and East-Central Europe after World War II.

However, as Nik Sushka explained on the Seventh State Facebook page:

There is a chasm of difference between the DSA and the way “socialism” is used against people on the left. If you like public schools, public safety, public libraries, public defense, and public transit—including public roads—then you like Democratic socialism so far. If you want public health care and public utilities—including net neutrality—you might desire greater “socialism.”

Can we at least try to have a fair conversation about why these distinctions exist and why a candidate trying to defend his record on supporting business and robust economies might say—hey, stop saying I have a “socialist” business agenda?

I disagree with Marc Elrich on various issues. The liquor monopoly needs to go and Adam isn’t wrong that it’s among the more “socialist” of county policies. But it was created before Marc arrived on the scene and is a legitimate topic for debate. Rent stabilization is also a bad idea, but Marc would be the first to tell you it’s not on Montgomery’s agenda.

Marc also holds many positions that I admire. While the Washington Post wants to cast him as Dr. No, he’s the guy who brought the creation of a BRT system for Montgomery to the agenda. Far more affordable than light rail or heavy rail – we would have saved literally billions of dollars if the Purple Line had been planned this way – it provides a real means to provide a transportation system for Montgomery. In other words, it addresses traffic concerns of existing residents yet also paves the way for additional development and economic growth.

Marc also is known as the guy on the Council who goes around to every neighborhood in the County and listens and talks to people. His argument that infrastructure for schools, police, fire, and so forth should match the pace of new development is seemingly radical to many on the current Council. It’s not to residents.

Ditto on the idea that one needs to be sensitive to the impact of new development on existing neighborhoods. Change will occur but it doesn’t have to mean placing a 20-story building right next to a single-family home in the name of “you can’t stop progress!”

In many ways, I saw Marc and Adam as talking past one another. Marc’s reply struck me as not a denial of being a democratic socialist but as being in the thoughtful vein of “OK, what does this term mean in this day and age, and for how I would govern as county executive” and that he’s practical rather than an ideologue.

Whatever you think of Marc’s views, I see remarkable consistency is the way he presents himself in various forums, questionnaires, and the like. What you see is what you get.


McGee Files for Matching Funds… And Then There is Ficker

By Adam Pagnucco.

Update: Council District 5 candidate Kevin Harris has also filed for matching funds on May 15, claiming $12,400 in qualifying contributions from 176 in-county residents.

Original Post: Council District 1 candidate Jim McGee filed for public matching funds on May 15.  His filing claims 157 qualifying contributors and $36,580 in qualifying contributions, above the respective thresholds for a district race of 125 and $10,000.  Two other District 1 candidates have qualified for matching funds, including Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez and Reggie Oldak, who has already applied for the maximum amount ($125,000) available under the program.

On Monday, we wrote that county law stated that the qualifying period for matching funds ended 45 days before the primary, which this year fell on Saturday, May 12.  That is true.  But at the time, we did not know that the State Board of Elections had allowed candidates to file as late as May 15 with only qualifying contributions received by May 12 eligible for matching funds.  A reader brought that to our attention and we updated the post.  But we are gonna own this one: we screwed up.  Your author apologizes to Jim McGee and Seventh State readers.

Then there is Robin Ficker, who is running for Executive in the public financing program.  Ficker registered his public account on 2/8/17 and so far has not qualified for matching funds.  (The other Executive candidates in public financing – Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Rose Krasnow – qualified some time ago.)  Ficker told Bethesda Magazine that he was unaware that he was subject to the 45-day qualifying period because he has no primary opponent.  In order to qualify for matching funds, Executive candidates need 500 contributions from individuals living in the county totaling at least $40,000.  Ficker then sent an application for matching funds on May 15 but it asked for… zero dollars.

Can anyone figure this out for us?  Because we admit it – we can’t!


MoCo Diverts $62 Million of Retiree Health Money for General Spending

By Adam Pagnucco.

Remember the county’s $120 million budget shortfall?  While up to half of it may have been caused by tax planning by rich people, the rest was in broad shortfalls across a range of taxes.  The County Council approved a FY18 savings plan of $53 million in January, but what happened to the rest of the shortfall?  Nothing was published in the press.  In fact, the council did cut another $62 million last month and, it seems, no one noticed.

What happened?

One of the county’s long-term obligations is money it owes for retiree health benefits, also known as other post-employment benefits (OPEB).  These benefits are becoming rare in the private sector but they are still common in state and local governments.  In 2008, the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) told state and local governments that they had to begin accounting for OPEB and prefunding it in the same way that they do for pension benefits.  In other words, each government would have to publish a funding ratio and start saving for future benefits rather than simply paying as they went.  MoCo had a plan to ramp up OPEB prefunding, but the Great Recession hit and the county couldn’t contribute towards OPEB for a couple years.  Since then, the county has socked away $797 million to meet future OPEB benefits.

That sounds like a lot of money, but the county’s actuarial liability for OPEB is currently calculated at $3.3 billion, meaning that its funding ratio is 24%.  That would be terrible for a pension plan – consider that the county’s pension plan is currently 92% funded.  But 24% is actually decent for an OPEB plan considering that state and local governments have only been prefunding them for ten years.  The State of Maryland’s OPEB plan was just 3% funded in 2015 and MoCo’s ratio was better than 38 states.  Even so, the county has a lot of work to do to get its funding ratio up and it makes millions in contributions every year to get there.

In FY18, the county had budgeted $122 million for OPEB contributions.  But the county had a problem: less than half of its FY18 shortfall of $120 million had been eliminated.  As late April came around and the FY19 budget process was underway, the County Executive and the County Council had a choice.  They could cut over $60 million in current year spending two months out from the primary election.  Or they could find the money somewhere else.

You guessed it – in a resolution introduced and adopted on the same day, April 24, the council unanimously cut $62 million from the county’s FY18 OPEB contribution.  This fiscal year’s spending on services won’t take another cut, which is great news for incumbents running for reelection or higher office.  And as Bethesda Magazine reported, the council has proposed adding up to $21.6 million more to next year’s budget and has so far identified just $1.6 million in offsetting spending cuts.  How do you think they will make up the difference?

The County Council did not send out a press release headlining the diversion of $62 million of retiree health contributions to support general spending on April 24.  It was buried in a press release spotlighting a resolution on equity data.  As a result, the press totally missed it.

Now look, folks.  The county is good at saving money.  They are setting aside close to 10% of revenues as reserves, an important reform adopted during the Great Recession that helped save the county’s AAA bond rating.  The pension fund is in excellent condition at 92% funding.  And as stated above, the county has done a better job at prefunding retiree health benefits than most other places.

But grabbing retiree health contributions and using them for general spending is something that is normally done in a recession when the alternative is layoffs.  That’s what happened a decade ago and it was justified considering the financial trouble the county was facing.  Now, despite huge evidence to the contrary, county leaders are telling us that the economy is in great shape.  The Council President told Kojo Nnamdi a few days ago that we have “a very strong economy” and “this is a good time in Montgomery County.”  Well, if the economy is so great, then why redirect $62 million of retiree health money to prop up this year’s budget?

And if we are diverting retiree health money now when times are supposedly good, what will happen when the next recession comes?


Marc Elrich Said He’s a Socialist – And I Believe Him

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for County Executive, has posted a guest blog denying that he is a socialist.  Since he made that claim in a rebuttal to our writings, it is only fair that your author responds.  Why have we said that he is a socialist?  It’s because we have an unimpeachable source who says he has been a socialist organization member for decades.  That source’s name is…

Marc Elrich.

In 2013, Bethesda Magazine asked Elrich flat out whether he is a socialist.

Elrich declines to say whether he considers himself a socialist. “It’s irrelevant,” he says.  “…I was in the business world. I appreciate how things are done. I’m not doing anything that will undo the business world or bring socialism to Montgomery County.”

If he is not a socialist, why not say so?

Elrich was more forthcoming with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), who describe themselves on their website as “the largest socialist organization in the United States.”  In his completed questionnaire for DSA, Elrich answered as follows to their questions on his membership and identification as a socialist.

Why are you soliciting Metro DC DSA’s endorsement for this office?

I am a member and have been impressed with Metro DC DSA’s work. A lot of my positions and values align closely with the positions and values of the organization. The organization has also been very effective recently in encouraging voter turnout and helping tenants and is gaining a reputation as a real force in progressive politics.

Do you identify as a democratic socialist?

Democratic socialism doesn’t have a hard and fast definition; I see it as a philosophy that envisions a more democratic society. I believe in democracy in both the political and economic spheres.

What does socialism mean now? We are living in the 21st century, and simply reducing political analysis to a debate between 18th century capitalism and 19th century Marxism doesn’t help us find solutions. There are ideas that have worked and have moved society forward that have evolved from both perspectives, as well as things that haven’t turned out so well from both. So a lot of the ideals of democratic socialism contribute to my thinking, but they don’t entirely define my thinking.

Are you a member of Democratic Socialists of America? If so, when did you join?

Yes; I joined many decades ago and was involved in both the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and New America Movement (NAM) stages of the organization.

It’s worth noting the history of the two organizations he cited in his response.  The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee was founded by socialist leader Michael Harrington, who personally identified with socialists like Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas but preached advocating for a socialist agenda inside the Democratic Party.  The New American Movement was an openly socialist group.  According to its Wikipedia entry:

In its early years, NAM shared much of the political framework of the New Communist Movement, but rejected the strategy of building a “vanguard party”, a position prominent NAM members defended in a debate in the pages of The Guardian. The organization was built around local groups called “chapters,” which emphasized Marxist study, discussion of contemporary issues, support of local labor actions, and work in the community to raise awareness.

These two socialist organizations combined to form DSA in 1982.

The Democratic Socialists of America don’t hide the fact that they are socialists.  They say it openly on their website.

Now let’s be fair.  Today’s American socialists have come a loooooong way since dialectical materialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.  Karl Marx wouldn’t recognize them as socialists.  Their platform is much closer to contemporary progressivism than to nineteenth century Marxism.  And like DSA’s co-founder, Michael Harrington, their agenda is not actual revolution but to join the Democratic Party and push it as far to the left as possible.  That’s a reasonable description of Marc Elrich’s three decades in public office and a big reason why he is so admired by many Montgomery County progressives.  In fact, if Elrich were to say in public that he has been a socialist organization member for decades, many of his supporters would probably love it and work even harder for him!

Elrich told Seventh State, “I don’t have a socialist agenda that I’m trying to bring here.”  Well, maybe.  A genuinely Marxist policy agenda would be precluded by federal and state law.  But Elrich’s socialist beliefs have manifested themselves at least twice during his time as a County Council Member.

First, he is arguably the strongest supporter of an indisputably socialist institution: the county’s liquor monopoly.  The notion that a county government should have a monopoly on the wholesale distribution of alcohol is about as socialist as one can get.  Not only is Elrich one of the monopoly’s biggest defenders – he actually accused restaurant owners who wanted freedom from it of “whining” and wanting to “steal everything.”  That got him banned from four restaurants that had protested the monopoly.  As a County Executive candidate, he promises to increase the monopoly’s sales, thereby expanding the reach of MoCo’s most prominent socialist institution.

Second, Elrich once recruited the socialist government of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to participate in providing county services.  In 2007, the Washington Post reported:

Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) invited Venezuela’s ambassador this month to meet community leaders and possibly get involved in funding local social programs, only to find himself yesterday at the center of a heated international political debate…

The visit, planned for Oct. 23, was conceived after Elrich met a representative from the embassy at a District rally to support domestic workers. They talked about poverty and the health-care needs of the county, and Elrich said the diplomat expressed interest in learning more about Montgomery’s community services.

In an e-mail to more than a dozen community leaders Tuesday, including to Leggett’s directors for economic development and health and human services, a legislative aide to Elrich described the visit as part of a “project currently underway to promote future socio-economic partnerships for the development of a common goal to address community needs.”

“The first step toward this goal is to convene a meeting to introduce the Ambassador” to the county and “to begin a dialogue on how to productively address those needs,” the e-mail said…

Talk of a visit was so potentially explosive that [County Executive Ike] Leggett issued a strongly worded statement from Israel. “We do not want to be involved in this visit. We are not involved with this visit,” he said. “Montgomery County can take care of its own problems. Thank you. No thank you.”

The visit did not happen and Elrich’s envisioned cooperation between the county and a socialist foreign government fell through.

Look folks, we respect Marc Elrich for having deeply held principles that have guided his political philosophy for many years.  Some politicians have no principles of any kind.  Elrich has deployed his on behalf of progressive causes like his signature minimum wage bills.  His supporters love him for that, and from their perspective, rightly so.  We have found him to be a creative, intelligent and thought-provoking Council Member.  And he deserves massive credit for authoring the county’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system ten years ago.  But Elrich has told “the largest socialist organization in the United States” that he is a member who “joined many decades ago.”  He put that in writing.

So why not just admit it to the rest of us?

Disclosure: the author wrote this in reply to Marc Elrich’s guest blog and supports Roger Berliner for Executive.


These Public Financing Candidates Are Done

By Adam Pagnucco.

Update: Even though the deadline is May 12, the State Board of Elections said on March 30 that they will allow a candidate to file for matching funds as late as tomorrow (May 15) provided that all qualifying contributions were received by May 12.  We will see if any of the above candidates file reports by tomorrow night.

Original Post: According to Montgomery County’s public campaign financing law, candidates have until 45 days before the primary election to qualify for public matching funds.  Since the primary is on June 26, the qualifying period ended on Saturday, May 12.  According to filings with the State Board of Elections, the following candidates did not qualify for matching funds by then and will not be receiving them.

Rosemary Arkoian – At-Large

Richard Banach – District 1

Craig Carozza-Caviness – At-Large

Bill Cook – District 1

Robin Ficker – County Executive

Lorna Phillips Forde – At-Large

Richard Gottfried – At-Large

Neil Greenberger – At-Large

Kevin Harris – District 5

Kenge Malikidogo-Fludd – District 5

Jim McGee – District 1

Melissa McKenna – At-Large

Darwin Romero – At-Large

In addition, Bethesda Magazine reported that these candidates were ruled ineligible for matching funds because their submissions to the State Board of Elections did not meet the thresholds of either in-county contributors or in-county money received to qualify.

Shruti Bhatnagar – At-Large

Loretta Garcia – At-Large

Paul Geller – At-Large

Michele Riley – At-Large

Tim Willard – At-Large

These eighteen candidates represent almost half of the thirty-eight active candidates in public financing.  Starved of resources and unable to get their messages out, none of them will be elected.


What the Post’s Endorsement of Blair Means

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post’s endorsement of businessman David Blair hit like a grenade this past weekend, blowing up the County Executive race.  What does it mean?

First, in reading the language of the Post’s endorsement, we are struck by how closely their views on the challenges facing the county resemble our own.  The majority of these opening three paragraphs mirror what we have been writing about the county economy for years.

These seem like boom times in Montgomery County, the mainly rich suburb that has absorbed roughly 100,000 new residents since 2010 to a population now approaching 1.1 million. Amazon (whose CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post) has shortlisted the county for its second corporate headquarters; construction cranes tower over Bethesda and Silver Spring; and the public school system, one of the nation’s largest, includes some of the best high schools anywhere.

That’s why it’s easy to overlook some ominous signs of fiscal and economic trouble ahead. A burgeoning population of retirees, immigrants and other less affluent residents has strained local resources and budgets. Those moving into the county tend to be poorer than those leaving. The chasm between economically prosperous pockets (such as the ones dominated by cranes) and stagnant ones is widening. Most worrying, business and job growth are anemic.

That’s the unsettling backdrop for the June 26 Democratic primary, which is likely to determine who will run the county for the next four years. County Executive Isiah Leggett, a deft and capable manager, is retiring after 12 years in the job (and no Republican has won an election in Montgomery since 2002). The central question is which of the candidates for county executive is most capable of juicing a sluggish commercial environment — the only way to broaden the local tax base so it can sustain the county’s excellent schools and progressive services.

The Post framed the election’s central question correctly.  And their policy view, clearly established in the language above, will no doubt influence their choices for County Council.  That said, they do not share your author’s view that governing experience is useful for addressing these challenges.  So be it.

The Post has a pretty good record in top-tier MoCo Democratic primaries.  They endorsed Chris Van Hollen (CD-8) in 2002, Ike Leggett (County Executive) in 2006 and 2014 and John Delaney (CD-6) in 2012.  They also endorsed Kathleen Matthews (CD-8) in 2016, who finished third.

Even so, the Post is not a king-maker; one of the good things about MoCo politics is that we have no king-makers here.  But their endorsement matters, especially when five candidates are vying to be the chief rival for Marc Elrich.  Consider what Roger Berliner (your author’s choice), Bill Frick or Rose Krasnow would have said if they had gotten the Post endorsement.  If Berliner had received it, he would have told non-Elrich voters, “I am the one who combines the Sierra Club, moderates, District 1 voters and now the Post.  I’m the alternative to Elrich.”  Frick would have said something similar while substituting realtors for the Sierra Club.  If Krasnow had received it, she would have said, “I am the only woman in a primary in which sixty percent of voters will be women and now I have the Post.  I’m the alternative to Elrich.”  None of these things can be said now.  All three lose the opportunity to leverage the Post endorsement to expand outside their geographic bases.

It is sometimes said that Elrich has a ceiling.  Some voters will find a decades-long socialist who equates transit-oriented development with ethnic cleansing and favors rent control unappealing.  But Blair has a ceiling too.  That was expressed by a commenter on Seventh State’s Facebook page who wrote, “I don’t want a businessman political newcomer who is trying to buy the election.”  Fair or not, that is a common sentiment among Democratic activists, and those who feel this way are not persuadable on this point.  Blair can send them thirty mailers and they won’t budge.  How many rank-and-file voters have this view?  David Trone, who shares this handicap, received 22% of MoCo’s vote in the 2016 Congressional District 8 race.  That’s an imperfect analogy because CD8 omits some relatively moderate areas in MoCo’s Upcounty and Trone was not talking about the unpopular nine percent property tax hike in his campaign.  Still, Blair will need more than 22% to win.

Besides Blair, the other big winner from the Post’s endorsement is Elrich.  Elrich has been crusading against rival candidates who have been supported by wealthy businessmen for years; now he gets an ACTUAL wealthy businessman as perhaps his chief opponent.  Elrich is no doubt rubbing his hands together in glee as his progressive hordes gird for battle against plutocracy.  His field coordinator must be dizzy with joy.

Both the Elrich and Blair campaigns need to consider the following question.  Which group is larger in the Democratic primary electorate: the people who believe that taxes have gone up but their service quality has not or the people in Elrich’s base?  If the former outnumber the latter – not an impossible prospect considering that a majority of Democrats voted for term limits two years ago – then maybe an outsider has a shot.  It would be totally unprecedented given that every prior MoCo Executive has had governing experience before assuming office.  But Robin Ficker winning a charter amendment vote by forty points was also unprecedented.

Thanks to the Post, a wild election has gotten a little wilder.  There are only forty-three days to go before this story reaches its momentous conclusion!


Realtors Endorse Frick, Council Candidates

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors (GCAAR) has endorsed the following candidates in MoCo races:

Bill Frick – County Executive

Gabe Albornoz, Marilyn Balcombe, Hoan Dang, Evan Glass – Council At-Large

Craig Rice – Council District 2

Sidney Katz – Council District 3

Nancy Navarro – Council District 4

Tom Hucker – Council District 5

No endorsement was made in Council District 1.

The Realtors are the most influential endorsing organization in MoCo’s business community because of their volume of activity at election time.  In 2014, they spent well into six figures on independent mail and PAC contributions.  Despite every one of their county-level candidates winning except District 5’s Evan Glass (who came close), their reward was a recordation tax hike that they bitterly opposed two years later.  Rarely has a group done so much and gotten so little in MoCo politics!

This time around, when they had a chance to oppose an incumbent who voted for the recordation tax hike, they did.  Council Members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Hans Riemer, all of whom are in contested races, were left off their list.  Rice, Navarro and Hucker have nominal opposition and are sure to be reelected.  Sidney Katz’s opponent, Ben Shnider, is running to his left and was probably not a realistic option.  The selection of Delegate Bill Frick for Executive, who is running scorching Facebook ads against the County Council, sends a message of discontent.

The big question now is how much the Realtors will do to support their candidates.  We are a little more than a month away from early voting.  Albornoz, Dang, Glass, Katz and Navarro are in public financing and cannot accept PAC checks.  After getting burned last time, will the Realtors sink six figures into mail again?  We will find out.  Meanwhile, the Washington Post endorsement looms.

We reprint the Realtors’ email below.