Category Archives: George Leventhal

Leventhal Blasts the Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

On the evening of October 20, a representative of Clark Enterprises (Bob Eisenberg) appeared before the Montgomery County Council to testify on the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan.  Clark has been involved in a dispute with its next-door neighbor, fellow developer Brookfield Properties, over Brookfield’s plan to erect a new building on top of the Bethesda Metro Station.  Clark hired PR firm KOFA Public Affairs to wage a campaign to block the new building that accused Council Members of being tools of developers and criticized their salaries.  Accordingly, we labeled it “The Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time” since even dimwitted lobbyists understand that elected officials don’t respond well to attacks on their integrity.

Above is the reaction of Council Member George Leventhal to KOFA’s insult-laden campaign.  Hide the children, folks!

 

Two Myths About Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

The fight over whether term limits should apply to Montgomery County elected officials is now underway, and that’s even before political heckler Robin Ficker has submitted his signatures for his proposed charter amendment.  Supporters and opponents are offering arguments for their point of view, some with merit and some without.  Today we will take down one of the most prominent arguments from each side.

1.  Term Limits are Needed to Create Competition

The historical record shows plenty of competition for elected office in Montgomery County.  It just doesn’t happen to be the kind of competition that some term limits supporters want.

Since charter government was established in 1970, there has been one Republican County Executive (Jim Gleason, the first to hold that office) and three Republican Council Members (District 1’s Betty Ann Krahnke and Howard Denis and District 2’s Nancy Dacek).  The other county elected officials have all been Democrats.  But there has been substantial competition among the Democrats over the years, including the Neal Potter vs. Sidney Kramer factions in the 1980s and early 1990s and the competing council slates in 2002.

Below are the election results over the last six cycles.

MoCo Elections 1994-2014

Incumbents were reelected 42 times and lost 6 times.  It’s important to note that two of those six losses were by Republicans in general elections: Dacek (2002) and Denis (2006).  Including them, incumbents had a win rate of 88%.

But when you count the open seats (15 of them including three special elections), newcomers filled seats one-third of the time.  That’s plenty of turnover and FAR more than Congress.  Ficker’s objection is that Democrats replace other Democrats, and term limits won’t change that.

2.  Term Limits Supporters are Similar to Brexit Voters

This is an argument made by four-term council incumbent George Leventhal, who has called term limits “a dumb, unnecessary protest gesture” and compared supporters to Brexit voters.  Leventhal has also noted that Help Save Maryland, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a “nativist extremist” group, has gathered signatures for the charter amendment.  This is a clear attempt to marginalize term limits supporters and paint them as pawns of racist xenophobes.

There are two problems with this argument.  First, if Ficker, Help Save Maryland and the county GOP were the only people in favor of term limits, they would have absolutely no chance of passage.  So why are Council Members like Leventhal so worried about it?  The answer is that he and other opponents know the issue is getting broader traction.  Second, the motivations of supporters are almost entirely local ones.  Consider the following groups who might be tempted to back term limits.

People Who Object to the Giant Tax Hike

The nine percent property tax hike is extremely unpopular, unnecessarily large, and could not have come at a worse time.  If term limits becomes a proxy vote on whether the Giant Tax Hike should have gone through – and Ficker is doing everything in his power to link the issues – term limits will pass by a mile.

Business People

Business owners and managers have been complaining incessantly about the difficulty of doing business in Montgomery County for many years.  Passage of repeated tax hikes along with progressive legislation that increases the cost of doing business feeds into their unhappiness.  Then there are the restaurants and retailers who are forced to do business with the county’s incompetent Department of Liquor Control.  Term limits seem like a good idea to some of them!

County Employees

First, the County Council abrogated the county employee unions’ collective bargaining agreements .  Next, the council introduced legislation to weaken their ability to negotiate.  Some in labor are furious and there is even a chance that one or more unions could SUPPORT term limits.

One thing that many people outside labor don’t understand is that unions are political organizations.  Local union leaders are elected by their members every three years.  Each union has to deal with internal discussions, occasional disagreements and even dissent.  Members have expectations of service and performance, and when they are not met, there can be consequences.  When an employer rubs a union leader’s face in the bitter mud of defeat, that leader must fight back or risk being seen as weak.  And if such a leader tells members that term limits are the only way to defend their rights in the workplace, a lot of those members are going to listen.

Non-Democrats and Moderate Democrats

Republicans and unaffiliated voters have long been on the outside looking in at county politics.  But many moderate Democrats, especially those far away from the liberal precincts near the Beltway, don’t feel adequately represented either.  True or not, comments about “Takoma Park liberals” dominating county government are not unheard of, even among Democrats.  The county Democratic Party’s rank-and-file is more ideologically diverse than its elected leadership, and if the leaders don’t do things to keep moderates on board (like limit the size of tax hikes), they will lose some of them to the likes of Governor Larry Hogan and even to the cause of term limits.

Note the common thread of the concerns held by the above groups: none of them are linked to racism, xenophobia or political extremism.  Whether they are right or wrong, all are rooted in local issues and many are in line with these folks’ self-interest.

In general, it’s a REALLY bad idea to call voters “dumb” even if sometimes there’s a little bit of truth in it.  If that’s the argument that term limits opponents use, term limits will DEFINITELY pass.

Leventhal Says Leggett “Grandstanding” with Redskins Resolution

Grandstanding–Not by Leggett–Begins at 1:04

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is considering asking the County Council to pass a resolution urging the Washington Redskins to change their name. The D.C. City Council has already passed a resolution declaring it “racist and derogatory.”

County Council President George Leventhal thinks it’s a bad idea, as he explained in this response to a constituent who wrote him on the issue:

“Your comparison to the civil rights struggle is, I think, inapt,” Leventhal wrote back Nov. 8. “Those who were in a position to change the law and enact civil rights protections had the moral obligation to do so. The Montgomery County Council has no authority over the names of NFL teams. If we were to pass a resolution like the one that passed the D.C. Council earlier this week, its effect would be only hortatory and would be perceived by many as grandstanding.”

Where to begin?

Symbolism Matters

The Council and the County engage in many actions that are symbolic. In this case, the statement would be a powerful one not just because Montgomery is home to many Washington football fans but because Dan Snyder lives and grew up here. It would speak loudly that the elected representatives in his hometown believe that the moral and the right thing to do is to change the name.

Consider just one example of the importance of symbolic actions highlighted in a press release from the County Council: “recognition” of the start of Lunar New Year:

“I am delighted to be joining with my friends and leaders in the Asian American community to recognize Asian Lunar New Year,” said Council President George Leventhal. “Montgomery County’s diversity is its strength, and one of the best parts of my job is being able to share in these celebrations.”

The County Council passed legislation in 2006 making Lunar New Year a day of commemoration to recognize the significant contributions Asian Americans have made in the County. Approximately 14 percent of Montgomery County’s population is Asian American.

Too bad for Native Americans that they compose only 0.7 percent of Montgomery’s population.

Hortatory and Grandstanding

Let’s next get the obvious out of the way: George Leventhal is no stranger to hortatory and grandstanding. Infamously so. More than any other elected official in Montgomery, George is renowned for his bursts of temper, lecturing and posturing in public and private. The clip above from the Washington Post is one example (see George unable to help himself starting at 1:04).

Whether it is what allows him to accomplish his goals or impedes him from being as effective or successful as he might like, many people in the County have seen or experienced it. Indeed, as in the above example, it often elides into bullying from exhortation or grandstanding.

Has George Leventhal Ever Met Ike Leggett?

For those of you less familiar with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, who recently began his third term, allow me to explain that most of his speeches and actions are political oatmeal: reasonably satisfying and nothing that upsets the stomach.

While he has often been called highly cautious and prudent–and criticized at times for being overly so–I have never heard anyone ever describe the County Executive’s actions as “hortatory” or “grandstanding.” I heard him once get mildly exercised about Maintenance of Effort for a minute at a Committee for Montgomery breakfast but the moment passed.

Let me suggest that this is not accidental.

Notwithstanding the election of President Barack Obama, the election of African Americans from jurisdictions that do not have either a black majority or a combined black and Latino majority remains relatively rare. (If you go on researchgate.net, you can find some of my own publications on the topic.)

Unfortunately, the same actions that might be labelled as passionate or firm leadership by a white politicians have sometimes been stereotyped as angry and hostile when done by a black politician. Disciplined, successful African-American politicians who achieve high levels of non-black support tend to stay away from actions that could be perceived as hectoring or confrontational.

As a result, no one has ever confused Ike Leggett with H. Rap Brown. The payoff has been high: Ike Leggett is not just the County’s first African-American County Executive. He is one of Montgomery’s most successful politicians ever. Full stop. But no one views him as “hortatory” or “grandstanding.”

There is a reason that the Post has never run a clip of Ike like the one of George. It doesn’t exist.

 

Leventhal Throws Elrich Off PHED Committee

The Washington Post reported previously on Councilmember George Leventhal’s desire to exact revenge for Marc Elrich’s support for Beth Daly in the Democratic Primary. And now Leventhal, the new Council President, has defenestrated Elrich from the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development (PHED) Committee, a powerful committee at the heart of Councilmember Elrich’s interests and desire to promote public transit in MoCo.

In this year’s elections, Elrich came in first in the primary and the general election. Leventhal came in fourth in the primary and third in the general election. Perhaps Jonathan Shurberg best captured social media reaction with his Facebook comment: “Not even to the start of the term and the knives are out. Unbelievable.

UPDATE on Leventhal Post

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal gave me a call because he wanted to set the record straight on two things regarding my earlier post today. They’re not about the video of the budget hearing at the top of the post but two other issues mentioned in the final paragraph.

SEIU Endorsement Interview

George says it’s categorically untrue that he was asked to leave his interview with SEIU. In his view, all of the endorsement conversations with the unions were tough but this just didn’t happen. Based on additional information, I have little reason to doubt George’s word. Even Lou Peck’s highly negative reportage does not say George was ejected.

CASA Criticism

Additionally, George also says he was being very careful not to criticize CASA during the budget hearings and that also didn’t happen. The hearing mentioned here occurred on April 10th in advance of CASA’s endorsement . Rather than debate or assess its contents, I thought I’d post it here so anyone reading can make their own judgement. It was a hearing for the Health and Human Services Committee on the FY15 Operating Budget held on April 10th.

Source: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/council/OnDemand/index.html and click on committee worksessions and then click on “video” for the one of HHS on April 10th starting around 1:08.

Leventhal Loses It

Watch. My thoughts below.

The Washington Post is highlighting George Leventhal’s loss of temper on May 6th when he hectored Office of Management and Budget Director Jennifer Hughes from the dais at a Montgomery County Council hearing.

Frustratingly, the Post doesn’t say what it is about–the County’s outdated and unsupported computer system–but it almost doesn’t matter. The optics are terrible. In the clip, George loses control as he disrespectfully berates the Budget Director. At one point, he says he doesn’t like her “body language.”

While undoubtedly not giving the answers he wants to hear, the Director testified professionally. No one will like how George looks here but my guess is women will hate it. Viscerally.

As I mentioned in my write-up on the at-large Council race, George “is perceived as quick to anger and express disdain.” Apparently, he is still teed off at CASA and criticized them during a budget hearing. George was asked to leave his candidate endorsement interview with SEIU because he was being belligerent.

At-Large MoCo Council Race, Pt. II

leventhalGeorge Leventhal

In a post a little over two weeks ago, I gave an overview of the race for the four at-large Montgomery County Council seats with a focus on the two safer incumbents, Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen. Today, I take a look at one of the two other incumbents: George Leventhal.

George’s problems remain similar to four years ago when he came in fourth. They are not particularly issue related. Yes, he’s in the soup with the government employee unions but that places him in good company with the entire Council.

In general, George has married successfully popular progressive positions on many issues, such as an increase in the minimum wage, with unflinching support for developers, viewing strong economic growth as benefiting the County’s tax base and working people more generally.

George is a smart and active councilmember. However, he just doesn’t brook disagreement well, and is perceived as quick to anger and express disdain. Most recently, he publicly berated CASA after it did not endorse him. He is also perceived as not especially sympathetic to the western half of the County.

But I don’t know that this is a critical problem. First, George is also rumored to be funny and charming at times in a way that is as genuine as his less pleasant moments. His amusing Facebook posts about why you should get one of his yard signs attest to that.

Second, any resentment generated within the echo chamber of Montgomery’s political chattering classes only matters if it costs him too many supporters. While it weakens George, I don’t think he has become as politically toxic as Duchy Trachtenberg four years ago. Even if George creates unnecessary enemies and makes it harder to repair disagreement, he also unquestionably has strong advocates.

In short, while George may be vulnerable, he is also in good shape in many ways, including well-funded.

Next up: Hans Riemer.

Leventhal Slams CASA

casa logo

The Washington Post reports that dealing with negative impacts of the Purple Line on low-income people is CASA’s biggest priority and the lack of concern with these issues cost incumbent Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen the organization’s support:

CASA ‘s biggest priority in Montgomery at the moment is the Purple Line’s potential threat to affordable housing and minority-owned small businesses in communities such as Long Branch. In CASA’s assessment, they weren’t there with them. . . .

CASA and other groups are worried that gentrification, triggered by escalating real estate values along the route, will price Latinos out of the community.

“George’s perception is that any discussion of equity around the Purple Line undermines its chances of going forward,” Propeack said.

George responded less than tactfully:

“My impression is that they’re trying to insult me,” Leventhal said. He added: “I do think CASA sometimes loses sight of the fact that the primary beneficiaries of the Purple Line will be Latinos. It will be of enormous benefit to workers who will have greater access to jobs. I guess they think transit is bad for communities.”

This quote exhibits George’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. He is fervent in his causes and makes cogent arguments for them. At the same time, he often acts in ways that express disdain for people who disagree with him and build barriers rather than friends. This case is especially telling because of his past very close relationship with CASA and his genuine, strong support for Latinos.

Nancy also made a statement to the reporter:

Floreen said she couldn’t say what happened.

“I have no idea. These are folks with their own agenda. They’re all advocates for something or other.”

Whether you agree with her or not, Nancy is opinionated, informed, and smart as a whip. But when I read this, it sounded like the least sensible quote ever from Nancy Floreen. Of course, they have an agenda. They’re an interest group.

However, interviews are long and quotes are short, so I gave Nancy a call. Her assessment has more sang-froid than George’s:

It’s their assessment of the politics of the situation. I’ve always supported them and their interests in the past and will continue to do so in the future whether or not they endorse me.

Essentially, they’re an interest group with their own goals they will do what they will do. A smart response as it leaves doors open, doesn’t alienate, or give the story more traction.