Category Archives: George Leventhal

Does George Leventhal have the Temperament to be County Executive?

I had planned to continue my Playing Trump’s Game series today but apparently 7S became the subject of controversy on WAMU. Tom Sherwood raised the issue of George Leventhal’s temperament on WAMU’s The Politics Hour last Friday. Councilmember George Leventhal (D-AL) reacted by blaming Seventh State:

Um, you know I gotta say that I think the issue of the Purple Line is a very important issue. There is at least one blogger who has written about an encounter with the unions who is very much opposed to the Purple Line. We don’t have a lot of local journalism. I’m grateful to the Politics Hour, so people rely on bloggers who may have an ax to grind. I think people have written things about me who disagree with me on issues who then try to characterize me in a way that makes me seem an undesirable candidate. And I think with that gentleman in particular, it’s really that we just disagree on the merits of the Purple Line.

Yep, George Leventhal and I disagreed about the Purple Line. Indeed, I disagreed with the entire county council, almost all of our state legislative delegation, and many good friends on this issue. None of these other people have claimed that I have an ax to grind against them. This a red herring–a classic effort to distract.

Debate on policy questions is normal in a diverse, democratic society. My friend and co-blogger, Adam Pagnucco, disagrees with me on a bunch of issues. Seventh State has had blog posts that directly argue against my own point of view, including on the Purple Line compact and a Planning Board appointment. I even did a blog post giving George Leventhal’s point of view on the issue he mentioned in his WAMU comments with no rebuttal.

Councilmember Leventhal’s problem is not his issue positions, which differ little from his colleagues on many issues, or even that he frequently butts heads with his colleagues or media critics. It’s that he targets his own constituents and people who work for the County.

Clips from Council meetings show this plainly:

Berating Office of Management and Budget Director Jennifer Hughes from the dais at a Council hearing.

Attacking constituents as tools of lobbyists (with responses by Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice).

Unfortunately, this is not rare and Councilmember Leventhal developed a widespread reputation as a result long before I wrote about it. He takes the same approach on social media and in meetings as he does from the Council dais, comparing term limits supporters to Brexit voters, and likening DLC opponents to whiners at Starbucks. This hostility is why he performed less well than other incumbents in the last two at-large county Democratic primaries despite his long tenure in office.

In the same WAMU interview, Councilmember Leventhal went on to excuse any bad behavior with:

I’m motivated to make a difference for people who most need government on their side.

In other words, George cares so much that it’s okay that he behaves atrociously. There is a difference between standing firm for what you believe and bullying people.

Other politicians manage to have an impact without acting this way. Councilmember Leventhal says he knows that “I need to be a good listener” and “I respect the fact that people will not always agree with me.” But he regularly communicates hostility instead of the idea that reasonable people of goodwill may hold different opinions on issues. It’s not a one off or a bad day.

George Leventhal has trolled David Trone, a potential candidate for county executive, by comparing him to Donald Trump. Ironically, his own efforts to delegitimize media critics and belittle constituents who disagree are the hallmarks of the Trump Administration.

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Translating George Leventhal

Our county needs new leadership.

Please ignore that I was elected to the first of four terms on the County Council in 2002, and served twice as Council President.

We need an executive who plays a hands-on role . . .

I don’t like Ike Leggett.

. . . in addressing the challenges that we face [traffic, school overcrowding, and affordable housing] and who also understands that the challenges that we face are connected to our success.

Please forget that these same problems existed when I joined the Council 15 years ago. Their continuation is due to the amazing job that I’ve done addressing them.

We have a lot of traffic and we need to address that.

Please ignore that I was elected as part of the End Gridlock slate in 2002. (In 2002, End Gridlock flyers declared “our citizens are drowning in traffic” and promised “bold action now.”)

We do need to meet each of these challenges and I’ve worked on all of them for fifteen years as a councilmember and I think I have a good understanding of the leadership that’s necessary to take us into the next decade.

Please ignore what I just said. Our county needs experienced leadership.

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Leventhal Qualifies for Public Financing

Council Member George Leventhal, who is running for County Executive, has announced that he has qualified for matching funds in the county’s public financing program.  Following is his press release.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

George Leventhal First to Announce He Has Achieved Initial Fundraising Target Under County’s Public Campaign Finance Law

Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large), a candidate for Montgomery County Executive, announced today that his campaign has collected more than 500 contributions from Montgomery County residents, totaling more than $40,000. Once the contributions have been certified by the Maryland State Board of Elections, Leventhal’s campaign will be eligible for more than $180,000 from the Public Campaign Fund.

“The support of hundreds of my constituents means so much to me, and I am humbled and grateful,” Leventhal said. “I am an enthusiastic participant in the Clean Money program that the County Council enacted in 2013. Our constituents want to know that elected officials are accountable to them, not subject to the influence of big money. The Clean Money program maximizes the power of small contributions from individual donors.”

Under the public campaign finance law, a candidate for County Executive qualifies for matching funds after receiving at least 500 contributions totaling at least $40,000 from county residents. Contributions are matched under the following schedule: first $50 is matched 6×1; second $50 is matched 4×1; third $50 is matched 2×1. This results in a $50 donation becoming $350, a $100 donation becoming $600 and a $150 donation becoming $750. Candidates for County Council may also participate in the program and are eligible for smaller amounts of matching funds.

Candidates who voluntarily participate in the program must limit contributions to no more than $150 per individual and may not accept contributions from PACs, corporations or labor unions.

The first date on which contributions may be submitted to the Maryland State Board of Elections for a determination of eligibility for matching funds is July 4, 2017.

“As your next County Executive, I will provide government that works for you and provides results,” Leventhal added. “In keeping with the accountability and transparency that will characterize my work, I will release the names of all contributors as soon as they are certified by the Maryland State Board of Elections.”

Leventhal officially announced his candidacy for County Executive at a kickoff in Wheaton Regional Park on Saturday, June 24, but he has been raising qualifying contributions since October, 2016.

First elected to the County Council in November, 2002, Leventhal was re-elected in 2006, 2010 and 2014. His colleagues elected him twice as Council President, in 2006 and 2015. He has served since 2002 as chairman of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee.

###

Contact:

Jessica Moore, Campaign Director

George Leventhal for Montgomery County

301-580-4517

Jessica@GeorgeLeventhal.com

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George Leventhal Validates Doug Duncan Criticism in Real Time

Yesterday, Maryland Matters published an interview with former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan sizing up the candidates for county executive that included the following comment on Councilmember George Leventhal:

Hours later the same day:

This is not the first time that George attempted to delegitimize his opponents rather than to engage substantively on the policy issue. George could have reiterated policy arguments for the Purple Line, discussed the damage in the delay of decision, or disputed the legal reasoning.

Instead, he took a shot at the participation of people standing up for their viewpoint as to what is best for their community. This line of attack is particularly odd since the other side is supported by the weight of the State, the County, the FTA, and the wealthy development community. Regardless, it is unusual to see a politician bemoan their constituents’ participation in the process.

Not for George. Consider the Council debate in 2013 about the rezoning of a property in Aspen Hill to accommodate Walmart. After ritualistically claiming to value their participation, he denigrates them as rubes manipulated by the property owner, saying among other things:

I do hope someone will ask who paid for the signs. Who gave them to you?

Who will pay for those signs next? And who will hire the lobbyists to distribute those signs next?

I guess I better print up some signs and hire a lobbyist to get 30 people to sit in an audience and say “What’s the wait!”

Watch for yourself:

In the wake of George Leventhal’s comments, Council Chairwoman Nancy Navarro felt compelled to commend the participation of the people who came up from Aspen Hill. Councilmember Craig Rice made the same point even more forcefully:

I apologize for what you just heard. The assumption that somehow by holding a sign that someone might’ve given you means that you don’t have a voice, that you don’t have your own opinion, that you just happened to just roll down the street sand somebody said “hey, take this sign and come into the County Council Building ’cause you don’t have anything else to do.” It’s disrespectful. [applause]

I guess we need to warn the PTA when they come and they have their pre-printed signs, we need to warn Moving Maryland Forward, or the Purple Line Coalition, or Wheaton Moving Forward. We need to warn everybody not to have pre-printed signs because that automatically means that your voice isn’t your voice, it’s somebody else’s.  Well, I don’t agree, and I think that you being here is enough of a word that says that you care about what happens in your community, and that’s enough for me!

Amen.

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Leventhal Trolls Trone

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member George Leventhal, who is running for County Executive, is running the ad below on Facebook.  While ostensibly directed at President Donald Trump, it’s an obvious shot at a possible campaign opponent, Total Wine co-owner David Trone.

Leventhal has gone after Trone before, blasting him for illegal campaign signs and corporate contributions.  The latter charge is ironic considering Leventhal’s taking of more than $300,000 in corporate contributions over the last three cycles.

Negative campaigning has a long, LONG history in Montgomery County.  But it’s a bit unusual to target a person who is not yet officially running.  In any event, it is now crystal clear that if David Trone does run for Executive, George Leventhal will be ready.

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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