Category Archives: George Leventhal

The Executive Contest is a Two-Candidate Race

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post recently published an article declaring that the contest to succeed County Executive Ike Leggett was seen as “anybody’s race.”  Pshaw!  One of two candidates will win it.  One of them is Council Member Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two Council At-Large primaries and is nearly sweeping progressive endorsements.  The other is…

We don’t know yet.  And we don’t know if we ever will.

During the 2016 Congressional District 8 race, your author called up one of the smartest people in state politics we know.  This fellow lives outside MoCo but he tracks all parts of the state and has sources everywhere.  When we asked him who was going to win, he said, “When I talk to the various campaigns, all of them say they’re gonna be the last one at the end along with Jamie Raskin.  When I hear that over and over, when I see that they all think that Jamie is the man to beat, that leads me to think Jamie will win.”  That dynamic is going on now in the Executive race.

Elrich’s long-time message combining opposition to development with far-left progressivism has earned him an overlapping base of land-use voters, liberals and Downcounty residents, especially in and near Takoma Park, where he served 19 years on the City Council.  In the 2014 Council At-Large race, Elrich finished first in every council district except 2 (where he finished second to Nancy Floreen) and first or second in every local area in the county except Damascus and Laytonsville.  He finished first in 138 of 251 precincts.  In the 2010 Council At-Large race, Elrich finished first in all five council districts and in every local area in the county except Cabin John, Damascus, Darnestown and Laytonsville.  He finished first in 166 of 243 precincts.  No other MoCo politician running for county office in this cycle has a base of this kind.

How did he assemble it?  For many years, Elrich has been assisting residents who oppose master plans all over the county.  And whether they won or lost, those development opponents came away from the fight with Elrich as their hero.  Here is an illustration: an email sent out by the East Bethesda Citizens Association on 6/2/16, on the eve of the council’s consideration of the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan, describing their meeting with Elrich and calling for action:

A year later, Elrich cast the lone vote against that master plan as he has with several other plans.  This plan’s opponents have now been incorporated into Elrich’s base – assuming they were not part of it already.

While other candidates struggle to attract volunteers, Elrich’s volunteer base is well established.  In 2014, the campaigns of Elrich and his ally, Beth Daly, posted poll coverage sign-ups on Signupgenius.com.  They were able to recruit coverage on 67 precincts, many on more than one shift, with particular strength in the voter-rich areas of Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Leisure World.  No one other than the Apple Ballot could touch this.  Now that he is running for the county’s highest office, how many precincts will Elrich be able to cover?

Among the influencers and highly informed activists, this election is rapidly becoming defined by whether you’re with Elrich or not.  If you don’t believe us, check out the Council District 1 candidates.  They’re an interesting group that collectively spans the differences of opinions in the county district containing the most Democrats.  Bethesda Magazine reporter Andrew Metcalf asked them during a recent debate for whom each was going to vote in the Executive election.  After significant prodding, here’s how the candidates responded:

Bill Cook – would vote for Marc Elrich

Pete Fosselman – undecided; wouldn’t vote for Elrich

Andrew Friedson – undecided; disinclined to vote for Elrich

Ana Sol Gutierrez – torn between Elrich and George Leventhal

Jim McGee – would probably vote for Elrich

Reggie Oldak – refused to say; would not vote for Elrich

Dalbin Osorio – would vote for Elrich

Meredith Wellington – undecided

All of the non-Elrich candidates have potential as well as challenges.  Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal are running on their experience and qualifications.  (Disclosure: your author respects both but supports Berliner.)  Berliner is trying to get known outside his council district and Leventhal has been severely out-polled by Elrich in the last two elections.  Delegate Bill Frick, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and businessman David Blair are the fresh faces.  But they are little-known in most parts of the county and Blair started as a complete unknown.  All of these candidates have a long way to go and each of them is in the others’ way.

To contrast with Elrich effectively, a non-Elrich candidate needs to hit this sweet spot dead-on: “We live in a great county, but we can be even better.  Here are some ways we can improve.”  That involves a bit of threading the needle for the two council incumbents.  It’s understandable that they might react to critiques of the county’s economic performance as criticism of their records, but they should think of it like this: every Executive leaves unfinished business for the next Executive.  Ike Leggett inherited his share of problems from Doug Duncan, who in turn inherited some issues from Neal Potter.  This is entirely normal, so who is the best choice to lead in the future?  As for the non-incumbents, they aggressively point to the need to improve, but they tend not to have many specific proposals to get better because they don’t know the history and operations of county government as well as the two Council Members.  To be fair, how could they?  If no one hits this sweet spot, that leaves Elrich as the only candidate with a crystal-clear message that is distinct from the others.  Those who hear Elrich’s message and agree with it are less likely to peel off to someone else than tentative supporters of the other candidates who might change their preferences between them.

One more thing: we wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all, of the non-Elrich candidates have polled.  If so, they all probably found similar results.  And so they could all tailor their messages in similar ways and maybe even say the exact same things.  That would blur the differences between them and make Elrich stand out even more.  This may already be happening as Berliner, Blair and Frick all repeatedly mentioned “innovation” at last Friday’s Executive forum.  Was that a coincidence?

If questioned privately, we bet all of the non-Elrich candidates would grudgingly admit that it’s a problem that five of them are in the race.  Each of them wants to be the person who gets to take on Elrich one-on-one.  So each of the five is looking at the others and saying, “If YOU all get out of the way, I can beat Elrich.”  But no one is dropping out because they all think they have a shot.  The big winner from this is – you guessed it – Marc Elrich.

One non-Elrich candidate needs to emerge from the pack and consolidate everyone that is not in Elrich’s camp.  If that happens, Elrich is beatable.  But if nothing changes and this election continues down the path it is on, Elrich will win with less than 40% of the vote.

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Executive Candidates React to Sage Consulting Report on MoCo Economy

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last Friday, the candidates for County Executive attended a forum to discuss a report by Sage Consulting listing numerous problems with the county’s economy.  Afterwards, most of the Executive candidates commented on the report and on the economy more generally via email and social media.  Their responses say a lot about which ones take the economy seriously, an issue that has drawn much attention from Seventh State.

Council Member Roger Berliner (whom your author supports) sent out this email over the weekend.

Our county has serious work to do to improve our business climate, diversify our economy, and increase the number of good jobs. It must be Priority #1 if we are going to be able to meet the needs of our school system, reduce congestion, invest in public safety, and protect our environment.

I have a record that I am proud of on improving our economy and a vision for our future that you can read about here. Some of my competitors have records too. Others have just words. It’s important to consider what we have done in pursuit of increasing prosperity, not just what we say we will do.

My record includes leading the successful effort to reduce our energy tax three years in a row; creating the small business navigator and a micro-loan program to help our local small businesses and entrepreneurs thrive; and playing a leading role in our Amazon bid. My vision is of a forward leaning county that embraces innovation, education geared towards the jobs of tomorrow, and vibrant urban centers served by state-of-the-art transit.

Yesterday, a consultant tasked with assessing our business climate and outlook, issued a scathing report. It highlighted one startling statistic: that “between 2011 and 2016, the number of [business] establishments in Montgomery County increased by 6, or roughly the population of businesses at a strip mall.” The report concludes that “Montgomery County therefore desperately needs to step up efforts to expand its commercial tax base.” You will get no debate from me on that point.

At the same time, the report declares:

This should not be mistaken for an assertion that Montgomery County is anything other than the finest possible location for Amazon HQ2. It will be difficult for Amazon to identify an area that is as open to new ideas, offers such abundant human capital, is as saturated with transportation options, supports such high quality public education, is as institutionally rich, and is as committed to shared prosperity as Montgomery County, MD.

So, while it is true that we have our challenges, challenges that must be met head-on, it is also true that we have extraordinary assets and a quality of life to match. I will build on our assets as your next County Executive, work diligently to improve our business climate, and am 100% committed to expanding a “shared prosperity.”

Life is good in Montgomery County, but we can make it better still. That’s my goal: a “more perfect” Montgomery County.

In service,

Roger Berliner

Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) sent out this email hours after the Executive forum ended.

Something doesn’t add up. How does a county with our talent, our people, our great public schools and our values lag behind the rest of our region in job growth and economic development? How is it that private sector employment has declined by 12,500 jobs from 2006 to 2016? How is it that, during that same time period, Montgomery County created on net just six new businesses?

The answer is clear. As I told the Montgomery County Business Roundtable earlier today, it is our political culture. My opponents have built a political culture in Montgomery County that doesn’t want to work with businesses to thrive and grow here in our County.  And if we elect someone to be County Executive who is part of that culture, things will not get better for business.

I am an outsider to Montgomery County Government and yet I have real governmental leadership experience as the Majority Leader of Maryland’s General Assembly. I have the relationships in Annapolis that can help our County. But since I am not a multi-millionaire, and unlike three of my opponents, I am not spending your taxpayer dollars to fund my campaign, I need your help to communicate with Montgomery County residents who deserve leadership that the current members of the County Council will not provide.

Montgomery County is an awesome place to live. It’s why I’m raising my two children here and sending them to our public schools. But we have a problem, and that is that we must reform in order to create new private sector jobs and increase our tax base. We have to focus on the core functions of county government – education, public safety, and transportation – and those need to be our priorities for our budget. Our County Government does not need to be in the liquor business, a failed venture that is hurting our food culture to the benefit of downtown DC restaurants. We have to have a culture of ‘yes’ in county government so that we are trying to find reasons to say yes to businesses rather than find reasons to say no.

Sincerely,

Bill

Former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow ran this Facebook ad.

David Blair commented on Twitter.

Council Member George Leventhal commented on Facebook.

We are not aware of Council Member Marc Elrich commenting via email, Facebook or Twitter.

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Leventhal Poll Shows Wide Open Executive Race

By Adam Pagnucco.

Council Member George Leventhal, who is running for County Executive, has released an internal poll from Celinda Lake’s firm showing a wide open race.  The poll surveyed 400 likely voters with a margin of error of 4.9 points.  We reprint the three-page polling memo below and have a few comments following.

 

So what can be gleaned from this?

First, voters aren’t paying attention yet.  No candidate draws more than 11% support in the first run of questions and undecided gets 58%.

Second, the margin of error (4.9 points) matters.  In the first run, that means there is no statistically significant difference between the six candidates.  For example, Bill Frick polls at 2% but, with the margin of error, could be at 6.9%.  Marc Elrich polls at 11% but, with the margin of error, could be at 6.1%.  In effect, no one is leading.

Third, even with the “engaged communications” part of the poll, Leventhal is still within the margin of error against Elrich.  As for the “final ballot” that shows Leventhal blowing out the rest of the field, it appears to depend on giving respondents additional information on Leventhal and not on the other candidates.  It “simulates Leventhal having a resources and communications advantage” that does not exist.  At the moment, he will be fifth in cash on hand once the latest public matching funds are disbursed.

Could Leventhal win?  Sure, it’s possible.  He is a four-term incumbent, a former chair of the county Democratic Party, has a geographically diverse base of small contributions and is working as hard as any candidate in the county.

But the simulations showing Leventhal leading the field right now reek of spin.  Voters aren’t fully engaged yet and no one other than David Blair has started mailing regularly and going on television.  We believe the poll’s real message, which is that no one has wrapped up this election quite yet.

Disclosure: the author is a publicly-listed supporter of Roger Berliner.

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Krasnow to Pass Leventhal in Cash Balance

By Adam Pagnucco.

Tracking fundraising for publicly financed candidates is challenging because it is a moving target.  Unlike traditional candidates, who file according to the state’s regular reporting schedule, publicly financed candidates report whenever they ask for public contributions in addition to scheduled filings.  So at any one time, the latest tabulations are snapshots taken at different dates.  With all of that said, the latest reports for County Executive candidates show two things.  First, Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, both of whom have been involved in local politics for decades, have done very well in public financing.  But second, former Rockville Mayor and planning staffer Rose Krasnow, who started much later than either of them, is about to pass Leventhal in cash balance.

In explaining the above statement, let’s review how to read campaign finance reports.  Candidates in the traditional system report the equivalent of a cash flow statement.  They list a starting cash balance, money coming in, money going out and an ending cash balance.  That’s it.  Publicly financed candidates list those things too, but they also report the amount of new public contributions they are requesting.  Those contributions have not been received and are thus not part of the ending cash balance.  They might show up on the next statement, provided that the state approves the requested contribution and does not change the amount.  (In fact, the state can and does change requested public contributions after reviewing them and even sometimes disqualifies them.)

On March 6, Krasnow reported a cash balance of $41,668 and had two outstanding requests for public contributions totaling $245,794.  If those requests are met, her cash balance will be $287,462 (minus any future spending).  On March 20, Leventhal reported a cash balance of $198,585 and had two outstanding requests for public contributions totaling $53,500.  If those requests are met, his cash balance will be $252,085 (minus any future spending).  In other words, Krasnow is on pace to have roughly $35,000 more in the bank than Leventhal.

We show the latest financial standings for all seven Executive candidates below.  Note the differences in last date filed.

There are two reasons why Krasnow is about to pass Leventhal in cash balance.  First, she qualified for public funds in 109 days, much faster than either Leventhal (278 days) or Elrich (209 days).  Second, she has not started to spend serious money yet.  Her burn rate (total spent divided by total raised) is just 9%.  Leventhal’s burn rate is 48%, meaning that he has spent almost half the money he has raised.  Leventhal has raised more money than Krasnow and has a much more geographically diverse base of support.  But his decision to spend big early has allowed Krasnow to vault past him in just five months.

Meanwhile, Marc Elrich keeps chugging along.  He is dominating in small contributions from the critical Democratic Crescent area and is cleaning up on progressive endorsements.  He has a base of supporters among progressives, people who oppose development and Downcounty residents who will never abandon him.  So Elrich must be delighted that he is running against five capable candidates who have so far not been able to knock each other out of the race.  As long as all five remain viable, Elrich won’t have to add a lot to his existing base to win.

Disclosure: The author is a publicly-listed supporter of Roger Berliner for Executive.

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Public Financing Geography, Part Three

By Adam Pagnucco.

It’s time to start looking at the geography of in-county contributions for the thirteen candidates who have so far qualified for public matching funds: County Executive candidates Marc Elrich, Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal and Council At-Large candidates Gabe Albornoz, Bill Conway, Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Seth Grimes, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, Hans Riemer, Mohammad Siddique and Chris Wilhelm.  While all participate in the same system, there are immense differences between them in where they are raising money.

First, an overview.

Long-time Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal lead in public financing fundraising.  But former Rockville Mayor and Planning Department staffer Rose Krasnow is closing on them.  Krasnow qualified for matching funds in 109 days, far faster than Elrich (209 days) and Leventhal (278 days).  All three lead the Council At-Large candidates in total raised primarily because of the higher public matching rate for Executive candidates.  Riemer, Conway and Glass lead the council candidates while Meitiv, Siddique and Grimes trail.  The fact that some candidates last reported two months ago while others reported within the last few weeks will affect this data somewhat.  Including the traditionally funded candidates, Roger Berliner so far leads the Executive candidates while Delegate Charles Barkley is one of the Council At-Large leaders and Ashwani Jain is competitive.

Here’s an important thing to note about public financing: it’s not just about money.  It’s also a cornerstone for a field program.  The same folks who show up at campaign events and bring small checks are the people who can be tapped for neighbor-to-neighbor letters, canvassing, phone banking, lit drops and poll coverage.  The total amount raised is a useful proxy for the number of ardent supporters, so money raised in a local area may be a possible, partial precursor to actual electoral performance.

Now to the three Executive candidates.

Marc Elrich

Elrich is the number one fundraiser in Downtown Silver Spring, Olney and Takoma Park, the latter by a mile.  His contributions have been heavily concentrated in the Democratic Crescent, which accounts for 53% of all in-county contributions and 68% of in-county contributions to Elrich.  This resembles the Downcounty support for Jamie Raskin in his 2016 race for Congress.  That distribution along with Elrich’s number one finish in the last two at-large elections and his many progressive endorsements makes him the front runner in the eyes of most observers.

George Leventhal

Leventhal, a former Chair of the county Democratic Party, has leveraged his more than twenty years in county politics to assemble the most geographically diverse contribution distribution of the Executive candidates.  He is the number one fundraiser in Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Germantown and Montgomery Village.  Leventhal leads Elrich in Upcounty but trails him by a lot in the Democratic Crescent.  Can Leventhal pull enough votes from Midcounty and Upcounty to overwhelm Elrich’s strength in Silver Spring and Takoma Park and break through?

Rose Krasnow

Krasnow was an elected official in Rockville between 1991 and 2001 and she is crushing both Elrich and Leventhal in money raised from the city.  On the other hand, she trails them badly in the Democratic Crescent.  Krasnow is off to a fast start in public financing but she needs more exposure in Downcounty areas like Downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda and Chevy Chase.  Elrich and Leventhal have been working those places for years and time is getting short.

Next, we will start looking at the Council At-Large candidates.

Disclosure: the author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner for Executive.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Christmas morning is over and your blogger is done opening the presents – errrrr, campaign finance reports.  Now we get to share them with you!  And we will start by breaking down the Montgomery County Executive race.

Before we start playing with the toys, let’s clear away the wrapping and discuss a few data issues.  Our numbers are different from what you will read in other outlets.  That’s because Seventh State readers are special and we are going to give you only the best!  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Total raised does not include in-kind contributions.  Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance).  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

And now, we reveal the numbers you all have been craving: the first round of fundraising reports for the seven people running for County Executive.

This is exactly the kind of race Council Member Marc Elrich wants.  He is up against five other candidates, only one of whom has run countywide before, who are nothing like him and cannot steal votes from his progressive and anti-development base.  Better yet, because of public financing, he has the resources to be financially competitive.  (The thought of Elrich with money is almost as strange as the sight of Elrich wearing a suit and tie.)  Elrich has been building a grass roots base for thirty years and he will be able to combine it with substantial labor, progressive and environmental support.  This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.

Council Member Roger Berliner has to feel good about his report.  He leads the field in total raised for the cycle and cash on hand, and also has the lowest burn rate.  Berliner can now start making the case to those who are not inclined to support Elrich that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  Doing that is essential for his path to victory.  (Disclosure: your author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner and has done work for him in the past.)

Businessman David Blair is sometimes compared to fellow businessman David Trone, but he is not using a Trone-like strategy.  When Trone entered the CD8 race last year, he staffed up rapidly and began spending millions on television within weeks.  Accordingly, some observers expected Blair to write himself a million dollar check, putting opponents on notice and perhaps intimidating one or two of them to withdraw.  But while Trone plays to win, Blair looks like he’s playing around.  He gave himself just enough money ($300,000) to equal the formerly penniless Elrich in cash on hand and trail Berliner.  As for private sector fundraising, Berliner has raked in almost three times as much as Blair.  Blair needs to sharpen his message, learn more about the county and show a hunger to win.

Council Member George Leventhal is plenty hungry.  He might be the hardest-working candidate in the race and he clearly believes he’s the best person for the job.  But Leventhal is killing his campaign with his sky-high burn rate (46%), which is more than double the burn rates of Elrich (19%) and Berliner (18%).  Like Berliner, Leventhal needs to show to non-Elrich folks that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  To do that, he needs to tighten up his spending and get some big endorsements – sooner rather than later.

Bill Frick, you know we love you.  We admire your heroism on the liquor monopoly and we appreciate all the great fodder you have given us over the years.  But you showed a cash balance of $150,753 – less than half what Berliner, Elrich and Blair reported.  Why are you doing this, Bill?  We want many more years of you in public office, so please take our advice: stay in the House and run to succeed Brian Frosh as Attorney General when the time comes.  We will help you do it!  We will even write dozens of blog posts just like this one.

Former Planning Department staffer and Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow is an appealing, substantive and competent candidate with fans in both the business and smart growth communities.  The fact that she is the only female candidate running against five men in a Democratic primary electorate that is almost 60% female is a big plus.  Her numbers are not in yet, but she told Bethesda Magazine that she had raised $39,800 from small contributions in the public financing system.  If that’s true, it means she is on pace to qualify for public matching funds much faster than either Elrich or Leventhal did.  Still, we don’t understand why she entered public financing.  It takes a long time to raise money that way and it prevents her from tapping into what could be substantial business support.  Even if she qualifies for matching funds, she could very well trail all the other Democrats in fundraising except maybe Frick.

Republican Robin Ficker appears roughly halfway to qualifying for public matching funds.  That means the county’s most infamous anti-tax activist could wind up campaigning on the public dole.  And all of you MoCo residents will be paying for that!

Next up: the council at-large candidates.

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Public Financing Update: January 2, 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Happy New Year, folks!  After a relatively quiet period in the fall, December saw a number of applications for public matching funds from county candidates participating in public financing.  One of the many positive things about public financing is that when candidates apply for matching funds, they have to file full reports with the State Board of Elections.  That gives data junkies like your author – and Seventh State readers!  – lots of updated data without waiting for the relatively few regular campaign finance reports in the state’s schedule.  The next time all campaign finance reports are due, both from public and traditional accounts, is on January 17.

The candidates below have met the thresholds for matching funds and have applied for those funds from the state.

A few notes.  The column titled “Non-Qualifying Contributions and Loans” refers to loans from candidates and their spouses (up to $12,000 is allowed) and out-of-county contributions, which are allowed but not matched.  The column titled “Adjusted Cash Balance” includes the cash balance in the last report plus the most recent matching funds distribution requested but not yet received.  It is the closest we can approximate the financial position of each campaign at the time they filed their last report.  The column titled “Burn Rate” is the percentage of funds raised that has already been spent.  Generally speaking, candidates should strive to keep their burn rates low early on to save money for mail season.  Mohammad Siddique’s totals are preliminary as there are a few issues in his report that will have to be resolved with the Board of Elections.  And District 4 Council Member Nancy Navarro applied for $35,275 in matching funds but cannot receive them unless she gets an opponent.

Below is the number of days each candidate took to qualify for matching funds.  Let’s remember that the thresholds are different: 500 in-county contributors with $40,000 for Executive candidates, 250 in-county contributors with $20,000 for at-large council candidates and 125 in-county contributors with $10,000 for district council candidates.

So what does it all mean?  Here are a few thoughts.

County Executive Race

Council Members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, who are using public financing and running for Executive, have been active in county politics for a long time.  Elrich first joined the Takoma Park City Council in 1987 and has been on the county ballot in every election since.  He has been an elected official for thirty years.  Leventhal worked for U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and was the Chair of the county Democrats in the 1990s.  He played a key role in defeating a group of Republican Delegates in District 39 in the 1998 election.  Both of these fellows have built up large networks of supporters over many years and they have done well in public financing, raising similar amounts of money from similar numbers of people.

The difference between them is burn rate.  Leventhal is spending much more money than Elrich early, with some of it going to a three-person staff.  He had better hope this early spending is worth it because if this trend keeps up, Elrich could have almost twice as much money as Leventhal available for mailers in May and June.

At-Large Council Race

One of Council Member Hans Riemer’s advantages as the only incumbent in this race is the ability to raise money, and he has put it to good use in public financing.  Riemer leads in number of contributors and total raised.  He has also maintained a low burn rate.  This is Riemer’s fourth straight county campaign and he knows what he’s doing at election time.  His biggest problem is that his name will be buried near the end of a VERY long ballot.

The five non-incumbents who have qualified for matching funds have raised similar amounts of money so far.  As a group, they are not far behind Riemer.  The one who stands out here is Bill Conway.  Hoan Dang, Evan Glass, Chris Wilhelm and Mohammad Siddique all filed in December while Conway last filed in September.  Our bet is that when Conway files next month, he will show four months of additional fundraising that will put him close to Riemer’s total.

That said, the five non-incumbent qualifiers have so far separated themselves from the rest of the field.  Gabe Albornoz and Danielle Meitiv have said they have qualified but have not filed for matching funds with the state.  No other candidates have claimed to qualify.  Raising money in public financing takes a long time and raising a competitive amount (at least $250,000) takes a REALLY long time.  Those at-large candidates who do not qualify soon risk appearing non-viable.

Public Matching Funds Will Be Nowhere Close to $11 Million

The county has so far set aside $11 million to cover the cost of public matching funds.  That appears to be waaaaaay too much with only $1.4 million so far disbursed.  Our guess is that the ultimate total will be less than half what was allocated and will be even lower in the next election cycle with fewer seats open.

Incumbents Have Nothing to Fear From Public Financing

Five council incumbents are using public financing.  All five have qualified for matching funds and have done so fairly easily.  We will see how the challengers stack up, particularly in the at-large race, but so far the only at-large incumbent (Hans Riemer) is leading.  As we predicted last April, public financing is good for incumbents because it allows them to leverage their networks into lots of small individual contributions.  State legislators and other County Councils should take heed.

That’s it for now, folks.  Come back in a couple weeks when all reports, including those from traditional accounts, are due and we’ll put it all together for you!

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County Executive Candidates on the Liquor Monopoly

Question: The county’s liquor monopoly has come under heavy criticism–not least from Seventh State. If at all, how would you reform or change, or press the state legislature to change, the Department of Liquor Control?

Roger Berliner

At the county level, I have been the chief advocate for ending our unique – and counterproductive – liquor monopoly.  As someone who has fought monopolies most of my professional life, I know in my bones that monopolies are rarely, if ever, in the public interest.  Government monopolies are generally even less efficient.  And a government monopoly that tries to do a job that the private sector does in the rest of the country is almost always less efficient.  That is true in MoCo.  As a result, our residents vote with their feet.  Almost one-third of our purchases of liquor are made outside Montgomery County.  Our restaurants hate it.  Top flight restaurants have said that they would never come here. Bottom line: our monopoly needlessly perpetuates the reputation of our county being anti-business and anti-consumer and stunts our economy.

However, the state is a critical partner in this conversation.  It is state law that created our monopoly, and state law must be passed to change it.  The positive side of this dynamic is that the state would be the principal, direct beneficiary of increased liquor sales.  I would work with the Governor and our legislature to split the savings that the state would derive and hold the county harmless as it weans itself from this monopoly.  The dollars are not that significant given that our retail operations should continue to do well – assuming that they can compete!  And in the long run, our county will prosper more without the monopoly than with it.

Marc Elrich

Any discussion of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) must acknowledge that the Montgomery County budget relies on over $30 million in liquor revenue per year.  That is no small amount of money, and it supports critical county services, including almost $11 million for bond payments.  Nobody who has proposed privatizing the county’s liquor supply has a workable plan to fill the budget hole privatization would create, likely because there is no way to do so that doesn’t create other problems for the state.

Privatization proposals thus should not be taken seriously; instead, we should continue to look for ways to make the DLC more efficient and effective than it has been in the past, and to increase sales so that we can increase the revenue that the DLC generates.

We’ve already changed the way the DLC is run by bringing in industry professionals, including the director and the warehouse manager, who have improved the operations of the liquor system and brought in a philosophy of continuous improvement.  I’ve also encouraged introducing lower markups for more expensive items, which they did, and I’ve supported and will continue to support efforts to help local breweries and wineries sell and distribute their goods.  Both the new director and I want to hear and consider other ideas for helping transition the DLC from something that the county has long taken for granted into a professionally run system.

In fact, if a private-sector business had a division that produced a substantial profit but was identified as having management problems and customer service issues that prevented it from being more profitable, its most likely course of action would be to change management, work to improve services, and strive for greater profits.  That is exactly what we have been doing with the DLC.

Bill Frick

I have been the state’s leader on fixing this abysmal broken system.  My “end the monopoly” effort, helped immensely by the Seventh State’s Adam Pagnucco, fell short in 2016 in large part because of vigorous opposition from the Council and County Executive.  We agreed to let the Executive lead a work group on the issue, but that work group served no real purpose other than to push the issue onto the desk of the next Executive.

This is a great opportunity.  The DLC has value, and I have proposed to ensure that the value stays with Montgomery County by selling off the DLC’s assets, such as its franchise rights to beer distribution, its stores and warehouse, to generate millions in capital dollars that can be spent on school construction.  Because the elimination of the DLC will generate millions in repatriated sales and excise tax dollars, I would work with my colleagues in the legislative leadership to help return some of those revenues to the County.  Finally, we all know that the work of alcohol distribution will not disappear with the end of the DLC, rather, those jobs will migrate to the private sector and will likely grow in the County as our consumers come home to buy their beer, wine and spirits here.  I will work with the private sector distributors and unions to find the best outcomes for current DLC employees as we get the County out of the liquor business.

George Leventhal

I am willing to entertain serious negotiations with parties who are willing to make a serious offer to purchase the right to distribute beer, wine and spirits in Montgomery County. In FY 2018, that enterprise generated more than $33 million in surplus revenue over expenses to the county’s general fund, of which $11 million was spent on debt service for approximately $100 million in Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, which were issued more than a decade ago to pay for transportation improvements, including the Montrose Parkway. I think we should commission an independent economic analysis of the present value of a guaranteed revenue stream of more than $30 million each year. My understanding is that it would come to hundreds of millions of dollars – more than enough to retire the bonds. I do not think the county should simply give away these valuable rights, which belong to the people of the county. However, serious offers from serious buyers should be considered. Simply giving the rights (and the associated revenues) away would require that the bonds be retired or refinanced through other means. If general obligation bonds were used to refinance the Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, it would reduce the county’s ability to construct new schools and other capital projects by $100 million.

In the absence of a serious offer to buy the rights to the entire enterprise, I continue to support the County Council’s 2015 proposal to privatize special order sales of beer and wine. Problems with delivery of special orders comprise the vast majority of complaints from restaurants, but the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis declined to take up the County Council’s proposal in the 2016 session after County Executive Leggett asked for more time for study.

The Montgomery County delegation also declined to take up proposals for immediate privatization or for a voter referendum. Candidates for County Executive who have concerns about the Department of Liquor Control’s shortcomings should remember that liquor laws are made in Annapolis, not in Rockville. I would also support action by the state legislature to allow sales of beer and wine in grocery stores. Beer and wine stores will soon be able to sell spirits under legislation that passed in the 2017 session, which I supported.

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George Leventhal: Name One Program You Would Cut

Name one program in the county budget that is not working and can be cut.  Tell us how much in annual savings that would yield.

I will work diligently with the Office of Management and Budget, and with every department, to find savings and process improvements if I am elected to lead this government. I understand the mission of every county department. I have low tolerance for redundancy. I am prepared to prioritize, and to say no to additional spending where saying no is warranted. One place we could start is by looking at how the county provides health care to its employees.

Montgomery County will spend $245 million in FY2018 on employee health coverage. In 2011, I commissioned a Task Force on Employee Wellness and Agency Consolidation, which recommended adoption of an employee wellness program. It took the Leggett administration until 2015 to get the program fully up and running. Between 2017 and 2018, health claims dropped by $3 million, although it is not clear this is statistically significant, or directly caused by participation in employee wellness programs. I am confident that continued implementation of employee wellness efforts will lead to continued reduction in utilization of health benefits, and increased savings.

The task force also recommended consolidating procurement of employee health coverage between county government, the school system and Montgomery College. The school system and the college have declined to adopt this recommendation. School employee unions feared their members might lose their more favorable benefits. However, the county’s Office of Human Resources already administers health benefits among different bargaining units, and could easily administer health benefits for school system and college employees, resulting in substantial overhead savings, and savings from group purchasing. I will continue to advocate for unified administration of health benefits among all three agencies.

Additional overhead savings, and efficiencies from volume purchasing, could also be achieved by consolidating procurement of all goods and services for county government, MCPS and Montgomery College in a single office.

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George Leventhal on Jobs

Job growth has been stagnant in Montgomery County over the past few years. What would you do to encourage increased job growth?

We have seen good news on job growth recently. County Executive Leggett’s office reported in January that the county had added 7,163 jobs since the previous January and in May that resident employment had increased by 10,900 jobs (not all located in the county) since the previous May. High-profile business location decisions recently have included Marriott’s decision to keep its headquarters in the county, Discovery’s decision to keep 230 jobs in Silver Spring rather than relocate them to Virginia, and WTTG/Fox 5’s decision to relocate to Bethesda from Northwest Washington.

Montgomery County has a great story to tell, but we need to do a better job telling it. Our quality of life is high; we have great public schools; honest and effective government; excellent cultural and recreational opportunities; beautiful natural features; proximity to airports, shipping routes, interstate highways and public transportation; high family incomes; a low crime rate, and a low unemployment rate. I supported creating the new Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and am glad to see it is investing more than ever before in marketing our county’s excellent attributes to grow our job base and retain existing employers.

We have one of the smartest, most diverse work forces in the United States. We should advertise ourselves as the International Gateway to the Nation’s Capital, to attract employers from around the world and entice the talent our employers need to compete in the global marketplace. While our workforce already possesses more graduate degrees than any other community, and a wider array of language skills than most, we must make language education a higher priority in our schools. Language immersion should be expanded, especially in languages critical for global trade and national security, like Mandarin, Spanish, French, German, Hindi/Urdu, Arabic, Russian, Farsi, and Portuguese.

To appeal to the millennial generation of workers, and the generations that will follow them, we must continue our placemaking efforts, to build great urban communities in locations well served by transit, including Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, Wheaton, and Glenmont, and we must expand transit options to economic opportunity hubs like Gaithersburg, Germantown and White Oak.

We should increase vocational training in our schools. The courses available at Edison High School are insufficient. Not all students will, or need to, attend college. Many good-paying jobs in industrial, manufacturing, information technology and other sectors can be filled by high school graduates with additional technical and vocational training.

We need to continue focused efforts to streamline our planning, permitting and procurement processes to see where they can be made more efficient and business-friendly. We must also strengthen our efforts to keep Montgomery County tax dollars in our local economy, by strengthening programs like the Local Small Business Reserve (which I originated), and minority, female and disabled business purchasing preferences.

I support designating Enterprise Zones to attract investment to areas that are struggling, like Glenmont and Burtonsville. I have also supported tax credits for investors in life science, environmental technology and cybersecurity, and I am currently exploring a county add-on to federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards. I will seek to reduce our county energy tax, which puts our high-tech and data-intensive businesses at a particular disadvantage.

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