Category Archives: Montgomery County

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.

Share

Montgomery County Land Use 101

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Del. Marc Korman about former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson’s new book on the history of planning in Montgomery County.

Rumors abound that there could be more than 50 candidates running for the Montgomery County Council in the next election cycle (after attending the recent Montgomery County Democratic Party Spring ball, I think that could be an under-estimate).  I would recommend that each of them dive into Suburb: Planning Politics and the Public Interest, by Royce Hanson.

Royce Hanson is a legendary figure in Montgomery County.  He chaired the Planning Board from 1972 to 1980 and was brought back in as something of an elder statesman from 2006 to 2010 to clean-up improprieties fond related to development in Clarksburg.  His most lauded accomplishment is the establishment of the Agricultural Reserve which covers about one-third of Montgomery County although he oversaw numerous sector and master plans during his two tenures.  Mr. Hanson has had less success as a political candidate in the County.

Suburb is closely related to a series of speeches Mr. Hanson gave at the Planning Board Department in 2014 and 2015, which can be watched online and may be more accessible for some than the book.  Hanson’s book—like the lectures—tells the story of planning in Montgomery County essentially from the establishment of the bicounty agencies Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (the Planning Board) in the 1910s virtually up until the present.  Hanson sees County land use through three lenses.

First, land use decisions are usually the outcome of the back and forth between what he calls the “Miniature Republic”—homeowners, taxpayers–and the “Commercial Republic”—major land owners and developers.  At different times and in different locations, the power rests more heavily with one than the other.

Second, he traces land use decisions through several political regimes in the County’s history, which will be of particular interest to many local readers: The [Blair] Lee regime dominated by an insider political machine; the builders and the bar regime in which land use attorneys controlled the planning process; the progressive regime that emerged from the new Executive form of government in the 1970s, which he views himself as a product of; and the current “pure political” regime which Hanson views as lacking a cohesive vision for County land use.

Third, Hanson sees ultimate planning decisions as the place where the logic of consequentiality—the more technical and planning-based logic of bureaucrats–meets the logic of appropriateness—the politician’s changes to satisfy certain parties and make planning decisions more palatable.

The book marches through a number of “case studies” beginning with the 1964 General Plan, known as Wedges and Corridors; reimagining Bethesda and Friendship Heights for Metro; the resurgence of Silver Spring; updating White Flint for the 21st century; development of corridor cities such as Gaithersburg, Rockville, Montgomery Village, and Germantown; the huge and scandalous errors with Clarksburg development; the creation of the Agricultural Reserve; and the growth policy regularly updated by the Planning Board and County Council and now called the Subdivision Staging Policy.  Each of these chapters is rich with detail, but at times it feels as though you are just reading a series of facts and events as opposed to any type of analysis.  There are insights about what political and planning compromises worked (and sometimes didn’t work) in specific locations in Montgomery County at particular times, but broader conclusions about planning and process are hard to discern.

Indeed, Hanson even recognizes this late in the book when he concedes that it “is hazardous to overgeneralize from the experience of Montgomery County”, although he goes on to say that examples, analogies, insights, and more can be drawn and applied elsewhere, which is true in the broad sense that another place could redevelop a suburban strip mall near transit, come up with transferable development rights, or target specific neighborhoods through sector plans.  As someone more interested in the Montgomery County story, this approach helped focused on facts and events suited me fine but may be seen as a shortcoming to others.  Indeed, while as I said I think this book is important to read for County Council candidates, I’m not sure who else besides them, other local elected officials, and committed local activists would really appreciate this book.  I certainly did, but I’m in one of those relatively narrow buckets.

Hanson may have been torn between writing a history of Montgomery County planning politics and case studies that could potentially be used to teach planners anywhere and sometimes he did not find the balance he was looking for.  Those interested in the history will want to know who the unnamed councilmembers were who voted against appointing Norman Christellar Planning Board Chair and planning students will probably want to know why the failed plan to build another Mall of America in Silver Spring is relevant to their studies.  I, of course, understand why a pure Montgomery County history book was not written, as it would clearly have a small audience.  It has also been pointed out to me that the history of the County’s actions over race are almost entirely omitted.  I am sure others who lived through some of these planning efforts will note their own omissions.

Still, for you local history buffs there are plenty of interesting facts.  For example, County Executives used to control some appointments to the Planning Board and, for a time under County Executive Kramer, they could revise plans before they went to the Council.  Neil Potter devolved these powers back to the Council after defeating Kramer.  Hanson is also open with his criticism of some local County players and even relies on Adam Pagnucco research in making his attacks.  Former Councilwoman Idamae Garrott comes off as particularly responsive to the current mood of the best organized voters.

If you sit in lots of meetings about sector plans, dream about being on the County Council, or read blogs like this one, then this book is for you.  It covers interesting history and can be a good reference regarding particular parts of the County.   But for those not fitting that description, this book and its detailed history of Montgomery County land use may be more of a slog.  For the right audience, this book can provide a useful baseline of how Montgomery County developed over the last century and why.

Share

Very Quiet in Chevy Chase View

The election for the three seats on the Chevy Chase View Town Council was uncontested. Incumbent Ron Sherrow retained his seat. Newcomers Tom Brown and Nancy Kehne will join the Council. While the elections are nonpartisan, Brown and Sherrow are Republicans while Kehne is a Democrat.

Share

Incumbents Reelected in Close Race in Village of Martin’s Additions

Three people competed for two seats yesterday on the Village of Martin’s Additions Council. Here are the results:

Richard Krajeck (incumbent), 148
Katja Hill (incumbent), 147
Katie Filipczyk Howard, 122
Write-Ins, 17

Former Town Manager Jean Sperling received four of the write-in votes. The Election Committee reported a creepy twist during the nominations process:

In a bizarre nominations twist this year, the Election Committee received seven anonymous envelopes in the mail, all with the same block printing on the front. Inside were typed lists, nominating a total of 41 people as candidates for the VMA Council. There was no signature from the unknown sender, and it looked like the names were drawn at random from the VMA directory, but the Election Committee dutifully contacted all 41 people. The startled “nominees” thanked the Committee for checking with them, said no, they did not wish to run for election, and said they had not given anyone permission to submit their names. No one on the list told us that he or she intended to be a candidate this year.
Share

Mixing It Up in Kensington. All Quiet in Washington Grove.

Kensington

Three candidates are vying for the two Council seats up for election this year: Darin Bartram, Connor Crimmins, and Tom Rodriguez. (The Mayor and other two councilmembers are elected in even-numbered years.)

Bartram and Rodriguez are incumbents with Bartram seeking his third term and Rodriguez his second. Reports indicate that challenger Crimmins is running a strong campaign, complete with website. Crimmins is the Chief Operating Officer at Spider Stratagies, a technology an consulting company.

Like in most Maryland towns, elections in Kensington are nonpartisan. However, while Crimmins is an unaffiliated voter (UPDATE: Crimmins is a Democrat), Bartram and Rodriguez are Republicans who are active in national Republican politics through their jobs.

Bartram is a partner at Baker Hostetler who works in environmental and constitutional law. Specifically, he has provided counsel to a utility company that failed to comply with federal environmental regulations and also was part of the team that challenged unsuccessfully the constitutionality of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act.

Rodriguez works as a communications advisor at Luntz Global, the firm run by Republican Pollster Frank Luntz. He has worked as a fundraiser for Republican Members of Congress and also served as a consultant on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Former long-time Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, now a Democratic Candidate in Council District 1, has endorsed Bartram. Fosselman and Del. David Moon (D-20) jousted over Fosselman’s support for Bartram on Facebook:

Moon and Bartram had tangled on Facebook. Moon, a former campaign consultant, expressed his lack of surprise at Bartram’s criticism of General Assembly Democrats in light of Bartram’s past defense of Trump and Scalia’s critique of the Voting Right Act along with Bartram’s Facebook post proclaiming “I think Sarah Palin is awesome.” Drawing the County Council into the debate, Bartram accused Councilmember Hans Riemer of feeding Moon shots from Bartram’s Facebook page. (UPDATE: Riemer had not seen the page and literally had no idea what Bartram was talking about.)

Washington Grove

Washington Grove, an adorable small town with its own MARC stop, will hold elections on May 13th from 4 to 7pm. The Town elects its mayor annually and two of the six members of the Town Council every year. In contrast to Kensington, all is very quiet in Washington Grove this year. All of the positions are uncontested:

Mayor
Joli McCathran (incumbent)

Council
Audrey Maskery (incumbent)
John Compton

Share

Planning Board Candidate Dan Reed Doesn’t Like Bethesdans Much

Dan Reed has applied for the Montgomery County Planning Board. Besides being a trained architect (B.S. from UMD), planner (Masters in City Planning from Penn), and former employee of Councilmember George Leventhal, he is also a prolific writer and very active in development and transportation issues.  All of this is great. What is not great are his views towards a large bloc of people whom he’d like to govern.

Specifically, he sure doesn’t think much of people who live or hang out in Bethesda. Even though Dan stated “I don’t go to Bethesda Row often,” that did not prevent him from expressing very strong opinions about people who live in the area. Here is his pitch to B-CC students that Silver Spring is a better place for them to hang out than Bethesda:

You and I both know [your parents have] been taught to fear everything east of Rock Creek Park, so you’ll earn major street cred by hanging out in a place where the kids don’t all wear private or Catholic school hoodies with Timbs. (This is also an effective way to avoid your date’s ex from the Landon School who lurks outside the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda Row.)…

Once you get a little older, you’ll discover that there aren’t many bars here, and those we do have cater to an older demographic than what you’ll want on a Friday night out. Of course, by then you’ll probably be going to a prestigious liberal arts college in some leafy New England town that those of us who came from lesser public high schools could only dream of…

So, while you’re still in Bethesda, why not take a walk on the wild side and make some pubescent memories this weekend in Silver Spring. You can tell your incredulous friends on Monday how you went slummin’…

This screed was not a one-off for Dan and his contemptuous view of those who live in Bethesda.  In a response on his blog to a piece published by Bethesda Magazine, he wrote:

How many fine [Bethesda] individuals think of Silver Spring primarily as an exporter of black kids? How many Bethesda youth are unaware of the glorious Friday nights to be had in Silver Spring?…

Alas, Bethesda Magazine must feel some kind of inferiority complex about their town’s parking garages, where each weekend so many midlife-crisis Mercedes coupés and tricked-out swagger wagons are trapped that the streets ring with the screams of Montgomery County’s frustrated suburban élite…

Sometimes, I wonder why their staff of Bethesda Magazine doesn’t just pour all of their money and effort into something constructive, like battling illiteracy in DC, rather than giving a two-hundred-page-long pat on the back to people with the money and taste to live west of Rock Creek Park…

And, on yet another occasion, Dan wrote:

… I claim all of Bethesda as ours, so long as they stay on their own side of Rock Creek Park so we can remember “normal people” still live in Montgomery County.

Apparently, in Dan’s eyes, Bethesdans are elitist racists who think that Silver Spring is, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, a far-off land of which we know nothing.  As someone whose parents moved to Silver Spring before he was born and has since spent many a day and night there (I guess we are brave enough to sometimes leave the land of “shitty Irish bars and middle-aged-trendy clothing stores”), I think the tone and underlying animosity toward the people who live in Bethesda as expressed in Dan’s blog posts are disturbing.

Yes, there are major differences between Silver Spring and Bethesda, just as there are between many other areas of the County.  But, as a planning board member, Dan will make major decisions that will have an influence on the future of all of Montgomery County.  The County’s future should not be entrusted to someone with such blatant animosity towards a major portion of the community he will supposedly serve.

Share

Perennial Candidate Robin Ficker Joins Executive Race

It never rains but it pours. After reporting that Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large) has entered the public financing system to run for Montgomery County Executive, Robin Ficker (R-Running for Office Near You) is doing the same.

Despite winning one disastrous term in the House of Delegates in 1978 before being turfed out by voters, Ficker is best known for his persistent heckling at sporting events and his repeated brushes with the law and legal ethics.

Ficker has since run fruitlessly for a multiplicity of offices, desperately attempting to link himself to more popular pols as far back as Ronald Reagan. In 2016, he linked himself to the Cruz and the Trump campaigns at the same time. The following accounting of Ficker failure may not be complete as the online records die out in the early 1980s.

2016: Came in fourth for in the Republican Primary for the Sixth Congressional District with just 11% of the vote.

2014: Lost the general election in D15 for the State Senate with 39% of the vote.

2012: Came in fifth in the Republican Primary for the Sixth Congressional District with just 7% of the vote.

2010: Lost in the general election in MoCo Council District 2, previously won by Republicans, with 40% of the vote.

2009: After making a potentially fraudulent filing for office, Ficker lost a special election for MoCo Council District 4 with 39%.

2008: Robin took this year off, perhaps due to the suspension of his law license in 2007.

2006: Ficker ran as an independent for County Executive, gaining only 9% of the vote.

2004: No Robin!

2002: Ficker lost the general election for the D39 State Senate seat with 34% of the vote.

2000: Ficker came in fourth for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate with just 15% of the vote, losing to fellow perennial candidate Ross Pierpont and other unknowns.

1998: According to my search of the records, Ficker didn’t run for anything, even with all the federal, state and local offices on the ballot! Again, this may have something to do with an earlier suspension of his law license.

1996: No Ficker!

1994: Ficker came in fourth for the Republican nomination to the House of Delegates (D15), the office he previously held, and didn’t move on to the general election.

1990 and 1992: No Ficker! He claimed credit for an anti-tax initiative that Blair Lee reports he did not lead.

1988: A Ficker twofer! Ficker ran to be a delegate for Pat Robertson at the Republican National Convention from CD6, and lost with 3% of the vote. He also ran a losing race for MoCo School Board. (Earlier version of this post missed the School Board race.)

1986: Ficker-free election!

1982: Lost reelection to the House of Delegates (D15) to Democrat Gene Counihan.

1980: Lost Republican congressional primary.

1978: Won his sole disastrous term in the House of Delegates as a Republican from D15.

1972: Lost the Democratic Primary for the U.S. House.

Mistaking his term limits victory as a yearning for Ficker, we now know that the campaign will be loud and annoying but not dull.

Share

Exclusive: Ike Leggett Responds on the DLC

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett:

REALLY Setting the Record Straight…

Adam Pagnucco’s blog entry, Setting the Record Straight, does anything but set the record straight. Let’s be clear – I did not “throw in the towel” on privatizing the County’s Department of Liquor (DLC). The record clearly shows that I introduced State legislation that would have privatized our DLC while also protecting and maintaining the significant revenue stream of over $30 million a year it contributes to the County budget. Some on our County Council and in the State Delegation felt that, given the progress we’ve seen in DLC since we brought in a new management team with considerable liquor industry experience, and a number of substantive changes we had made to the organization already, we should give them additional time to make even greater improvements.

Philosophically, I am not opposed to privatization, but I also stand by my statement that not one of the critics of the County’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) put forth a viable privatization proposal that would hold the County budget harmless by replacing the DLC’s profits. The County DLC is a taxpayer asset that produces a net profit of over $30 million a year and to privatize without replacing the revenue would be a disservice to our taxpayers.

After months of soliciting proposals, not one person or organization offered a viable plan to privatize DLC while maintaining the approximately $30 million in profits, including groups that assured us they would. While Mr. Pagnucco claims that his plan would have done so, his route to privatization, simply put, was based on faulty assumptions.

Mr. Pagnucco’s proposal was not ignored. It was carefully reviewed by us in the County and it was also reviewed by a consultant hired to review privatization options It was judged not viable because the underpinnings of the proposal were either unworkable, not legal or just plain wrong. Here’s why:

First, Mr. Pagnucco made a basic math mistake. He estimated that the County receives $20 million in “profit” in FY17, therefore starting with the faulty premise that to make the County whole, only $20 million in DLC profits each year need to be replaced. Unfortunately, he ignores that in FY17, the Department of Liquor Control earmarked $20.7 million for transfer to the General Fund and another $10.9 million to pay debt service on Liquor Bonds – bonds that have paid for road, and school construction in our County.

Therefore, the revenue to be replaced equals $31.6 million, not $20 million.

Mr. Pagnucco’s proposal then makes the argument that there will be a huge economic spinoff from privatizing by increased sales. He relies on a report done by the Comptroller’s Bureau of Revenue Estimates, which was itself built on an amazing number of alternative facts. But, for the sake of argument, say it was a sound analysis. Even Mr. Pagnucco admits that the tax revenue estimates presented in the report actually proves the county’s point that opening the alcohol market really only benefits the State coffers. He himself noted the county would receive less than $1 million of the revenue, while the rest of the estimated $35 million in economic spinoff benefit would go to the state’s general fund.

So he suggested that we pass a State law to compel the State to share its new revenue with us. The consultant, and everyone familiar with how Annapolis works, rightly pointed out that first, it requires the state to be a willing partner, and second and more importantly, there exists a legitimate concern about revenue sharing with the State. What the State giveth, the State taketh away. Just in the 1990s alone, the following County revenue sources were reduced or eliminated by the State:

  1. Liquor tax revenue sharing: eliminated; loss of $4.4 million to counties
  2. Beer tax revenue sharing: eliminated; loss of $4.2 million to counties
  3. Tobacco tax revenue sharing: eliminated; loss of $12.7 million to counties
  4. Property tax grant: eliminated; loss of $82.5 million to counties
  5. Teacher social security: eliminated; loss of $145 million
  6. Financial institution franchise tax sharing: eliminated; loss of $17 million to counties
  7. Transportation taxes revenue sharing (not highway user): eliminated; loss of $19.6 million to counties
  8. Abandoned property revenues: eliminated, loss of $5 million to counties
  9. Corporate filing fee revenues: eliminated; loss of $1.6 million to counties
  10. Security interest filing fee revenues: eliminated; loss of $1 million to counties

Mr. Pagnucco claims that the County can replace the bond money by raising our cable franchise fee and siphoning off dollars from the Cable Fund. With this statement he negates his own argument that his proposal would be “cost neutral” since it would in fact require raising fees.

But what he more importantly failed to realize is that Cable fund money cannot legally be used for purposes other than cable-related needs: technology and communication purposes. We cannot take Cable Funds to build roads and schools. Plus, utilizing this revenue would just create a budget hole elsewhere.

Another faulty assumption in Mr. Pagnucco’s proposal is using Worchester County as an example of how privatization in Montgomery County would work smoothly. He claims that after privatizing its liquor business, Worchester experienced reduced revenues but that the loss was negligible and that such a loss would equate to a mere $5 million per year for Montgomery. However, in reality, the unhappy ending to the Worchester story of privatization is that Worchester County is now going out of the liquor business forever and will generate exactly zero revenue for its budget in the future.

The final faulty assumption in Mr. Pagnucco’s proposal is his assumption that the county could just open up more liquor stores, which he notes would create additional profits.  See paragraph above: Worchester’s unhappy ending is testament that it just won’t happen.

Finally, Mr. Pagnucco says he was not proposing getting rid of the DLC – he just wanted to provide competition (i.e.; “end the monopoly”) by allowing our licensees to decide from whom to purchase products. But that’s not how it works. In the liquor business it is the suppliers/manufacturers who decide which ONE distributor/wholesaler will sell their products. The so-called monopoly doesn’t end, it simply transfers from the County to the private sector. Why turn over this asset that belongs to our county residents to the private sector for nothing?

We should be looking forward, not back. The DLC is, as they say, under new management. It has a new director, and is on course to continue making positive changes to improve operations and customer service.

Ike Leggett
County Executive

Share