Category Archives: Council District 3

The Progressives’ Big Gamble

By Adam Pagnucco.

One of the more remarkable things occurring in MoCo this cycle is the snowballing of progressive groups around District 3 County Council challenger Ben Shnider.  Just look at our latest endorsement chart.  Shnider, who was virtually unknown a year ago, has collected about as many progressive endorsements as much better known politicians like Council Members Hans Riemer and Nancy Navarro, Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (running for Council District 1) and Council At-Large candidate Will Jawando.  That’s a challenge for Shnider’s opponent, incumbent Council Member Sidney Katz, but it’s a challenge for the progressive groups too.

Sidney Katz is an odd target for progressives – and basically anyone else.  Consider this: he has been an elected official at the municipal or county levels for forty years and no one dislikes him.  Generations of Gaithersburg residents think of him as Dad, an uncle or Grandpa.  No one would paint him as a conservative – for Heaven’s sake, he voted for a nine percent property tax hike along with the rest of the council two years ago.  He has also voted for nearly every other progressive initiative passed by the council, including more school funding, more non-profit support, bills establishing sick leave and parental leave and almost everything else.

But there is one glaring exception: Katz was one of four Council Members who voted against the 2016 minimum wage bill which was then vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett.  That bill had incredible symbolic importance for many of MoCo’s liberal groups, who viewed it as a litmus test for determining which elected officials were true progressives.  Katz’s efforts to forge a compromise and get a different version of the bill passed later did not mollify the left.  For them, the damage was done.  And someone’s head had to roll.  But whose?

Four Council Members – Katz, Roger Berliner, Nancy Floreen and Craig Rice – voted against the first bill and Leggett vetoed it.  Leggett and Floreen are term-limited and retiring.  Rice has only token opposition in his Democratic primary.  Berliner is running for Executive, an election in which progressive groups would be aligned with minimum wage lead-sponsor Marc Elrich regardless of the bill vote.  That left Katz, the only opponent of the original bill against whom the left had a clear shot.  And in Ben Shnider, the left has a challenger who is appealing, smart, hard-working, experienced in campaigns and an unquestioned progressive.

SEIU Local 500, a lead player in advocating for minimum wage hikes at the state and county levels, was the first major progressive group to endorse ShniderMany more followed, including SEIU Locals 32BJ (janitors) and 1199 (health care), Progressive Maryland, the Laborers, Casa in Action, the teachers and more.  The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Shnider was probably connected to another vote of Katz’s, this time against a bill banning pesticides.  Katz is supported by the police and fire fighters unions, the volunteer fire fighters and the apartment and office building owners.  MCGEO is the largest progressive group to not yet weigh in.

Shnider pressures Katz on the minimum wage bill.

Knocking off an incumbent is not easy.  Indeed, only one Democratic district council incumbent has been defeated since the County Council’s current structure was established in 1990 and that happened twenty years ago.  In the last six times that a Democratic district council incumbent was challenged, the incumbent won by 50 or more points five times.

Ben Shnider has nothing to lose by challenging Katz.  He is running a tremendous campaign and has built great relationships with the left and the smart growth community.  If he loses, he could very well come back to win another election as so many other MoCo politicians have.  Win or lose, Shnider will be just fine.

But what about these progressive groups?  The fact that so many of them have endorsed Shnider has MoCo’s political community watching this race – especially the county’s elected officials.  The left will have many priorities in the next term and some will cost serious money and political capital.  If these groups actually knock off Katz – or come close – then no one will want to run afoul of them in the future.  But if they do nothing other than allow Shnider to use their logos and Katz wins big, they will look weak.  Other elected officials will think, “They can’t hurt me so I can do what I want.”  Let’s remember that for most politicians, the main thing on their minds is ALWAYS whether a group can help them or hurt them.  If you can’t do either, you just don’t matter.

The progressives are making a big gamble by targeting Sidney Katz.  For their sake, it better pay off.

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Campaign Finance Reports: District County Council, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

In addition to the wild and woolly Executive and Council At-Large races, MoCo has two competitive District County Council elections.  Let’s have a look.

Council District 1

In District 1, which stretches from Kensington in the east to Poolesville in the west, nine candidates are vying to succeed incumbent Roger Berliner, who is term limited and is running for Executive.  But of these nine, only four look competitive at the moment and one stands out: former aide to the Comptroller Andrew Friedson.

Friedson’s lead in total raised and cash balance is as obvious as it is staggering.  But consider these three facts.  First, if Friedson were running in the Council At-Large race, his total raised for the cycle ($218,903) would be second only to Hans Riemer ($219,103), who is the only at-large incumbent running.  Friedson’s cash on hand ($200,622) would be second only to Delegate Charles Barkley ($232,428).  Second, Friedson’s lead is not in money alone.  We added up the number of individual contributors each of the top four fundraising candidates had in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Kensington, Cabin John, Glen Echo, Poolesville and zip codes 20852 (Rockville) and 20878 (Gaithersburg/North Potomac)  to approximate in-district contributors.  Friedson had 289 contributors in these locations, followed by Reggie Oldak (217), former Town of Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman (195) and Meredith Wellington (92).  Third, Friedson has accomplished this in just five months.  Fosselman has been running for ten months, followed by Oldak (nine months) and Wellington (eight months).  We wonder how much Friedson would have raised if he had been campaigning longer.

The good news for Reggie Oldak is that she has done well in public financing and should have no problem hitting the $125,000 cap for public matching funds.  The bad news is that it’s probably impossible for her to catch Friedson because once she hits the cap, she will be limited to $150 individual checks.  Wellington has relied on self-financing more than the other candidates and has a high burn rate (41%).  Fosselman should have been the fundraising leader in this race.  He was Mayor of the Town of Kensington for a decade and is plugged into Ike Leggett’s network, the county developer network (he once worked for Rodgers Consulting) and what is left of the network of former Governor Martin O’Malley, who endorsed him and had his PAC max out to him.  But Fosselman is fourth in cash on hand and faces the risk that the business community will turn to Friedson as a better prospect to win.

Council District 3

In District 3, which is mostly comprised of Rockville, Gaithersburg, Aspen Hill, Leisure World, part of Norbeck and Washington Grove, former J Street Political Director Ben Shnider is taking on incumbent Council Member and former Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz.  Shnider, who is in the traditional financing system, outraised the incumbent, who is taking public financing.

Shnider’s fundraising edge, along with his endorsement by SEIU Local 32BJ, gives his campaign credibility against Katz, who has been in county and municipal politics for decades.  A further look at the fundraising numbers reveals two things.  First, 76% of Shnider’s fundraising has come from out of state.  (Katz’s percentage is just 2%).  But second, and more worrisome for Katz, Shnider is starting to catch on in the district.  When we added up the number of individual contributors from Rockville, Gaithersburg, Washington Grove and zip code 20906 (Leisure World/Norbeck) to approximate in-district contributors, Katz had 99 and Shnider had 75.  Shnider is the underdog in this race, but Katz needs to start working harder to hold him off.

The other districts lack competition.  District 2 incumbent Craig Rice has not been raising money and is apparently unworried about his Republican rivals in the age of Trump.  District 4 Council Member Nancy Navarro and District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker have no opponents and are headed to reelection.

We will get to state legislative races soon, folks!

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SEIU Local 32BJ Endorses Ben Shnider

By Adam Pagnucco.

SEIU Local 32BJ, the mammoth building services union that is one of the biggest and most powerful locals in SEIU, has endorsed insurgent candidate Ben Shnider in his challenge to District 3 Council Member Sidney Katz.  Shnider has been working hard to topple Katz from the left but it’s an uphill challenge.  An endorsement of this kind grants legitimacy to Shnider and will help him draw more progressive support.  We will have a lot more to say about this race, but for now, we reprint the union’s press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 17, 2018

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Julie Karant: jkarant@seiu32bj.org

32BJ SEIU ENDORSES BEN SHNIDER’S BID TO UNSEAT MONTGOMERY COUNTY COUNCIL INCUMBENT, SIDNEY KATZ

Shnider’s Unwavering Support for Working Families Sharply Contrasts Katz’s Record of Opposing the $15 Minimum Wage

Washington, D.C. – Janitors and security officers from 32BJ of the Service Employees International (SEIU), today announced their endorsement of Ben Shnider’s campaign to replace Montgomery County Council District 3 incumbent, Sidney Katz.

“Sidney Katz originally voted against the $15 minimum wage which delayed the effort to raise the wages for struggling workers,” said 32BJ SEIU Vice President Jaime Contreras. “Montgomery County deserves a reliable champion like Ben Shnider who will fight for working families not industry lobbyists.”

32BJ members will knock on doors and speak out within their communities towards the primary election scheduled for June 26th.

“I’m humbled and honored to have the backing of the incredible members of 32BJ. I’m running to ensure that every resident of Montgomery County can afford to live and thrive in this community that I love. I’m proud of the grassroots coalition we’re assembling to bring new leadership to District 3. I’ll work tirelessly on the County Council to provide the members of 32BJ — and all county residents — with the bold, progressive leadership they deserve,” said Shnider.

32BJ members are also inspired by Shnider’s leadership on immigrant rights and racial justice during his tenure with Bend the Arc.

With more than 163,000 members in 11 states, including 18,000 in the D.C. Metropolitan Area, 32BJ SEIU is the largest property service workers union in the country.

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Robinson, Platt Endorse Shnider in Council District 3

Montgomery County Council District 3 candidate Ben Shnider has been endorsed by Delegates Shane Robinson (D-39), Andrew Platt (D-17) and the leader of a hotel employees local union.  Former Council Member Valerie Ervin (D-5) has also offered praise for Shnider’s candidacy.  We reprint Shnider’s press release below.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 15, 2015

Contact:  Ilya Braverman

Email:     ilya@shniderforcouncil.com

Website: https://www.shniderforcouncil.com

Progressive Leaders Endorse Ben Shnider for Montgomery County Council in District 3

Delegates Robinson and Platt join Unite Here Local 23 in endorsing Shnider’s council campaign ahead of kick-off event

Rockville, MD – On Saturday, Sept. 16 at 1 PM, Ben Shnider’s campaign for Montgomery County Council will host a canvass kick-off event at the Lincoln Park Community Center in Rockville.

Among those in attendance will be several notable community leaders who are endorsing Shnider’s campaign for progressive change in District 3.

  • Delegate Shane Robinson (D-39), Chair, Montgomery County House Delegation:

“I’ve known Ben for years and have seen him in action. I’m confident he’ll work tirelessly to ensure all members of our community can afford to live and thrive in Montgomery County. I know he also shares my commitment to keeping pesticides out of the Chesapeake watershed and a solid waste management strategy that moves aggressively toward zero-waste. I’m proud to endorse his campaign.”

  • Delegate Andrew Platt (D-17):

“I hear from families that I represent in Rockville and Gaithersburg every day who are struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing cost-of-living. I’m endorsing Ben’s campaign for County Council because I know he’ll be a tireless advocate for these working families.”

  • Bert Bayou, President, Unite Here Local 23:

“Our 1,000+ members in Montgomery County are hungry for leaders who will work with us to ensure we’re treated fairly on the job and paid a living wage. We’re confident Ben will be such a leader and enthusiastically endorse his campaign.”

In addition to these three endorsements, former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin said the following about Ben’s candidacy:

  • Former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-5):

“I’m thrilled Ben is running and can’t wait to join him for his kick-off. Ben’s a talented organizer and a principled progressive who would be a passionate advocate for the underserved on the County Council. It’s time to pass the torch to the next generation of progressive leaders in this county. Ben is such a leader.”

About Ben:

Ben Shnider is a civic activist running to represent District 3 on the Montgomery County Council. He’s running to ensure that all families can afford to live and thrive in our community. Ben has dedicated his life to fighting for progressive values. Prior to running, he worked as an organizer for then-Senator Barack Obama’s historic 2008 Presidential campaign, launched the political arm of the advocacy organization Bend the Arc, and served as Political Director for the pro-diplomacy group J Street. Ben is a former Board Member for the Montgomery County Action Committee for Transit and serves as Vice Chair of Rockville’s Human Rights Commission.

He lives with his wife, Sheri, and their rescue dog, Twist, in Rockville’s King Farm neighborhood. To learn more about Ben, visit www.shniderforcouncil.com

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Growing Our Local Economy and Shrinking Our Wealth Gap

By Ben Shnider.

To drive along Montgomery County’s I-270 corridor is to pass countless “For Lease” signs in front of near-vacant office parks. And to speak with service industry workers along this corridor is to encounter our community’s widening gap between the top 1% and other 99% — for whom it’s becoming harder and harder to afford living in the County.

How we address these twin challenges of affordability and economic development will define our community over the next decade. Thankfully, by proactively seizing every opportunity to prioritize smart growth, we can make significant progress on both fronts.

Consider the recent foreclosure sale of Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg. The mall was purchased for one-fifth of what the previous owner spent to acquire it in 2012. This drop in value coincided with, among other factors, the growth of the more walkable Crown Farm neighborhood about four miles down the road. The County is already studying a modernization of the well-used Ride-On transit center adjacent to Lakeforest Mall. A comprehensive mixed-use redevelopment of the property would complement this investment far better than retaining the dated mall by boosting foot traffic and economic activity. After all, the numbers are clear: walkable, transit-oriented areas in our region produce 80% more in retail sales than their auto-centric counterparts. And it’s these more walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods that have recently drawn many regional employers.

Mixed-use redevelopment of properties like Lakeforest can also be an important tool in addressing the affordable housing crisis in Montgomery County. Over one-third of County residents now rent and half of those renters are cost-burdened. Those looking to buy are often forced to choose between inadequate options that squeeze prospective buyers for unnecessary space and/or acreage. Walkable and transit accessible communities provide an opportunity for a broader range of housing choices. They also provide additional opportunities for existing affordability initiatives like the County’s Moderately Priced-Dwelling Units (MPDU) — a program that Gaithersburg and Rockville have also adopted.

Of course, there are challenges involved when re-envisioning underutilized properties like Lakeforest, including adequate public infrastructure, individual property owners in need of an incentive to relocate, and developers who don’t want to contribute their fair share for infrastructure improvements. In this case, the City of Gaithersburg — a leader in smart growth — has wrestled with these hurdles for some time. And, of course, not every mall in the region is failing. For instance, Westfield’s Bethesda and Wheaton malls are doing relatively well.

But these challenges can’t be an excuse for running on autopilot and the fact that some indoor shopping malls are doing better than others shouldn’t distract us from the overall trend. Instead, we must embrace opportunities to reinvent dated properties in the County with a sense of urgency. Otherwise our economy will fall behind those of neighboring jurisdictions, our residents will lack adequate housing and employment opportunities, and our government will lack the tax revenue necessary for critical investments like pre-K and enhanced access to Montgomery College.

The County, therefore, must work with our municipalities and the business community to leverage every tool at its disposal to move away from shopping malls and cavernous office parks and toward more sustainable and affordable communities — from master plans and zoning text amendments (outside of cities, like Gaithersburg and Rockville, that have their own zoning ordinances), to reinvigorated and innovative economic development and affordable housing policies.

This overall approach will help uproot the “For Lease” signs along I-270 while extending more economic opportunities to the low-wage workers working in their shadows.

Ben Shnider is a Democrat who is running for Montgomery County Council in District 3.

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MoCo County Candidate List, July 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Significant speculation surrounds the number of candidates who could be running for county office in MoCo next year.  Some believe that fifty or more people are interested in running but the ultimate number will probably be much less.  Below are the candidates who are actually running for County Executive or County Council at this moment.  All of them have either established a campaign committee, have filed to run, have publicly announced their intent to run or are incumbents who are eligible for reelection.  If there are mistakes or omissions on this list, please let us know.  We will be posting regular updates.

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