Cherri Branson Running for Council At-Large

By Adam Pagnucco.

Former Montgomery County Council Member Cherri Branson established a campaign committee on June 20.  Branson told us she intends to run for County Council At-Large.

Branson is a former counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committees on Government Oversight and Homeland Security.  She is also a former President of the Montgomery County African American Democratic Club.  In 2014, the Montgomery County Council appointed Branson to fill the remaining time in the term of District 5 County Council Member Valerie Ervin, who had resigned.  She is now the Director of the county’s Office of Procurement.

Branson had been the subject of speculation for a possible run in District 5 against incumbent Tom Hucker.  Her decision to run at-large might leave Hucker with no opponent.  Her campaign committee is currently not enrolled in public financing.  She joins an increasingly jam-packed field of at-large candidates with more on the way.


More Crime at the Liquor Monopoly

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Police Department has reported that two men, one of whom worked for the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC), were arrested for a series of liquor thefts from trucks parked at the county’s warehouse.  The Washington Post and Bethesda Magazine also reported the story.  Note that this was not only an inside job but that DLC’s security procedures were so inadequate that the suspects were able to commit eight different thefts before being caught!  But neither the Post nor Bethesda Magazine fully examined the history of criminal, unethical and suspicious activity at DLC.

Consider these other recent events.

1. In November 2014, NBC4 discovered that DLC employees were skimming booze from deliveries and attempting to sell it to licensees under the table.  People inside DLC told NBC4 that the scams had been going on for years.  Four delivery workers were fired and another quit after NBC4’s undercover investigation.  Yet another worker was fired later.

2. That same month, NBC4 caught DLC employees drinking and driving on the job.

3. In March 2015, the county’s Inspector General found that DLC’s warehouse was run with sticky notes.  He said “as many as 154 cases a day go missing without anyone investigating why.”

Corruption and ethics issues go back a long, LONG ways at the liquor monopoly.  In 2001, its Director pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, misappropriating funds and felony theft.  A subsequent Inspector General’s report blamed the county for failure of oversight.  In 1980, a consultant who found that DLC was steering disproportionate business to a company connected to the County Executive was forced out – by that same County Executive.  That incident mushroomed into a major political scandal, complete with secret tapes and hiring abuses, known as “Liquorgate.”  All of this is on top of continued poor service for decades including two consecutive New Year’s Eve meltdowns.  No wonder consumers flee the liquor monopoly.

Next year, elections will be held for County Executive, County Council and the state legislature.  Which candidates will stand up against DLC and advocate for ending its monopoly status once and for all?


Leventhal Qualifies for Public Financing

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


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, June 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Jessica Moore, Campaign Director

George Leventhal for Montgomery County



The Towering Legacy of Phil Andrews

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County’s 2018 primary is now roughly a year away.  Many uncertainties have yet to be decided.  But one thing is for sure: the two most influential people in the election are not on the ballot.  One is the current occupant of the Oval Office.  The other is a retired County Council Member whose towering legacy will affect everyone running for county office one way or another.  He is the last person who would ever make such a claim, so we will do it for him.  He is Phil Andrews.

Andrews was a former Executive Director of Common Cause who ran unsuccessfully for council at-large in 1994 but was elected after defeating an incumbent in District 3 four years later.  Early in his career, Andrews was a progressive darling, passing a living wage law and a restaurant smoking ban in his first term.  Later, he became known for fiscal prudence and authored the county’s public campaign financing law in his last year at the council.  Andrews finished third in the 2014 County Executive Democratic primary with 22% of the vote and is now employed by the State’s Attorney’s office.

Andrews’s shadow looms large over the coming election in three ways.

Public Campaign Financing

During his career, Andrews never accepted campaign contributions from PACs or developers.  He wrote the county’s public campaign financing law in part to allow candidates following his example to be competitive with traditionally financed rivals.  The growing number of candidates who are using it testifies to its popularity.  One at-large council candidate, MCPS teacher Chris Wilhelm, even has a petition demanding that all county candidates enroll.  One thing is for sure: all county candidates, whether they use it or not, will have to deal with its political implications.

During his time in office, Andrews was surrounded by colleagues who freely accepted money from PACs and developers.  Now some of those same people are enrolling in public financing.  Andrews must feel like a country pastor welcoming reformed sinners to church.

Opposition to Tax Hikes

After having been in office for a few years, Andrews became concerned that growth in the county’s budget was unsustainable.  He began opposing what he viewed as excessive spending, especially on union contracts, and started working against tax hikes.  In 2008, Andrews teamed up with at-large Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg to reduce the size of a proposed property tax hike.  Two years later, he voted against a county budget partly because it raised the energy tax.

The conventional wisdom is that opposition to the 2016 tax hikes was responsible for passing term limits, although the truth is probably more complicated than that.  Still, the majority of Democrats voted for term limits and that fact is not lost on new candidates for office.  Several of them are leery of more tax hikes and more than one will make an issue of it during the next election.  One potential at-large candidate recently told your author, “I will be the hardest vote to get for any tax hike.”  Reggie Oldak, running in District 1, has said, “We can’t keep increasing property taxes.”  Neil Greenberger, the County Council’s now-former spokesman, openly denounces the 2016 increases.  There will be others making similar arguments.

How many components of Phil Andrews’s 2014 message will show up in next year’s election?  Our bet: lots.

Temperament and Demeanor

In our conversations with those who are running or thinking of running for county office, we have often asked who their favorite Council Member is.  Hands down, the winner is Phil Andrews.  That choice is made regardless of ideology and even whether the candidate is using public financing.  The most common reason cited is his temperament and demeanor in office.

“Phil was a grown-up,” said one candidate.  Another said, “He could disagree without fighting.  It was never personal.”  A third said, “He never BS’d you.  He told you what he thought and that was it.”  That’s all true.  His lack of pretentiousness is also mentioned.  Indeed, Andrews chose to conduct his first interview with your author years ago in the most humble venue imaginable: the council cafeteria.  No steak or cocktails for him (or sadly, for me)!

Andrews looks particularly good in comparison to those politicians who argue with constituents or block them on Facebook.  In one respect, that was easy for him: Andrews was almost never on social media.  Even so, your author has yet to find a constituent who describes Andrews as being anything other than polite and cordial.  Regardless of his personal feelings – and there were certainly some who tried to get his temperature up – Andrews never took the bait.

While some candidates will cite Andrews on the campaign trail and perhaps even seek his endorsement – probably fruitlessly – there will never be another one exactly like him on the council.  His combination of tax skepticism, willingness to do battle with labor, resistance to factionalism, total invulnerability to peer pressure and raw humility is an unusual one in local politics.  But Andrews will be able to look at the next council and see fragments of his influence everywhere, with different pieces appearing in different members.  Somewhere deep in the rectory, the country pastor just might smile.


Hamza Khan’s Statement on the D39 Race

Following is Hamza Khan’s statement on his candidacy in District 39, which he released today.


Over the past few days, I have been contacted by numerous party leaders, elected officials and voters asking me remain in the race for Delegate in District 39 or to alternatively consider running for county council at-large. I wish to express my deep gratitude in the faith that so many supporters have put in my candidacy for public office. In light of these appeals, I have decided that the wisest course of action at this time is to take some time to reflect. I plan to meet with voters and stakeholders in our community in order to discuss the merits of my campaign and seek their counsel, because it is their voices that matter for any decision to be made in our democracy. Therefore, I will make an final decision about running for office later this summer.

No matter what my decision will be, I believe that all the Democrats seeking our party’s nomination for delegate in District 39 and for County Council next June are accomplished individuals who represent some of the best our beautiful county and state have to offer. Thanks to many of them, I am excited for the future of our party, county and state. Together, I know we can and will liberate Government House from Larry Hogan, and fight the alt-right agenda of his fellow Republicans in Washington. I look forward to being in touch.
Democratically Yours,
Hamza Khan

Hucker Files for Reelection in District 5

By Adam Pagnucco.

District 5 County Council Member Tom Hucker filed for reelection to his current seat on June 19.  Hucker’s decision ends speculation that he was considering the at-large race, in which he would have been a formidable contender.  It may also lead 2014 District 5 candidate Evan Glass, who came very close to winning, to run at-large.  What is currently unknown is whether Hucker will have any challengers.  Below is his filing from the state’s candidate list.


A Troublesome Situation

By Adam Pagnucco.

By running for an at-large County Council seat and retaining his position as the council’s spokesman, Neil Greenberger is creating a troublesome situation for both the council and the public.  That situation is rooted in the significant conflicts that Greenberger will now have between his two roles.

As we have previously written, the position of spokesperson for an elected official – or in Greenberger’s case, nine of them – is a position of trust.  Elected officials must believe that their communications personnel will represent their positions and actions fairly towards members of the public, who after all will determine if those officials are reelected.  That’s hard to believe when the spokesperson is a candidate who is running for the same office held by the elected officials he is supposed to represent.  In at least one case – incumbent Council Member Hans Riemer – Greenberger is running in the exact same contest.  (Disclosure: your author is Riemer’s former Chief of Staff and regularly worked with Greenberger.)  That means Greenberger is supposed to be trusted to represent Riemer fairly during his day job while he could very well criticize him or his positions on the campaign trail after hours.  The same situation could apply to District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker, who may run at-large.

This is not a hypothetical scenario.  Greenberger is already running against last year’s tax hikes, telling MCM, “This county cannot take another property tax hike… I will guarantee no budget in the four years I’m in office will exceed the charter limit. That’s a guarantee.”  He also told the Sentinel, “The number one thing is, no matter what their incomes, people are still feeling the pain of the big tax increases – actually the two tax increases of last year… And I don’t think they need any more tax increases in the next four years.”  Your author has some sympathy for Greenberger’s opinions.  But the fact is that all nine of the Council Members Greenberger represents in his day job voted for the tax hikes and those who are running again will be defending them on the campaign trail.  And yet their own spokesman is contradicting them.

There is more.  Greenberger runs the council side of the county government’s cable channel, County Cable Montgomery (CCM).  He even hosts his own county TV show.  He is also a liaison between the council and Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit that covers the county and receives county funding.  In those capacities, Greenberger will be in a position to influence the coverage his opponents – including those who employ him – receive.  It’s a huge conflict.  But Greenberger ignores that.  According to the Sentinel, “Greenberger said he plans to continue to work his job while he campaigns for County Council, saying there is not a conflict of interest because his job is not political nor is he required by law to quit.”  That’s a questionable contention at best.  Many communications from elected officials to the public have a political dimension to them.  Elected officials who issue communications making themselves look bad may not be elected for long!

Neil Greenberger interviews one of his nine employers – and future political rival – Hans Riemer on his county television show in 2011.

The natural reaction of elected officials who face the prospect of their own spokesperson publicly critiquing them is to stop using the spokesperson altogether.  Think about it – who on Earth would want to employ a critic or outright opponent to write press releases about them?  Here’s where the situation becomes problematic for taxpayers.  Greenberger was paid $148,091 in 2016.  If Council Members stop going through him and start relying exclusively on their own personal staff for communications, there is a possibility that his ability to perform his day job would be impaired.

These are not garden-variety conflicts, folks.  Greenberger’s compensation as well as the media outlets he influences directly and indirectly are publicly funded.  That leads us to ask what safeguards will be put in place to prevent any potential use of public resources to benefit a specific candidate, especially if it comes at the expense of others.

Greenberger has as much right to run for office as anyone else.  He is also a merit staffer and can’t be fired for political activity after hours.  But given the above facts, Greenberger should request a transfer to a less politically sensitive position and the job of council spokesperson should be converted to an at-will appointment.  Should he fail to act accordingly, voters should consider his sense of judgment on this issue when they decide how to cast their votes.


Delaney Continues to Raise Money for Congress

By Adam Pagnucco.

Congressman John Delaney, who is mulling a run for Governor, is continuing to raise money for Congress.  On June 15, he sent out the email below asking donors to contribute $3 or more per month to his federal account.  As of this writing, Delaney has not yet opened a state account.  This comes on top of three recent federal fundraisers for Delaney, including one held at his home in Rehoboth Beach.

The obvious question is: if Delaney indeed plans to run for Governor, why is he still raising money for his federal account?


Lessons from the Virginia Primaries

On the Democratic side, we saw a hotly contested gubernatorial primary between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. Both ran as strong progressives with Northam beating Perriello by the more comfortable than expected margin of 56-44.

Perriello did best in his old southside congressional district and in normally Republican low turnout counties in the western part of the State. Northam carried urban Democratic strongholds like Alexandria and Arlington and did even better in places like Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

While billed as the Sanders insurgency versus the establishment, this geography doesn’t support that voters especially saw it that way, since Northam carried urban progressive strongholds. I suspect that was inside baseball to most voters who took their cues off of snapshots of the candidates. Something for people still fighting the Bernie v. Hillary wars to remember.

We did learn that there is no such thing as criticizing Donald Trump too much in a Democratic primary. Both candidates were strident in their critiques. Northam managed to get a lot of earned media for calling Trump “a narcissistic maniac.”

Both candidates ran good campaigns and either would have been a fine general election candidate. Kudos to Tom Perriello for conceding quickly once the results became clear and for unequivocally endorsing Ralph Northam. Another good lesson for Democrats everywhere.

The Republicans had a much more problematic night that almost ended in total disaster. Former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, who nearly upset U.S. Mark Warner in 2014, ran a campaign in which he advocated standard Republican calls for massive tax cuts and did his best to avoid controversy or commentary on Trump.

In contrast, Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, known in the past for his staunch anti-immigrant efforts and being fired as Trump’s state campaign chair, ran an incendiary campaign in which ran as Trumpier than Trump, embracing Confederate monuments and getting lots of free media.

Despite huge financial advantages and near universal establishment support, Gillespie eked out a victory over Stewart of 43.7 to 42.5. Trump remains popular among the diehards who tend to vote in low turnout Republican primaries.

This does not bode well for people who would like to see the party steered away from extreme right-wing populist Trump-style politics. Probably very bad for Republicans but even worse for Americans who need two responsible, viable parties.

Though Republicans just avoided the nightmare scenario of Stewart as their nominee, Gillespie’s narrow win when a blowout was anticipated takes the wind out of their sails, which doesn’t help as he was already trailing either Northam or Perriello in the polls. It doesn’t demonstrate strong support for the nominee and, contrary to his near upset of Warner, weakens confidence that he knows how to run a good campaign in tough terrain.