Evaluating the Candidates for County Executive: Roger Berliner

Today, I continue my look at the current crop of candidates for county executive with Roger Berliner.

Introducing Roger Berliner

Like Marc Elrich, Roger Berliner didn’t make it to the Council on his first try. He lost the Democratic nomination for District 1 in a special election in 2000 in a bitter primary battle against Chevy Chase Village Board Chair Pat Baptiste. However, he won the nomination without opposition in 2006 and then went on to defeat the well-liked Howie Denis, among the last of the moderate Republicans elected in Montgomery. Indeed, Denis was often more liberal than his Democratic colleagues.

In many ways, Roger faces the toughest district on the Council. The most affluent district in the County, his constituents are extremely well-educated and possess a sense of their own agency that render them far less likely to be intimidated by government officials. At the same time, precisely because he represents a successful area, it can be difficult for him to gain attention for his district’s real concerns even if his constituents pay a disproportionate share of taxes. On top of that, Roger has maintained his support for the Purple Line in the area that contains the strongest opposition and where many see little benefit but much expense.

Nonetheless, Roger has navigated the political currents well. In the last election, former at-large County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg tried for a second act with strong support from her erstwhile enemies in the unions. Roger didn’t just win; he annihilated Duchy with almost 80 percent of the vote. A nice validation from his constituents.

Roger’s Niche in the Race

Almost by default, Roger has become the pro-business candidate in this race. I write by default because it’s not because Roger is a right winger or the ideal business candidate. In politics, one often has to choose the least bad option. From the business perspective, Roger is that candidate and they even hold out hope that he could be a good option.

Roger will likely center his case on the claim that he can get the County’s stagnant economy moving again—a vital concern both for citizens and the County budget, which desperately needs more revenue to avoid service cuts and to repair aging infrastructure and voters look unwilling to stomach another set of tax and fee increases.

Roger has taken enough liberal stands that he should remain within the comfort zones of those who have liberal impulses but remain more practical (read: centrist). In particular, Roger has carved out a strong environmental record and pushed consistently for efforts to reduce carbon emissions in our populous county.

He has also made himself Pepco’s leading critic—not a bad place to be with consumers–as the company firmly believes it should always earn a profit whether or not it can keep the electricity flowing. However, under much scrutiny after the derecho, service has improved, so this issue has declined in salience, even if few County residents will object to Roger’s efforts to fight the latest hike in utility rates.

Making the Case

Marc Elrich’s candidacy centers around economic justice. Roger Berliner will need to articulate his own vision if he wants to win. Specifically, he will need to explain how he will get the County moving again economically. He’ll need to do it with enough specifics that it convinces voters that it’s not just the usual puffery. At the same time, he can’t get caught up in the minutiae, as Democrats tend to do, so that voters lose the plot and get bored. Roger will also need to make the case for why focus on growth and new jobs matters.

Within this vision, Roger will also include liberal values and principles. He might also choose to pair his economic vision with another non-economic progressive notion to attract voters more to the left or at least stay within their comfort zone. A tricky balancing act, as he also wants to avoid being so wishy-washy that business doesn’t have to curb their enthusiasm, but Roger has proved adept at figuring out a route through these political currents.

Weaknesses and Challenges to Roger’s Candidacy

Roger’s central problem is communication. More specifically and to be overly blunt, it is one of authenticity. It is not that Roger lacks authenticity—he has adhered tenaciously to a set of core values through his three council terms—but a problem of presentation. Perhaps due to his training as an attorney, Roger comes across frequently as just a bit too practiced and too careful when responding to voters.

Politics is about connecting with voters, so Roger will have to reveal more of that underlying authentic passion if he wants to win. I don’t want to overstate the issue—Ike Leggett has been a very careful and very successful politician—but Sanders and Trump resonated for a reason. Still, Montgomery was Hillary country and Roger has won tough contests before, so he won’t need to take it too far.


Roger dodged a bullet when David Trone decided to take his business experience and his wallet to the Sixth Congressional District. If he can consolidate business support and continue his past successful outreach to other communities, he should be a top-tier candidate. He remains highly vulnerable, however, to new candidates who could do the same from outside County government, as voters remain desirous of turning over the reins to new leaders.


EMILY’s List Endorses Aruna Miller

Big news in the Sixth Congressional District. EMILY’s List has endorsed Del. Aruna Miller. We’ll have to see how much cash EMILY’s List invests in this contest but they put huge resources into Donna Edwards’ bid for Senate. David Trone may not be the only one with real money in the race.

It is yet another sign that Del. Miller is running a serious, focused campaign. She has raised significant dollars on her own and now has the backing of the major national Democratic organization that promotes pro-choice women.

Money doesn’t make someone a good Member of Congress. But it sure makes it a lot easier to run a viable congressional campaign. If anyone didn’t already think Aruna is among the candidates to watch, this should get across the message.

Here is the press release from her campaign:

GAITHERSBURG, MD – Delegate Aruna Miller is pleased to announce that she has been endorsed by EMILY’s List for her campaign for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Maryland.

EMILY’s List is the nation’s largest resource for women in politics and has raised over $500 million to support Democratic women candidates. Their grassroots community of over five million members helps Democratic women wage competitive campaigns. Since their founding in 1985, they have helped to elect 116 women to the House of Representatives, 23 to the Senate, and over 800 to various state and local offices.

“I am honored to have been endorsed by EMILY’s List. This is an organization founded on bringing more people to the table, and I am so excited to see our message catching the attention of progressives who share our values,” said Delegate Miller. “We have learned this year that motivated and organized grassroots supporters can move mountains, and we know that with EMILY’s List support, we will take the fight to Donald Trump to protect our healthcare and our choices, to invest in our public education and programs like STEM, and to show that government works for the people.”

Aruna Miller has been a civil engineer, working for 25 years for Montgomery County. She began her political career by volunteering for her local Democratic Central Committee, going door to door and serving as a precinct captain. In 2010, she was elected to the Maryland Legislature where she represents the 15th District and serves on the Appropriations Committee. Delegate Miller officially entered the campaign for Congress earlier this year and has already surpassed $350,000 in fundraising.


Evaluating the Candidates for County Executive: Marc Elrich

The field is incomplete but we already have three major Democratic candidates for county executive in Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D 1), Marc Elrich (D At-Large), and George Leventhal (D-At Large). All three have eyed this office for some time. Now, thanks to term limits, they have to move up or out. Today, I begin a series taking a look at each of their candidacies, starting with Marc Elrich.

Introducing Marc Elrich

Former Takoma Park Councilmember Marc Elrich had to run repeatedly before he won a seat on the County Council. Once he did, he flourished with the voters but less so with his colleagues. In his last two elections, despite relatively small campaign kitties, Marc emerged clearly on top of the primary for the four at-large seats.

But he finds himself on the end of 8-1 Council votes more often than others, and George Leventhal defenestrated him from the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee when he became council chair. He has never been elected Council chair, though that could work to his advantage, as it aids his efforts to position himself as an outsider running against the status quo during a time when even people in Montgomery County seem dissatisfied with the establishment.

The Progressive Champion

Marc’s lane in the race is as the solid progressive candidate. Put another way, if you liked Bernie’s strong stand in favor of taking meaningful action to do something about economic inequality and aid people who are struggling, you should love Marc. He has been the most consistent and staunch progressive on the Council, most recently championing increasing the minimum wage to $15. He is popular with County employee unions with MCGEO’s Gino Renne hugging him especially tight in an embrace that could get uncomfortable. Marc doesn’t take large contributions from developers, though he’s hardly popular among them in any case.

Personal Strengths

His strengths, however, go beyond his natural appeal to the Democratic progressive base centered in Takoma Park and Silver Spring. Marc is extremely well-liked among civic activists around the County because he listens and takes their concerns more seriously than any other councilmember.

Though some find him brusque, more appreciate his individualized attention to neighborhoods all around the County, and his general willingness to have a respectful conversation even if you disagree. A former teacher, Marc possesses the rare ability to explain complex issues in ways that people can understand and without resorting to insider argot.

His Big Idea: Bus-Rapid Transit

Marc can also claim to have brought the major (only?) out-of-the-box idea to the Council in the last twelve years in his plan for a bus-rapid transit network around the County. I’ve long found the idea appealing because it provides a means to give Montgomery County a real public transit system at a far more reasonable price than either light or heavy rail. It also has the potential to reduce tension between civic and business organizations, as it would genuinely address transportation concerns and simultaneously allow for more development.

Marc, however, has found it more difficult to promote his vision among his colleagues despite strong voter support. Indeed, his fellow at-large councilmembers—Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, and Hans Riemer—have taken a jaundiced approach to BRT even though they have remained nominally supportive. (The at-large councilmembers have a natural habit of looking jealously at each other since they compete at election time.) After twelve years, we are only now getting ready to take action to construct a pilot BRT line, and Roger Berliner would argue that it took his leadership to obtain unanimous Council support to move forward.

Challenges for Marc’s Candidacy

While having many strengths, Marc also faces challenges in his bid for county executive. Business is terrified of the idea of him, perceiving as madness his advocacy for left-wing ideas from rent control to a higher minimum wage to making commercial developers pay more for improvements that benefit them to his support for retaining the County’s antiquated liquor monopoly.

His advocacy against a system that he perceives as screwing over most people to benefit the wealthy fits within his political brand and has real appeal to much of the Democratic base. Still, Montgomery remains an affluent place with many card-carrying members of the establishment. Neighborhoods at all income levels espouse conventional middle-class values and are filled with people who want to move up rather than tear the system down.

Marc will need to operate within their comfort zone if he wants to win and his occasional burst of hardcore left-wing sentiments on non-economic questions may be off putting to more skittish supporters and provide ammunition to his opponents. His recent sharing of a video attacking Winston Churchill on Facebook provides a good example. While Marc sees it as balancing the hagiography of Churchill’s wartime leadership to create a more historically honest picture, it looks bizarre and distracts from his fundamental economic message and political brand. It weakens the valuable bonds that Marc has built with many communities through long-term cultivation and hard work.


Regardless of who runs, Marc will be a top-tier candidate. He will run as the progressive champion and should harvest the lion’s share of their votes. Other candidates will find it hard to challenge him on this terrain and among this constituency.


Looking for the Next County Executive, Part II: The Future

The next county executive will face major challenges. Montgomery County’s economy is not performing well. While it’s a long-time cliché that we’re losing business to Northern Virginia—Ellen Sauerbrey campaigned on that theme in 1994—the County has not done well in creating new employment over the past several years.

Jobs, of course, are critical to success of county residents and also the tax base. Employment is the best social justice program ever invented. If the tax base stagnates, there will not be enough money to maintain the array of services for which Montgomery County is renowned, let alone spend more to lend people who need it a helping hand.

I’m hoping that whoever is elected county executive will have a forward-thinking plan for economic development. Though the newly launched Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation imitates the highly successful efforts of Howard and Fairfax to pursue business opportunities, I remain skeptical that it will achieve the same levels of success, as currently managed and structured.

We also need someone who is willing to break a few eggs and not see barriers as they launch more ambitious projects in a manner reminiscent of Doug Duncan. Even though they will not all work out, new ideas both for the County and how to organize County government to work better and more efficiently need to be tried or the County’s relative decline will start to feel a lot less genteel very soon.

The challenge will be especially great because tax increases are not a real option. Though we are now out of the recession, the income tax remains set at the charter limit. In 2016, the County Council achieved the unanimity required to increase property taxes significantly above the charter limit. Fees have also gone up for everything from recording property to public parking. The one area of tax opportunity may be making commercial development pay for improvements that clearly aid their own efforts.

While being inventive, the new county executive should maintain certain key policies of the Leggett Administration. In particular, the County must continue to adopt budgets and fund future obligations in a manner that retains its AAA bond rating. The County Executive also needs to focus on the core priorities of local government. Too often, the County Council has spent an inordinate amount of time on issues peripheral to core functions.

Finally, and perhaps most important in our era of seemingly toxic politics, we need someone who continues Ike’s outstanding record of listening respectfully to people who disagree, often vehemently, and is a model for civility in governance. That should be possible even as the new executive presses forward with new ideas and needed reforms.


Looking for the Next County Executive, Part I: Ike’s Legacy

After three terms, Ike Leggett is stepping down as Montgomery County Executive. Ike arrived in office at a very tough time, just before the bubble burst in 2007 causing revenues to collapse even as need soared. He had to make extremely difficult budget choices and he made the right ones, choosing to protect education and public safety even though that meant he had to slash funding for other treasured items, like libraries.

The other great talents that Ike Leggett brought to the office were calm and civility. Even as the economy came crashing down, he projected cool stability—a welcome contrast to the approach taken by many other leaders. Ike is also rightly known for treating constituents consistently with respect and dignity that remains a welcome model in an era of increasingly harsh politics.

While Ike made the right choices in where to cut the budget, he did not use the recession to reshape Montgomery County government. This was a missed opportunity to reorganize the County to try out potentially more efficient ideas designed not to just meet current budget challenges but to also set the County up ready for the future.

Tomorrow, I continue with a discussion of what sort of focus and approach that Montgomery County needs in its next county executive.


Maryland Asian Caucus Members Call for Changing State Song

By Adam Pagnucco.

Eight Maryland state legislators comprising the General Assembly’s Asian Caucus are applauding the removal of the statehouse’s Roger Taney statue and calling for changing Maryland’s disgraceful state song.  Their statement appears below.


Maryland Asian Caucus Members Applaud Removal of Taney Statue and Call for Changing State Song

As members of Maryland’s Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus, we applaud the recent decision to remove the statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney from the State House grounds and further call on the General Assembly to revise or replace our state song.

The Taney statue and the state song celebrate aspects of Maryland history in which we take no pride. The Confederate and Nazi themed white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia have reopened wounds from our nation’s history of slavery, segregation, and racial inequality. There are other ways to educate the public about this painful history without glorifying one of the worst rulings in American jurisprudence.

The State House grounds has room for only two large statues. Maryland has but one state song. Let us use these three unique opportunities to highlight a Maryland history that makes our entire population proud. Let us relegate the more sordid aspects of the past to museums, history books, and other formats more appropriate for conveying the divisive evolution Maryland has witnessed over the decades. The threat of backtracking on America’s progress on race relations make this a more timely history lesson now than ever before.

Senator Susan Lee

Delegate Kriselda Valderrama

Delegate Aruna Miller

Delegate Clarence Lam

Delegate Mark S Chang

Delegate David Moon

Delegate Kumar Barve

Delegate Jay Jalisi

### End ###


Leventhal Blames Term Limits on “Right Wing Populism”

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a post on Senator Cheryl Kagan’s Facebook page, Council Member George Leventhal has blamed the voters’ passage of term limits on “right wing populism.”  Yes folks, you read that correctly!

On Sunday, Senator Kagan posted an innocuous account of the number of reusable bags she has accumulated in the wake of the county’s use of a bag tax.  (Your author and many others can relate!)  Her post had nothing to do with term limits and she even stated her support of the bag tax.  Nevertheless, Leventhal replied within ten minutes.  “Constituents have told me the bag tax was a primary reason term limits passed. I support the bag tax too, but I’m just letting you know that you walk a thin line when you associate with right wing populism by identifying yourself with term limits.”

First, Kagan did nothing to identify herself with term limits or with right wing populism of any kind.  No reasonable person would make those leaps of illogic by reading her post.  Second, while Robin Ficker and Help Save Maryland may have gathered signatures for the term limits charter amendment, 70% of the county’s voters (and a majority of Democrats) voted for term limits.  Third, at the same time that “right wing populism” was apparently sweeping the county, those same voters supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 75%-19%.  The alleged right wingers also voted for Chris Van Hollen and Jamie Raskin by more than 50 points each.

Large majorities of every part of the county except Takoma Park voted for term limits.  Is right wing populism running wild in MoCo?

Part of what is going on here may be a reaction to Kagan’s consideration of a run for County Executive, an office which Leventhal is seeking.  Potential rivals are right to fear Kagan.  She is an outstanding candidate who is a veteran of two recent hard-fought Senate races and has many fans inside and outside of her district.  She is also plenty tough, having sent out mail against her 2014 opponent showing him “gallivanting around as a Republican elephant masquerading in a Democrat donkey mask.”  She is unlikely to be intimidated by unfriendly statements on Facebook.

There are many reasons for the passage of term limits: the giant tax hike of 2016, declining local media coverage, falling voter turnout, unhappiness with nanny state laws and, in some areas, dissatisfaction with recent master plans.  These factors and more combined to produce the biggest political revolt in MoCo in fifty years.  But there is no evidence that right wing populism played a decisive role here.  Leventhal’s remarks are reminiscent of his equating term limits supporters with Brexit voters and his branding of the entire effort as “dumb and unnecessary.”  His views do not appear to have changed.

Disclosures: Your author is a big fan of Kagan, has done campaign work for Roger Berliner in the past and publicly supports Berliner for Executive.


Certain of Victory, Candidates Move to Takoma Park

By Adam Pagnucco.

Real estate agents in Takoma Park report that home values in the City have doubled in the last month as local candidates swarm in to buy houses.  “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said local realtor Walt Simonson.  “They say they want to win their next election and they’re beating out all other bids!”

The candidate frenzy is driven by a surge of media coverage about Takoma Park’s dominance of the County Council.  City residents occupy three of the four at-large seats.  Also, Congressman Jamie Raskin, Comptroller Peter Franchot and DNC Chairman Tom Perez live in Takoma Park.  As a result, a home in the City is seen by many as locking down a victory for elected office.

“If I can just get that house on Poplar Avenue, I know I’m gonna win,” said County Council candidate Evan Glass, who was relocating from Silver Spring.  When shown data illustrating that the city’s dominance of the council was temporary, Glass didn’t believe it.  “Fake news!  I believe in winning.  Don’t you?”

Some incumbents who represent districts in other parts of the county are renting second homes in Takoma Park just to increase their chances of reelection.  Your author witnessed District 17 Delegate Kumar Barve, who is facing a challenger, signing a lease for a Maple Avenue apartment.  On being asked what he was doing, Barve replied to your author, “None of your business!”

Political observers believe that Takoma Park residents will win ten council seats in the upcoming election.  That’s noteworthy since there are only nine council offices at present.  “We are installing a tenth council position reserved for Takoma Park.  It will have veto power over the other council seats,” said Seth Grimes, a former City Council Member running for County Council.  “In the unlikely event you elect non-City residents to the other seats, it won’t matter.  But good luck anyway!”

Takoma Park’s dominance of local government is manifest in the regular shipments of gold bullion it receives, all stamped with the Montgomery County Government seal.  When your author noticed a new shipment being unloaded into the city’s treasury vault, Mayor Kate Stewart said, “You’re not supposed to see that.”  Workers proceeded to drape tarps over the bullion as it was hauled in.

The City is greatly aided in its mission to control world politics by its Takoma Park Political Domination School, established in 1890.  Enrollment in the school is mandatory for all residents.  Students are taught the fine arts of door-knocking, money-raising (except from developers), campaign rhetoric and opposition to conservatives.  Many residents enroll their children in the school shortly after birth.  “We start them young,” said employee Flo Steinberg, who works in the school’s Political Daycare Center.  Two-year-old Marcy was seen receiving language training from Steinberg.  “Liberal,” said Steinberg.  “Lib-wuhl,” replied Marcy.  “No, no.  Lib.  Err.  Al.”  The school’s success is proven by U.S. Census Bureau data indicating that 82% of Takoma Park’s residents are current, former or future elected officials.  The other 18% are recent arrivals.

Xerxes Z-1, commandant of Galactic Fleet 26 from Planet X, agreed that the City dominated Earth politics.  “When we came to this planet, we did not go to the White House.  We are not interested in discount golf club memberships, financial transactions with Russian oligarchs or Cheetos.  We asked to be taken to your leaders and of course that meant coming to Takoma Park.”  The alien commander spoke from the grounds of the Takoma Park Political Domination School, where he had enrolled immediately upon reaching Earth.


Miller Causes a Huge Headache for Maryland Democrats

By Adam Pagnucco.

Democrats all over the country have lately been demanding that Confederate statues and other monuments celebrating slavery be taken down.  That extends to Maryland, where Baltimore Mayor Cathy Pugh had four Confederate monuments removed in the middle of the night.  But when Maryland Democrats demanded that an Annapolis statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney also be removed, they ran into opposition from arguably the state’s most powerful Democratic politician: Senate President Mike Miller.

Democrats’ objections to Taney are rooted in his authoring of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, which held that descendants of Africans imported as slaves into the U.S. could not be American citizens.  In 2015, Governor Larry Hogan defended the Taney statue in Annapolis in the Washington Post.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) says he is opposed to a change in the state song and likened the effort to calls for removing the statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, author of the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, from the grounds of the State House.

“It’s political correctness run amok,” Hogan said in an interview last week. “Where do we stop? Do we get rid of the George Washington statues out here and take down all the pictures from all the people from the Colonial era that were slave owners? Do we change the name of Washington County, Carroll County and Calvert County?

“You can’t change history, and we’re not going to be able to rewrite history,” Hogan said. “And I don’t think we ought to be changing any of that.”

After Democrats including House Speaker Mike Busch pushed back this week, Hogan changed his mind and agreed to remove the statue.  The Governor was one of three members of the four-member board with jurisdiction over the statue to vote for removal.  But one member of the board objected to the process of deciding the issue by email: Senate President Mike Miller.  In his letter, Miller argued that Taney opposed slavery and “freed his slaves early in his life,” joined an “anti-kidnapping society” to protect free blacks and remained loyal to the Union until his death.  Miller also cited support for the statue from former Baltimore City Delegate Pete Rawlings and a descendant of Dred Scott.  We reprint the letter below.

Whatever one thinks of Miller’s opinion, it’s a big headache for Maryland Democrats.  Much of their strategy to oppose Governor Hogan has been to criticize him for silence in the face of actions by President Donald Trump.  That strategy has affected the behavior of the Governor, who just said that Trump “made a terrible mistake” in his comments on the white supremacist invasion of Charlottesville.  But what of Miller?  If his comments on the Taney statue had come from Hogan, Maryland Democrats would be swarming all over him.  What happens when such sentiments come from one of the most powerful Democrats in the state?

One Democrat who did not blanch from criticizing the Senate President was Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for Governor.  Madaleno wrote on Facebook that Miller “is wrong.”

The rest of the Democrats now have a choice.  They can be intellectually honest and take on one of the leaders of their party.  Or they can ignore Miller and look like hypocrites.

As with Hogan on Trump, silence is not an option.


Delauter Responds to Seventh State

By Adam Pagnucco.

After our post on Frederick County Council Member Kirby Delauter’s views on the Civil War, Delauter reached out to your author on Facebook and requested an interview.  Your author agreed, but when I stipulated that the interview be on the record, Delauter balked.

Below is the exchange with Delauter on the Western Maryland Politics Facebook page.

We have often gone off the record with sources in the past.  But Delauter is different.  He is the only local elected official we know of who has threatened to sue a news publication for “unauthorized” use of his name.  We remind Delauter (and any like-minded politicians) that truth is an absolute defense to libel and defamation lawsuits, and that includes citing public statements made by public figures.  Accordingly, while we are happy to communicate with Delauter, we will only do it on the record because of his history of threatening litigation.

One more thing.  While Delauter may have been mocked by some for his threat against the Frederick News-Post, we take him very seriously.  He has enthusiastic supporters, is an able fundraiser and represents a red district that is a good base for a GOP candidate running county-wide.  Delauter may very well be Frederick County’s next Executive.