By Adam Pagnucco.
On Tuesday, the County Council learned that their own spokesperson is planning on running for one of their seats. Um, OK. And… they learned about it like everyone else did by reading it on MCM.
Neil Greenberger, who has been the council’s Legislative Information Officer since 2006, announced his potential candidacy by telling MCM, “I would chance to say I know as much about county government as anybody in the county.” Including his bosses? Um… well, you get the point. Greenberger could run in District 2 if incumbent Craig Rice vacates his seat. Otherwise, he would run at-large. Greenberger said he would stay in his job while he runs for office and give it up only if elected.
To appreciate how strange this is, let’s understand that the two most sensitive staff positions for most elected officials are their Chief of Staff and spokesperson. The former person is privy to the official’s most confidential discussions and decision-making. The latter is the official’s conduit to the public. Both individuals have to mirror the boss’s priorities exactly and can never diverge positions from them outside of closed doors. That’s part of the deal when you work for an elected official.
Patrick Lacefield, Greenberger’s counterpart in the Executive Branch, works for one boss. And Ike Leggett, by all accounts, is a good boss to have. Greenberger has NINE bosses and not all of them are as gentlemanly as Leggett. Imagine having nine ropes around your neck pulling in nine different directions and you have some idea of what it’s like to be Greenberger. It is not an easy job.
Now imagine what happens if Greenberger actually runs. During the day, he would continue to be the council spokesperson, working with the members and their staff to get out information to the public. And then at night and on weekends, he would be a fellow candidate. Let’s remember that open seat candidates are frequently asked what they would do differently than the incumbents. So part of the time, Greenberger would be working for the Council Members and the rest of the time he would be critiquing them.
It gets even weirder. If Greenberger runs at-large, he will be running against current at-large incumbent Hans Riemer, who is sure to seek a third term. It’s also possible that he could run against District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker, who could run at-large. Then there’s the matter of all the other at-large candidates (and there will be a lot of them). Suppose Greenberger loses. Will his victorious opponents then be required to retain him as their spokesperson?
We can’t recall another occasion when the council’s own spokesperson ran for one of their seats. The closest recent analog to this situation happened in 2006, when George Leventhal’s Chief of Staff, Valerie Ervin, decided to run for the District 5 seat. Since Leventhal was an at-large member, Ervin was not running against him. But she still left her Chief of Staff position as the campaign started.
Greenberger has as much right to run for office as any other county resident. But if he stays in his current job while he runs against one or more of his employers, he will be creating immense conflicts. Council Members need to trust that their communications are written for their benefit and for the benefit of the institution – not for the personal political benefit of the individual writing them. The fact that they were blindsided by the MCM article is not a good sign for future trust.
Unless adult supervision steps in – and we are talking about the council’s staff director, Steve Farber – this could be a wild ride.