Today, I conclude my series on the current major declared Democratic candidates for county executive with a discussion of George Leventhal’s candidacy. Previous posts took looks at Marc Elrich and Roger Berliner.
Introducing George Leventhal
Like Nancy Floreen, George won election initially on Doug Duncan’s “End Gridlock” slate. Since then, he has won reelection three more times and is now completing sixteen years on the County Council, including two terms as its chair. In his last reelection, George came in fourth among the candidates for at-large seats in the Democratic primary, winning 20% fewer votes than leader Marc Elrich. George is unquestionably passionate about his positions and unafraid of arguing for them forcefully.
His proudest accomplishment is seeing the Purple Line to fruition but, like most significant political acts, this is a victory with many parents. Since it’s a done deal and all the candidates favored the Purple Line, it’s difficult to campaign on the question. One cannot differentiate when voters cannot perceive a difference.
Who is the Leventhal Voter?
In previous profiles, I’ve outlined the core constituency for the candidate. George Leventhal’s central problem is that his core constituency remains hard to identify even after four terms on the Council. He’s been on too many sides of too many different issues to have a natural base. Previously, he opposed a minimum wage increase but now he’s for it. While he was elected on a road-building platform, he now says that he was not elected to build roads. He is pro-immigrant yet lost CASA’s endorsement in the last election.
This leaves George adrift in County politics. Unions don’t trust him because of his past position on the minimum wage and his complete willingness to vilify them when he opposed them on such issues as breaking contracts during the recession and his correct decision, endorsed by the voters, to overturn the overly restrictive bargaining practices with the police union.
Business doesn’t trust him for the same reason. George has been a strong supporter of development, but he now dismisses opponents of the minimum wage increase. George would argue that he evolved and learned on these issues and only a fool never changes his mind. He’s certainly right about that but heaven and earth have changed places a few times too often to attract any of the County’s natural core constituencies.
George has also alienated many in the western half of the County through his repeated denigration of their interests and concerns on any number of issues. George knows he has a problem here. At the at-large Council debate held in Chevy Chase four years ago, George attempted to prove this inaccurate by reading a thank-you note from a constituent. He got hot under the collar when the audience was visibly unimpressed.
Supporters would describe George as passionate and pugnacious. George is unquestionably extremely passionate but too many of the people active in politics he now needs as validators for him as a candidate see him as a rude bully. George’s view is that your gentle blogger invented this notion and that his strong convictions excuse any occasional excesses. Unfortunately for George, many others have identified the problem, including the Washington Post, and George’s temper toward colleagues and constituents alike is well known.
George has now learned at an intellectual level what he needs to say and do. He does his best to smile more and to talk about how he wants to bring people together and respect those who disagree. I wish him well in these efforts–we all have room for growth and self-improvement. The problem is that he’s just not there yet and his reputation is well-established after so many years.
Being unable to identify your voter is like a firm being unable to identify its client base. Your business is in trouble. Sixteen years on the Council, including two terms as Council president, also make it difficult to present yourself as the new kid on the block and argue that you’re a force for reform and change. Accordingly, I see George as a second-tier candidate, though the votes he gains may nevertheless sway the race one way or another.