First Impressions, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The combination of County Executive Ike Leggett’s retirement, public campaign financing and term limits is producing an unprecedented flood of candidates running for the County Council’s four at-large seats.  By the time of the filing deadline next February, thirty or more people could be in the race.  Your author has previously written about those who may be running who have prior electoral experience.  Starting today, we will be sharing first impressions of seven new at-large candidates, all of whom have been subjected to withering, multi-hour interrogations by your author.  We are pleased to report that all seven survived these encounters and any damage is hopefully temporary.

The at-large council race is a fascinating and historic affair.  Since the current council configuration was established in 1990, there have never been three at-large vacancies.  Normally, your author considers the past in evaluating what the future will be.  But in some respects, the past may not be as useful a guide as usual because of the sheer unprecedented nature of what is now happening.

The best analogy for this current at-large race is a giant, open air bazaar.  Voters enter it and encounter dozens of kiosks, each with a candidate selling his or her candidacy.  Each candidate promises the best deal – just for you! – as the voters stroll by.  Which ones can cut through the noise?  Which ones can attract the most people?  The four kiosks that sell their wares to the most voters will win the competition.  And it could very well be that those wares will be very different from each other as different segments of the market drive their favored candidates to victory.

Overall, the at-large field is shaping up to be deep and talented.  The only shame here is that there are many more good candidates than available seats, meaning that some highly qualified people are going to lose.  On to our first impressions of the new candidates, given in no particular order.

Marilyn Balcombe, Germantown

Some liberals stereotype business leaders as anti-union, anti-government (except when collecting corporate welfare), anti-tax and primarily – perhaps solely – concerned with accumulating profits.  Your author once worked on union organizing campaigns in the South and met a few corporate owners who fit that bill!  But if that’s what you think of business leaders in general, Marilyn Balcombe is going to surprise you.

The long-time President/CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, Balcombe is representative of MoCo’s chamber leaders who tend to be very different from their counterparts elsewhere.  All of the full-time, paid local chamber presidents are women.  Some of them are moms who have been active in their PTAs.  Most are Democrats who tend to be liberal on social issues.  All favor funding for public education.  All are pragmatic rather than ideological.  And absolutely none of them are tea partiers.

Balcombe, who holds a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology, is analytical by nature.  She does not prejudge issues on the basis of ideology and continually seeks out evidence in making her decisions.  She agrees with the county’s emphasis on education but wants to augment it with robust economic development.  She’s a good listener who prefers policy to politics.  (She will admit to not being crazy about the political parts of running for office!)  Above all, she is a grown-up.  If you’re looking for a serious, hard-working, center-left candidate who will focus on making the county more competitive with its neighbors, Marilyn Balcombe should get your vote.

More to come in Part Two.