Category Archives: Montgomery County

MCDCC Part II: Rockville Spring

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As outlined in Part I, voters seemingly had settled the battle between the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the County over effects bargaining in favor of the County. In the 2012 referendum known as Question B, 58% of voters supported  the County’s decision to allow the Police Chief to take more actions without the need to consult  FOP management.

The referendum turned out to be the beginning rather than the end. The public employee unions (FOP, the Firefighters, and MCGEO) struck back by calling for a boycott of the annual Democratic Spring Ball. For those of you who are not regular attendees at this soiree, it is essentially a giant coffee klatch for local politicos and their fans complete with dancing. It’s held, like virtually all of these events, at the Bethesda North Marriott Conference Center.

Having felt abandoned by the local Democratic Party, the unions–long party stalwarts–decided to withhold their money and to make their displeasure public. Ingeniously, they styled the boycott as a picket line, knowing that labor-loving Democrats hate to cross them (or at least be seen crossing them). As none of the workers at the Center were on strike, it wasn’t really a picket line in the traditional sense but it made for great optics and amped up the pressure.

Republicans, as usual, were mad that they hadn’t thought of the idea first. Montgomery Republicans would get far better attendance at their events if people thought that they would have the privilege of strike breaking in the process.

The Montgomery County Young Democrats (MCYD), led by President Dave Kunes, jumped on the boycott bandwagon. Kunes, formerly an aide to Del. Tom Hucker (D 20) and now Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) Field Director, had some experience with seizing opportunities to challenge organization leadership, as he led the successful insurgent slate that took control of MCYD in 2012.

The problem for MCDCC was less monetary–donors stepped up and helped the party cover losses–than morale and the apparent division. It also put the Democratic elected and party leadership on the defensive politically and ideologically.

None of this had any chance of  helping the Republicans. Remember, Montgomery is a one-party county and this battle was about jockeying for power and influence over the one political vehicle worth driving–not a clunker.

Part III looks at the major upcoming changes on MCDCC.

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Election Snow in MoCo?

Is today’s snowstorm going to put a dent in County Executive Ike Leggett’s reelection prospects?

Salt Shortage, Show Removal Problems

It has been a long winter and Montgomery County ran short of salt to pre-treat the roads for the storm. In many areas, the streets were first plowed before they were salted, uncovering a sheet of ice underneath the snow that will now likely to have to wait for warmer weather–not to arrive for at least a couple of day–to remove.

Smaller municipalities were especially hard hit. At first, the the County did not even want to release any salt to smaller municipalities that rely on it to supply it through longstanding arrangements. They were not happy.

Why and How it Could Matter

These problems play into Doug Duncan’s strengths. As County Executive, he was known as an avuncular guy focused on handling basic services very well. To the extent that the storm weakens Leggett’s reputation for the same, it could help Duncan and hurt Leggett.

The impact depends on three factors: (1) the severity of the problems, (2) how well surrounding jurisdictions do, and (3) whether Duncan is positioned to take advantage of it. My quick peek at traffic cameras around the County indicate that many major streets are looking good, though some still have problems.

If DC and Prince George’s open the schools but Montgomery does not, the County Executive will likely face at least some grumbling and have to answer questions about the lack of preparation. Winters vary in the amount of snow they bring, and residents rightly expect that the County will get more salt if needed. But if the schools in all three close, it looks like we’re all in the same boat.

Normally, our County officials do not get much attention. Not because they don’t merit it but because our news media covers the entire metro area. They choose to focus their coverage heavily on the District even though Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Fairfax all have far more people.

Bad events, however, can turn their gaze in our direction to the disadvantage of incumbent officials. It will be also interesting to see if members of the County Council raise questions about the level of preparation or choose to stay mum.

What It’s Not

Some may want to exaggerate and make the inevitable recollection of the disastrous handling (really non-handling) of snow in DC by Marion Barry on one famous occasion. Bad analogy. Leggett is not Barry. He’s the anti-Barry: a steadfast calming, often quiet, problem solver. Moreover, these problems are a minor hiccup compared to that fiasco. Don’t go there.

 

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Bethesda Just Wants to Have Fun

County Executive Ike Leggett’s Nighttime Economy Task Force has made a number of recommendations to attract a more active nightlife to Montgomery. Sorry I meant to say MoCo. We’re all hipsters now here at 7S.

Aaron Kraut of BethesdaNow.com summarized the key proposed changes:

The Task Force will recommend the county extend the hours of operation for venues with alcohol licenses an hour, to 3 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and the Sundays before Monday federal holidays and 2 a.m. on weeknights.

That would match D.C. and Prince George’s County and prevent what Pohoryles said restaurant owners call “the mad dash,” the period when Montgomery County bar goers get in their cars and drive to D.C. for another hour of alcohol service. The rule would keep the half-hour “grace period,” in which last call would actually be half-an-hour before closing time.

Also part of the bar-friendly recommendations are changes to the county’s noise ordinance in specific urban areas.

The Task Force will recommend increasing the allowable noise levels for “qualifying arts and entertainment activities in these areas,” to 85 decibels, allowing those levels to midnight and ensuring nearby residents are informed of the law prior to moving in.

So basically more booze + noise = fun. Heck, I suspect any random group of college students could have told you that. The only problem is that downtown Bethesda’s prime demographic is not college students or recent college grads but empty nesters.

Neighborhoods near to downtown Bethesda are a combination of families and empty nesters. In six years on the Town Council of the Town of Chevy Chase, located directly east of downtown Bethesda, I have never heard anyone lament that the bars in Bethesda close too early and that they have to dash elsewhere to keep drinking.

The Task Force’s chair wants to reassure that the changes are meant to benefit everyone:

Heather Dlhopolsky, a Bethesda attorney and chair of the Task Force, made it clear the Task Force wasn’t just about catering to the 20-34 year-old crowd, citing the significant number of empty nesters moving to downtown Bethesda.

Nevertheless, the recommendations have provoked a backlash precisely from that group. Jon Weintraub provided this summary of the thoughts expressed at a meeting of over 40 condo owners from many different buildings in downtown Bethesda:

There is universal opposition to the County Executive’s Nighttime Bethesda proposal, if it means extending bar hours and changing the revenue ratio. It should not move forward! What can be done to ensure that the noise ordinance is not altered for downtown Bethesda?

Instead Weintraub wants to know:

What is the planner standard for public green space, library, and recreational facilities per 1000 units of development in the downtown?

What can the county and the planning board do to improve the quality of metro service to Bethesda given density decisions are tied to the presence of the metro?

The meeting was organized by Jon Weintraub with Jane Fairweather, a very successful local realtor who knows the Bethesda market extremely well and hardly one to object to changes if she thought they would make her market more and not less valuable.

No doubt some will deride their objections as those of anti-business older people who expect unreasonable levels of quiet and have confused the area with an assisted living facility. But my impression is that their objection is not to a vibrant nightlife but want it to fit in with the area’s existing strengths.

Bethesda is filled with restaurants and also has a large number of bars for that matter. However, the empty nesters who can afford to buy all those condos–and provide a lot of custom to these businesses–prefer it quiet before 2am.

The key to keeping Bethesda so successful is make changes that reinforce what is already attractive not just to families and empty nesters but also to many twenty and thirtysomethings. Middle of the night noise, drinking and nightclubs probably aren’t it.

The Task Force has a lot of suggestions to streamline the process of establishing a business that would probably be helpful to that end. Ironically, the one change that would please restauranteurs and bar owners the most is the one that they shied away from adopting:

Montgomery County operates as a control alcohol jurisdiction, with all alcohol purchases coming from a central DLC [Department of Liquor Control] warehouse. That has led to complaints from restaurant owners about the availability of special orders, such as craft beer, and the time it takes to fill an order.

Evan Glass, a Silver Spring activist and prospective County Council candidate, said the group should talk about how necessary the DLC is.

It’s a contentious issue, in large part because the DLC contributes $25-$30 million a year to the county’s General Fund. It also recently opened a new warehouse in Gaithersburg.

Glass suggested the DLC should at least keep a portion of that contribution to hire more employees who could help it be more responsive.

Most agreed that recommending wholesale changes, or the dissolution of the DLC, was too big a task for the Task Force. The final recommendation, when it comes out in the Task Force’s final report next week, will call for a study of the DLC’s effectiveness from the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight.

The irony here is that the Task Force attacked directly requirements that restaurants sell as much food as liquor. Yet, they’ve stayed away from a major barrier to locating restaurants here because alcohol is more expensive in MoCo and unique beers and wines are harder to obtain. The City Paper, practically the definition of urban hip, wrote about the issue back in 2007.

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MCDCC Part I: Question B

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You just gotta love that we have party central committees in the State of Maryland. Both Republicans and Democrats have them in every county of the State. It all feels so retro-Soviet. Why not Politburos? Or at least Praesidiums?

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee is currently not the peaceful backwater that one might expect of a relatively obscure organization of party officials. Instead, it is now the center of what some might call renovation and others a hostile takeover despite the recent announcement of a “unity” slate.

The fracas started with the passage of a bill unanimously by the all-Democratic County Council to eliminate “effects bargaining” with the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) designed to give the Police Chief more flexibility and control in the management of police officers. “Effects bargaining” required the Chief to clear all management decisions with the FOP.

The FOP vehemently opposed the changes and petitioned them to referendum in what became known as Question B. While intensely disliking the changes, it was only the latest in what the three non-school related public employee unions (FOP, the Firefighters, and MCGEO) perceived as bad treatment by the County on issues such as disability payments, furloughs and benefits.

MCDCC became involved through its control over the Democratic sample ballot. All precinct officials in the Democratic Party could vote on whether the sample ballot should endorse or oppose the proposal or take no position. At the urging of county councilmembers, the precinct officials voted heavily to endorse the proposal passed unanimously by the County Council.

The Central Committee has the power to change an endorsement of support or opposition by precinct officials to no position by majority vote. Urged on by Chair Gabe Albornoz, (Correction: Gabe was not Chair yet) MCDCC voted to uphold the decision of the County Council and the precinct officials.

The Democratic sample ballot thus endorsed the question. Whether or not it mattered, the voters agreed, voting by 58% in 2012 to keep the law passed by the Council despite vigorous efforts by the FOP and other government employee unions to overturn it.

Needless to say, the unions were NOT happy. More in Part II.

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Frick Upends D16 Race

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In a surprise just before the filing deadline, Del. Bill Frick (D 16) changed his plans and abandoned his bid for attorney general:

Today I will withdraw my candidacy for the Democratic Nomination for State Attorney General and file for re-election to the Maryland House of Delegates.

My two terms in the House have been exceptional.  I’ve been a part of a team that has enacted marriage equality for all Maryland couples, repealed the death penalty, protected consumers from abuses, and begun the task of reforming our tax code.

While I know that I could have been a valuable asset to the State as Attorney General, there is still much to be done as a member of the House representing District 16.

Bill was always a long shot for AG. His withdrawal from that race can’t help but aid Sen. Brian Frosh from the same legislative district in his bid to beat Del. Jon Cardin and Del. Aisha Braveboy for the Democratic nomination for AG.

Rumor had it that Bill might retire from politics if he didn’t win election to AG, so the switch to the delegate race is a bit of a double surprise–at least to your gentle correspondent. In this case, a politician staying in office is good news.

Bill is a terrific delegate: smart, effective, and well-liked by his colleagues. He is a shoo-in for reelection to the House of Delegates and I assume he will slate with incumbent Sen. Susan Lee and Del. Ariana Kelly.

In possibly the understatement of the year, Marc Korman, Hrant Jamgochian and Jordan Cooper have to be mighty unhappy tonight. In my recent preview of the D16 race, I gave Marc and Hrant a strong edge to win (though left Jordan in the hunt) and hinted that Susan and Ariana might slate with them.

Bill’s reentry changes that. Only one delegate seat is now open, though all three are up for reelection. Choosing between Marc and Hrant for a slate is not an easy call. We’ll see if the incumbents make a choice or just leave it up to the voters.

If I had to bet, I’d say they do the latter. In Montgomery County, incumbents don’t often slate with non-incumbents, though there are signs that this tradition is falling by the wayside. Neither Marc nor Hrant has such a clear edge that it makes it easy for the incumbents to opt for one over the other.

The D16 race for the third slot just got much more competitive and interesting.

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Lierman Has Inside Track in D46

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Compared to other Baltimore City districts, redistricting left District 46 unscathed and it still encompasses the neighborhoods surrounding the harbor. Like all of Baltimore City, District 46 is Democratic turf. No Republican has bothered to file for the legislature, so the Democratic primary is the election.

Sen. Bill Ferguson demolished incumbent Sen. George Della with 59% of the vote in the 2010 Democratic primary. An impressive accomplishment, as Della had served since 1990 and is the son of a previous Senate President from the district with the same name. Coasting to his second term with only nominal opposition and $121K in his campaign account, Ferguson is just 30 years old. For these reasons alone, he has to be one to watch.

The two incumbent delegates seeking reelection, Del. Luke Clippinger ($52K) and Del. Peter Hammen ($121K), should also be safe. Hammen is the senior member of the delegation, having served since 1994. He is also the most powerful, as he holds the Chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee. Clippinger is an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel and unsurprisingly serves on the Judiciary Committee. He was a real leader in the fight for marriage equality.

Attorney Brooke Lierman, who graduated from Walt Whitman HS in Montgomery County, is the favorite for the open seat for several reasons. First, she is the daughter of former Democratic Party Chair Terry Lierman (and sister of Kyle Lierman, who ran in D16 in 2010). Relatedly, she has $104K in her campaign account and the ability to raise more. My guess is also relatedly, Ferguson, Clippinger, and Hammen have formed a slate with her. Finally, it doesn’t hurt that she is reported to be very nice.

Lierman is not a total lock for the seat. Bill Romani ran for delegate in 2010 and came in a respectable fourth. Romani has good name recognition and will probably raise enough money to run a respectable campaign–he now has $33K in the bank. But all that respect probably won’t be enough to overcome Lierman’s money and the slate, though expect him to do his best to surprise.

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