Category Archives: Montgomery County

Marc Elrich: “I Prefer to Put Jobs in Frederick”

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, Greater Greater Washington (GGW) wrote a long essay about Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive.  GGW has many disagreements with Elrich about smart growth and housing and mostly concentrated on those issues.  But the essay contained this quote from an interview with Elrich.

Broadly, Elrich isn’t convinced Montgomery County needs to add many new homes or residents, or jobs. Many people with jobs in Bethesda or DC are now living in Frederick County and other outlying areas and driving through Montgomery to get to work. We asked Elrich what he’d do for these folks, and his answer was, “I prefer to put jobs in Frederick.” He’d encourage the growth of both households and jobs to happen there, and in Prince George’s County, and elsewhere.

Elrich has disputed quotes before and we will see if he disputes this one.  But if the quote is accurate… well.

The chart below uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to compare growth in total employment in Frederick and MoCo from 2001 through 2016.

Frederick’s job creation record is clearly better than MoCo’s in both absolute and relative terms.

Now let’s use BLS data to compare growth in establishment counts in the two counties.

Frederick beats MoCo in growth rate and, over the last decade, in net new establishment count too.

Let’s bear in mind the relative size of the two counties.  Frederick has about a quarter of MoCo’s population.  Yet, Frederick has created a larger absolute number of jobs over the last fifteen years than MoCo and had a net gain since 2006 while MoCo had a net loss.  In terms of establishments, Frederick created more than double what MoCo did over the last decade despite being much smaller.

Now let’s recall the research we did three weeks ago on taxpayer migration.  MoCo is often compared to Fairfax, but the truth is that we have lost more taxpayer income to Frederick than to Fairfax over the last decade.

Between 2006 and 2016, MoCo had a net outmigration of $582 million in real adjusted gross income to Frederick.

The greatest losses to Frederick occurred during MoCo’s home price boom of 2002 through 2007.  MoCo home prices are rising again so let’s connect the economic dots.  Suppose we cut off housing construction in the ways Elrich described to Greater Greater Washington.  Unless there is a recession – which would bring a different set of problems – a housing shutdown in MoCo would cause more home price and rent hikes, exacerbating our already oppressive cost of living and pushing some folks into Frederick.  Once in Frederick, some of those people would start businesses, hire people and create more economic activity there.  That’s great for Frederick and it’s part of the explanation for the growth they have seen in the last fifteen years.  But what exactly does that do for us?

Look, folks – with surging needs in schools, transportation and everything else and with maxed out county debt, we have a lot of bills to pay.  There are two ways to do it.  Option one is to grow our commercial tax base and create jobs, thereby generating more tax revenue.  Option two is more big tax hikes which will further strain the cost of living.

If we have a County Executive who is fighting to put jobs in Frederick and NOT in MoCo, which option do you think our county will pick?

Disclosure: the author supports Roger Berliner for Executive.

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On “Those Good Union Jobs” at the Department of Liquor Control

MCGEO has done quite a number on county residents. When discussing the hot issue of privatization of Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly, politicians automatically express concern about the potential loss of those “good union jobs.”

People would be a lot less sympathetic to the idea of protecting liquor store or distributor employees. Why on earth should we maintain an antiquated, inefficient monopoly to protect their jobs but not spend money to protect the grocery store cashier or bank teller threatened by automation?

What makes all the angst about losing “good union jobs” even more galling is that private liquor distributors are unionized by the Teamsters – a little fact that never seems to get mentioned in all the handwringing.

Privatization doesn’t threaten union jobs. It threatens union jobs that pay dues to MCGEO. So MCGEO President Gino Renne, who was paid $196,700 by his local union and an additional $20,000 by his international union last year, is naturally quite concerned. As Gino likes to say, “Just keeping it real.”

Sadly, no one seems concerned about all these Teamsters Union jobs lost due to the monopoly depriving them of a livelihood. Not to mention the restaurant jobs lost because of extra costs that make it harder to turn a profit and frustration with the Department of Liquor Control that stops businesses from opening or expanding in Montgomery.

The other unasked question is why does the DLC perform so poorly if these jobs are so great? Service at DLC stores is variable at best and most employees are unfamiliar with their product. Beyond the stories about the DLC failing to deliver product at key moments, such as right before New Year’s, I’ve also heard about the DLC dumping shipments in the middle of the bar during happy hour.

It’s almost as if Ernestine left the phone company once Ma Bell was broken up and sought refuge at the DLC. “We’re the DLC, we don’t have to care.”

It’s not as if the DLC is understaffed. Somehow, Montgomery County-based Total Wine manages to keep in stock and much better organized a far greater range of product. They do it with fewer employees who yet also seem to know about the product that they’re selling and are more likely in my experience to provide good customer service. Other stores do the same.

Similarly, I’d like to know the share of DLC workers who live in Montgomery County. While some might argue that this is irrelevant, why must Montgomery County citizens keep in place a costly system to subsidize workers who don’t even live here? Even this question has totally lost the plot as government should not be a make-work program but should provide services to residents.

Councilmembers defend the DLC because it brings in money to the county. It would be a miracle if a monopoly on booze in the DC area did not. The sad truth is that it brings in far less than it might. The amount of beer and spirits sold per capita in Montgomery is lower than almost all other jurisdictions in Maryland as well as the Virginia suburbs. Does anyone seriously believe that we drink phenomenally less than people in Fairfax? Greater efficiency would also increase profit. Couldn’t we just tax alcohol and try to grow the economic pie instead of clinging desperately on to a stagnant unloved system?

None of this means that we shouldn’t pay county employees decent wages or we should just chuck the DLC workers out of a job. But nor should taxpayers be obligated to maintain a system that doesn’t work and myopically hurts the economy in perpetuity.

It’s time to call the question and end this outdated monopoly.

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Marc Elrich Responds to Adam Pagnucco

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large), a candidate for county executive, that responds to a piece posted by Adam yesterday:

First of all, I’ve made my views pretty clear on “socialism.”  You would be hard-put to classify me, but I’ve been pretty clear that I think in terms of blending aspects of both major isms – which is pretty much what most European societies, which are largely democratic socialist, believe and what modern American society reflects, at least up to the present, with minimum wages, 40 hour weeks, social security, Medicare, child worker laws and health insurance.  My interest is in finding solutions that make sense – I’m not an idealogue. I have spent 12 years on the Montgomery County Council and I have yet to introduce a SINGLE piece of socialist legislation (whatever that is). I don’t think about my job that way.

 Most of what I’ve proposed over the years has been passed with 8-1 or 9-0 votes, so this fear of “socialism” is frankly nuts – I don’t have a socialist agenda that I’m trying bring here.  Now if socialism means expecting developers to adequately contribute to schools and transportation, I’ll point out that that’s not socialism, it’s simply not wanting to allow developers who substantially benefit from public decisions on zoning, to externalize the costs of providing infrastructure on to the public.  I do not believe in zero growth – I believe in responsible growth – and when I work with communities I’m pretty straight-forward about stating that change will come and my goal is to make sure that the people who live here participate in shaping that change. When there’s no viable plan for schools, or transportation, or other promised amenities in a Master or Sector Plan then, yes, I will and do vote against it.  Again, hardly socialism.

Second I never equated transit-oriented development with “ethnic cleansing”, I voted for the Purple Line which I wouldn’t have done if I thought that. I never said that TOD equates with “ethnic cleansing” and my BRT approach supports TOD.  I made a specific accusation about a specific planning board recommendation about a specific part of the plan that would have displaced thousands of people who would have had little to no chance of remaining in the area, let alone in the County.  The only nexus to the PL was that the plan was being done in response to it and, in this case, the Planning Board way over-reached. In a public session review of the plan, I said, “Couldn’t we for once just let the people who live here stay here after we fix a place up?” and no one responded or changed anything.  It was only when I dramatized it by calling it “ethnic cleansing”, in an onsite meeting with staff of the Council and PB, did anything get fixed: less than a week later the proposal was withdrawn; it was withdrawn on July 22, 2013 because of the possible implications of the zoning that had been proposed and its impacts on our affordable housing goals. The recommendation to remove was a 3-0 vote on committee, and it happened in a blink of the eye. Never seen so much land rezoned so fast. So in that particular instance, existing affordable housing was preserved because of my comments and involvement.   More broadly though, the PL will cause gentrification and almost everyone involved, except for a few who are uncomfortable with confronting anything that might taint their rosy scenario, knows it. The whole point of the Purple Line Compact was to create a multi-party agreement between the State and the Counties to have in place programs that would prevent, or at least minimize, the displacement of small businesses and existing residents. Everyone knew this was coming, and my saying it isn’t some stark new revelation.  But we all know that there is no compact because none of the parties would commit do anything to ameliorate what they know is coming down the road. So they changed the word “compact” to “agreement” which is toothless, devoid of funding or requirements to act; it is basically an agreement to worry about what might happen and to hope that someone comes up with a bright idea or two that, preferably, don’t have any costs attached.

Lastly, while I do favor a limited rent stabilization – one that would allow for larger rent increases for repairs or operating costs when they exceed the CPI, and it would not apply to new construction or buildings with existing MPDU’s or otherwise rent limited units – I never had the votes on the council to even discuss it and would expect the same from the next council. I would welcome an honest conversation about it, without any labels attached. I’ve always proposed that the County evaluate different strategies with an eye to what would result in the largest stock of affordable housing 20 or 30 years down the road.  And I’d be interested to hear how others would solve the problem of disappearing affordable housing: the recently approved Bethesda master plan would result in fewer affordable units than we have today. And we simply can’t build enough moderately priced dwelling units (MPDUs) to keep up. And we’re not building housing for the thousands who are too poor for MPDUs and spend 50-60% of their income on housing. By contrast, Takoma Park has had decades of rent stabilization, which has provided numerous families with stable housing. It’s not a perfect system but it has been an important tool to preserve affordable units as the area has grown in popularity and housing prices there have skyrocketed.  And Takoma Park has increased in desirability and popularity and is proud of its diversity of population.

So while the urban legends are amusing, they’re not who am and they don’t reflect what I do.

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John Delaney Endorses Gabe Albornoz

John Delaney has now taken a break from the House and traipsing around Iowa to endorse two people for at-large county council seats. Besides Bill Conway, he has also endorsed Gabe Albornoz, a candidate with local roots who has been Director of the County Recreation Department for over a decade:

I am proud to endorse Gabe Albornoz for Montgomery County Council At-Large,” Cong. Delaney said. “Through his leadership as the Director of the Department of Recreation for the past decade—he has created programs to engage seniors in activities, increase health fitness for residents, and to help close the opportunity gap among our children and youth. Gabe’s commitment to our community proves that he is the type of leader that Montgomery County needs on the County Council.

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Riemer Exacerbates Economic Growth Concerns

Andrew Metcalf over at Bethesda Beat reported on Council Chair Hans Riemer’s response to a question on the successes of the two-year old county economic development nonprofit:

“OK, so what are the successes of the Economic Development Corp.?” Riemer said. “Um, I might need a little staff here. My economic development team is not here.”

After a brief pause, he continued, “They are a new organization, they are growing. They have helped us build consensus around economic development. They have helped engage the business community in a positive way. I think they have improved the dialogue.”

Riemer’s inability to come up with an answer only continues the building narrative that the county government is not doing enough to promote economic growth or address fiscal concerns. His flub also undercut his claim that the Sage report cherry-picked its data and the claims are politically motivated:

“In comes this attempt to overturn the apple cart and get everyone shooting at us again,” Riemer said.

Consider the cart not just overturned but run over by a truck.

Is Riemer in Danger? Probably Not

Despite hiccups likes these that can accompany that spotlight on the Council Chair and a wealth of candidates,  Riemer looks to be on a solid path to a third term. He’s the only at-large member seeking reelection. After two terms, he has high recognition, which should be enormously helpful in a large county with so many candidates trying to get the electorate’s attention.

It also helps that most people, supporters or not, would agree that Hans is a nice guy. He has a deserved reputation for being willing to listen to a variety of viewpoints and responding respectfully. Naturally, decisions he has made leave some unhappy, but at least they feel heard.

In short, while his time as council chair has had its rough spots, it’s hard to see how Hans loses. No one is really pointing at Hans in way that could focus any anti-incumbency mood. There is little incentive to attack rivals in a multi-candidate race. Many Democrats are also far more angry at Republicans.

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Van Hollen Endorses Katz

Sen. Chris Van Hollen has long been considered the most popular politician in Montgomery County, so this is a good get for the Katz campaign. Councilmember Sidney Katz endorsed Chris Van Hollen for Senate in 2016.

The following is the Katz campaign’s press release:

GAITHERSBURG, MD – Sidney Katz, running for re-election to Montgomery County Council District 3, announced he has received the endorsement of Senator Chris Van Hollen.

“I’m proud to endorse Councilmember Sidney Katz’s re-election campaign,” said Senator Van Hollen. “From his time serving the City of Gaithersburg, Sidney understands how local government works and he’s been an effective advocate for his constituents. Sidney has also been a leader on important issues like criminal justice reform – spearheading Montgomery County’s new Mental Health Courts, and ensuring our seniors can age in place. Sidney has also been a leader in the fight to get big money out of politics and to put the public interest first.”

“I’m honored to receive Senator Van Hollen’s endorsement,” said Katz. “He’s been a progressive champion for our state as a state legislator, congressman, and now senator. He’s been a strong advocate for Maryland on issues ranging from education funding to the environment to campaign finance reform. I’m proud to have his endorsement.”

Katz has also been endorsed by the Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association, IAFF Local 1664 Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the Coalition of Asian Pacific American Democrats of Maryland (CAPAD-MD), Metropolitan Political Action Committee – MD, the Brickyard Coalition, and over 25 local officials, including County Executive Ike Leggett and former District 3 Councilmember Phil Andrews.

Katz was first elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2014; he is serving his first term. Previously, Katz served as Mayor of Gaithersburg for 16 years and on the Gaithersburg City Council for 20 years. His civic career started in 1976 when he was selected to be a member of the Gaithersburg Planning Commission.

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Mixing It Up in District 1

District 1 Community Forum

Last night, the nine candidates for the open District 1 Council seat debated at the 4-H Center in Chevy Chase. It was a lively and substantive debate that gave the audience of over 220 a real sense of issue differences as well as a more personal sense of the candidates. Moderator Charles Duffy pressed candidates to expose issue differences to good effect.

From my vantage point, former longtime Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman gained the most from the debate. Less known outside his bailiwick, Pete has a strongly pro-development reputation through his involvement in the Kensington sector plan. The debate revealed both real knowledge and a much more nuanced approach that was not anti-development but would buffer existing neighborhoods and place development near transit. He pointed out that the Council upzoned Westbard even though it’s not near Metro. (It would be a logical stop if the Purple Line were extended west to serve Bethesda from both directions.) Pete had a style that showed conviction but also came across as thoughtful.

Former Planning Board Member Meredith Wellington has a real well of grassroots community support. Active in the community in opposing over development that tramples on existing neighborhoods and does not provide infrastructure to support it, she touted that she is not taking developer contributions. Like Marc Elrich, she has a real ability to talk fluently about the planning process that nonetheless remains comprehensible to voters—no mean feat. Meredith’s argument against lowering standards as a solution to failing infrastructure tests—one my students would love—was devastating. Her calm, thoughtful approach strongly appealed to an audience that wants a say in the future of their community. Pumping up the strength of her delivery would further expand her appeal.

While Pete and Meredith had good nights, Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez—normally an excellent debater—foundered. Even as Ana advertised her Chevy Chase residency for the first time in my recollection, she showed no sympathy with many community concerns. For example, she argued against new parks in Bethesda and essentially said that the Ag Reserve is Bethesda’s open space. Ana had worst moment of the debate as her effort to shift blame from state legislators to the County for insufficient school construction funds rebounded. She argued that the delegation was not organized and the County “wasn’t there” to make the case that Montgomery cannot afford to do it alone. Reggie Oldak called her “disingenuous,” as Ana left voters wondering why this Appropriations Committee member hadn’t addressed these problems after 16 years in the legislature.

Though a first-time candidate, Andrew Friedson sounded the most like a politician. On the positive side, he spoke commandingly and with confidence. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a former employee of Peter Franchot, he made the most articulate economic argument for why the County liquor monopoly needs to go. However, Andrew’s claim that he is “proud” of all of his donations in response to probing on his heavy developer support sounded unconvincing, evasive and overly smooth. While he repeatedly mentioned his business and labor “coalition,” Andrew noticeably did not highlight neighborhood or community support. At times, he seemed more comfortable with generalities than policy specifics.

Reggie Oldak highlighted her work for Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center as well as her experience as a tax attorney for the IRS. The latter might not be popular but it leaves her better prepared than most to read budgets and engage on these issues—welcome when many members of the current Council seem unaware of the tax rates their constituents pay or how the tax system operates. She had the most eloquent closing statement and said she wants to see: “less inequality among our residents throughout the county. Local governments need to invest in our priorities and protect our values. We cannot continue on this road of the haves and have nots.”

First-time candidate Dalbin Osorio made a strong impression. Talking about how he moved here for the schools—he and his wife are expecting their first child–he came across as someone who understands the community’s ambitions well and would advocate fiercely for it. Like Andrew, Pete, and Meredith, he’d get the county out of the liquor business. While not seen as a leading candidate, I hope he stays involved regardless of how the election turns out as he struck me as exactly the sort of up and coming candidate we need.

Bill Cook was the most stridently anti-development. His major contribution to the debate was challenging the Stockholm Syndrome that the community has no power and must do whatever developers propose. He attacked the role of money in politics and said it’s no coincidence that both the President and the Governor are developers and that incumbent District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner has raised hundreds of thousands from developers.

Jim McGee argued that “the system” is currently not working for a lot of people in the county, a theme that resonated among voters in the district who feel that the Council simultaneously manages to ignore both struggling families and trample on communities. Like Ana and Bill, he opposed privatization of the DLC. He emphasized climate change and wants to see more green space in Bethesda, as do many other candidates.

Lone Republican Richard Banach is a political science major who admitted candidly and with humility that he didn’t know much about many of the issues. While he still has a lot to learn, he struck me as a shoot of hope from the Republican Party. If Robin Ficker is the past, thoughtful candidates like Banach will hopefully be the future of Montgomery County Republicans.

Thanks to the Town of Chevy Chase for organizing the Forum. I know Pat Burda among others put a lot of work into putting it together. Kudos also to the many interested voters who turned out to learn more about the candidates.

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Live Tweeting Tonight’s District 1 Debate

Tonight, I plan to live tweet tonight’s tonight’s debate between the nine (!) candidates for the Montgomery County Council District 1 seat.  The debate s being held at 7pm at the 4H Center on Connecticut Ave. in Chevy Chase. You can follow along @theseventhstate.

There are nine (!) candidates for the seat:

Richard Banach (R)
Bill Cook (D)
Pete Fosselman (D)
Andrew Friedson (D)
Ana Sol Guttierez (D)
Jim McGee (D)
Reggie Oldak (D)
Dalbin Osorio (D)
Meredith Wellington (D)

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Hucker Gets a Challenger

It looked for a bit that Tom Hucker (D-5), who only narrowly prevailed over Evan Glass in the open primary four years ago, was going to have an easy ride in his reelection bid. Not so. Kevin Harris has jumped into the race.

Harris and Hucker look likely to clash over development and the Route 29 BRT proposal. My impression is that normal primary divisions are a bit scrambled, as Harris is against the Route 29 BRT and wants to rein in developer influence.

Hucker’s decision to stay out of the public financing system while taking sizable contributions from development interests has already attracted attention in Bethesda Beat. Harris has chosen to stay in the public financing system.

If campaign finance resonates as an issue anywhere, you’d think it might be in this very progressive district. As the incumbent who has been in politics for years, Hucker starts out as a natural favorite but no longer has a cakewalk to a second Council term.

Kevin Harris Announcement by David Lublin on Scribd

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