Tag Archives: Gino Renne

BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

Political Opening in Alcohol

Politicians often have trouble finding major issues that they can use successfully in campaigns. The Montgomery County Liquor Monopoly provides a rare opportunity for politicians who wish to advance or outsiders who want to crash the incumbent party.

Why It is a Good Campaign Issue

Good campaign issues have several key attributes. First, they have to divide you from your opponent. Voters cannot  differentiate between candidates when they agree. Put another way, “I’m even more pro-choice” is usually not going to unseat an incumbent. Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly is an easy issue for candidates to differentiate themselves.

Second, the subject has to be easy to communicate. If an issue requires jargon, like Maintenance of Effort, to explain it, it is not going to work. Clear and concise are critical. Opposition to the monopoly is the rare issue that works well on a postcard.

Finally, voters have to care about the issue and favor the candidate’s position. Unlike with many issues, many voters have direct experience of the monopoly and have formed opinions about it. Put simply, they don’t like it and would like to see it go away. Recently, a poll confirmed the well-known widely shared antipathy for it.

Opportunity in Opposing the DLC Monopoly

The existing Department of Liquor Control monopoly over the distribution of all alcohol and the sale of hard liquor provides a fat, juicy target. Through personal experience, many County voters know that the DLC assures higher prices in unattractive stores.

Comptroller Peter Franchot has already raised the issue’s profile.
The natural coalition favoring reform is powerful. Consumers receive no benefit from the monopoly, as it raises prices and forces them to travel farther to find greater selections at lower prices. They just don’t get why the County needs to be in this business. In short, they’ll only benefit if perestroika arrives in MoCo.

Business also hates the monopoly because it makes it much harder for the critical restaurant sector to thrive. More broadly, it is a barrier to expanding business around the County’s nightlife. Getting rid of the monopoly is a leading priority for the Chamber of Commerce. Fighting the monopoly looks like an excellent way to open doors to an untapped source of campaign donations.

Moreover, the defenders of the monopoly make excellent foils. Its main supporter is MCGEO–the union that represents the current DLC stores. While they claim to protect union jobs, the industry is highly unionized, so their real fear is that the workers would be represented by other unions.

Moreover, MCGEO acts like a union out of Republican central casting, attempting to bully its opponents into submission. Union President Gino Renne is not just a character but a caricature of the well-paid union boss. MCGEO slings mud in a way that attracts bad publicity rather than support.

Moreover, MCGEO is incredibly ineffective. It tried to take down numerous incumbents in the last election and failed all around. Unlike the Teachers (MCEA), MCEGO just doesn’t carry much weight with voters or show an ability to accomplish much on behalf of its candidates. Councilmember Roger Berliner wiped the floor against MCGEO’s well-funded candidate in 2014.

Conclusion and Petition

This is a rare bipartisan opportunity. Opposition to the monopoly is shared among Democrats and Republicans. It’s great issue for either primary or general challengers to wield against local or state incumbents who don’t join those who have gotten out in front on this issue.

Six members of the General Assembly–Del. Kathleen Dumais, Sen. Brian Feldman, Del. Bill Frick, Sen. Nancy King, Del. Aruna Miller, and Del. Kirill Reznik–are sponsoring a bill so that Montgomery voters can decide the issue in a referendum.

You can sign the petition, launched yesterday, to support their efforts.

Adam Replies to Gino on Liquor Control, Part III

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

My reply to MCGEO President Gino Renne’s response to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) concludes.

  1. The union says that if DLC were eliminated, union jobs would be replaced by non-union jobs.

MCGEO: “Mr. Pagnucco claims that privatization would not result in the loss of high paying union jobs. This is his most egregious of claims, especially for a former union employee. Where’s the evidence that ‘many private wholesalers’ are represented by IBT? Or even evidence that union membership will not suffer a net loss? Mr. Pagnucco needs to explain himself on this one.”

I’m happy to do so. As MCGEO states, I am a former union employee. I spent sixteen years working as a strategic researcher on organizing campaigns in the building trades. When President Renne writes, “It’s extremely difficult to organize a union in your workplace these days,” he’s absolutely correct. I have seen the extreme tactics that some employers use to keep their workers from unionizing. If I thought that the only alternative to DLC was a group of exclusively non-union employers, I would have misgivings about that.

Fortunately, that is not the case here. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been organizing beverage manufacturers and distributors for more than a century and has a Brewery and Soft Drink Conference to represent their workers. The union is also active in our local area. Washington Wholesale LLC, a distributor in D.C., is organized by Teamsters Local 639. Republic National Distributing Company, the second-largest distributor in the nation, is organized in Maryland by Teamsters Local 355. Reliable Churchill LLLP, the largest distributor in Maryland, is organized by Teamsters Local 570. If DLC loses market share to the private sector, it’s likely that unionized firms like these will pick up at least part of it.

This is deeply troubling to President Renne because non-union workers and Teamsters members have one thing in common: neither group pays dues to MCGEO. And that’s the real issue here.

So here’s a question for President Renne: what would happen if private distributors were allowed to compete with DLC? Restaurants and retailers who are happy with DLC could stay with them. Those who are unhappy could buy from the private sector. If DLC has lower prices as MCGEO claims and if their customer service is improving, they should hold on to most of their market share. If not, why should they be protected by a state-mandated monopoly? What do you say, President Renne? Can your members compete with the Teamsters?

  1. The union defends the County Council’s proposed “do-nothing fee” for DLC.

MCGEO: “The ‘fee’ Mr. Pagnucco complains about is paid by the distributor to allow for its participation in the Montgomery County market. Its structure has not yet been determined, just that there will be a fee.”

A quick briefer on the do-nothing fee. DLC has many commonly consumed beverages in its regular stock, but it often has trouble filling orders for specialty items it does not usually carry. These are known as special orders. Here’s a typical complaint:

Mike Hill, general manager of Adega Wine Cellars & Café in Silver Spring, said they have problems getting specialty wines and craft beer.

“If we like a beer or wine and we want to bring that into our store, the turnaround time can be eight days if we’re lucky or two to three months to not at all in some cases,” Hill said.

The County Council has recommended that restaurants and retailers be allowed to go directly to private distributors for special orders, but there are two big caveats. First, DLC determines what is in its regular stock and what is a special order. Second, the council wants to allow DLC to collect a fee on any direct sale by a distributor to “replace DLC estimated revenue lost by allowing the sale of special order beer and wines by private wholesalers.”

DLC loves this because it will get paid without having to do any work. Distributors aren’t so crazy about it. They would have to incur the costs of direct delivery to customers (of shipments that in some cases would be very small) and pay the extra fee on top to DLC because… well, the county just wants the money. Multiple distributors predicted in a hearing before the council that the economics would prevent them from participating in such a “reform.”

But the attitude behind the do-nothing fee is itself even worse. Whoever came up with this idea must believe that our county is soooooo much better than all of our neighbors that we can get away with imposing ridiculous impediments to doing business that no one else in our area would dare to do. Well guess what, folks? Residents and businesses have options. MoCo is a great place to live, shop and work, but so are the District, Frederick, Howard, Northern Virginia and most places near here. If you put enough measures in place to punish employers and consumers, they can and will go elsewhere. That’s the problem with the do-nothing fee and, indeed, DLC itself.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, the state’s top enforcer of alcohol laws and a MoCo resident, says of DLC, “Montgomery County is the last bastion of a medieval state system where the county, if you can believe it, sells all the spirits, alcohol, and we’re not just talking retail, we’re talking wholesale… This is a system that is incredibly slanted against the consumer and the ordinary citizen.”

He’s right. Why are we putting up with this? No one else in the Washington metro area has to deal with anything like this. We are the only ones.

It’s time for a revolt. It’s time to End the Monopoly.

Adam Replies to Gino on Liquor Control, Part II

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

My reply to MCGEO President Gino Renne’s response to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC) continues.

  1. The union claims that state monopolies on alcohol sales enhance public safety.

MCGEO: “Dr. Roland Zullo, a research scientist at the University of Michigan, examined the impact of state ownership of retail alcohol distribution on 23 different crimes grouped in six categories. Dr. Zullo finds that state control of retail alcohol distribution is associated with statistically significant reductions in crimes that have been linked to alcohol consumption, including domestic abuse, assault, and fraud. Control states also had lower rates for vehicle theft and vandalism (using a slightly lower threshold for statistical significance, the 10% rather than the 5% level).”

Guess what? This “research” was financed in part by DLC. That’s right, the study MCGEO is citing is an unpublished, non-peer-reviewed working paper paid for by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA), a trade group of government alcohol merchants. George Griffin, DLC’s Executive Director, is a former President of NABCA and a current member of its board. The organization’s budget is partially financed by dues payments from its members, one of whom is DLC. NABCA is fighting efforts to end government alcohol monopolies and was greatly dismayed when Washington state voters got rid of their state monopoly in 2011. So NABCA paid for the working paper cited by MCGEO and it was completed a year and a half later.

For what it’s worth, the study found no statistically significant relationship between state control of alcohol sales and crime for 20 of the 23 measures it examined. Maybe NABCA needs to pay for a better study!

  1. The union opposes blogging(!)

Maybe this is beside the point, but it is too hilarious for me to resist.

MCGEO: “This [County Council DLC] resolution came after months of hearings, testimony and input from stakeholders. If you don’t like the way the process was playing out, Mr. Pagnucco, why didn’t you participate in it? Why are you using your friend’s blog to post your opinion without allowing for public input or participating in the public forum?”

So MCGEO regards blogging as an illegitimate way to participate in public discussions. Who knew? I have a long history of writing in favor of MCGEO’s positions and they have never before uttered a peep of protest. To the contrary; they republished two of my blogs on their website and used another on a handout. Their former Executive Director once asked me to write a piece supporting legislation the union wanted that would have allowed library workers to unionize, and since I favored the bill, I did. But in the one instance when I have publicly disagreed with them, I am told to cease my annoying prattling!

Do you think that MCGEO will resume its recognition of the value of blogging once I start agreeing with them again?

I will finish up tomorrow.

Adam’s Reply to Gino on Liquor Control, Part I

Guest Blogger Adam Pagnucco replies to MCGEO’s Gino Renne

Last week, MCGEO President Gino Renne, leader of the local union that represents most Montgomery County employees, responded to my post on the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC). President Renne has led MCGEO for more than twenty years and is an aggressive advocate for his members. I appreciate his taking the time to talk about DLC on Seventh State.

A few of his statements deserve examination. Let’s start with the one that is arguably most important to county consumers.

  1. The union claims DLC, an extra middle-man with an extra mark-up, actually has lower prices than our neighbors.

MCGEO: “Across all categories except special order beer, costs are 2-10 percent cheaper than neighboring jurisdictions.”

David Lublin put this argument to shame through his price comparison of DLC and Total Wine, which refuses to open a store in MoCo. Now let’s be fair: Total Wine not only blows away DLC, they beat almost everyone on price. How do they do it? The company explains:

We are committed to having the best wine selection with an emphasis on fine wines. This differentiates us from many retailers in the United States who specialize in one geographic area or price category. Our typical store carries more than 8,000 different wines from every wine-producing region in the world.

In addition to a world-class selection of fine wines, the typical Total Wine & More also carries more than 2,500 beers, from America‘s most popular beers to hard-to-find microbrews and imports, and more than 3,000 different spirits from every price range and category.

Total Wine & More is committed to having the lowest prices on wine, spirits and beer every day. Our tremendous buying power and special relationships with producers, importers, and wholesalers offers us considerable savings, which we pass on to our customers.

This business model is very difficult to implement with an extra middle-man interfering with the supply chain, especially one like DLC that is notorious for botching orders of specialty beer and wine. And so Total Wine will not open a store here even though its headquarters is in MoCo and its founders live here. MoCo customers are forced to drive long distances to access the company’s selection and low prices, and they do. Total Wine estimates that MoCo residents account for more than 20% of sales at its McLean, Virginia store and almost 25% of sales at its Laurel store.

But let’s set aside Total Wine for a moment and examine MCGEO’s assertion further. If DLC offers lower prices as they contend, that would be great news. Non-residents would be flocking into MoCo to get deals. We might even expect a proliferation of MoCo stores close to the county’s borders ready to lure non-residents in.

In fact, the opposite is true. There at least seven D.C. liquor stores within four blocks of the MoCo border. See the map below. The one DLC store near the border is in Friendship Heights and it is the only DLC store that is losing money. How is it possible for DLC to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by selling alcohol to rich people? Perhaps one reason is that the District’s Paul’s Wine and Spirits is just three blocks away.

DC liquor stores

Alcohol sales data collected by the Maryland Comptroller’s office suggests substantial flight of customers away from MoCo. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Gallup find positive correlations between alcohol consumption and education level, while Gallup finds an additional correlation with high incomes. Since MoCo is one of the highest-income and most-educated counties in the state, it should be a mecca for alcohol sales. But that is far from the truth. In terms of per capita sales deliveries to retail licensees inside each county, MoCo ranks 13th of 24 jurisdictions in wine, tied for 23rd in spirits and dead last (by far) in beer. Among the counties out-ranking MoCo in per capita wine sales are Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Harford and Kent, all mostly rural jurisdictions with far less disposable income than MoCo. Comptroller Peter Franchot, the principal enforcer of state alcohol laws and himself a MoCo resident, says of DLC, “Most people in Montgomery County go to Prince George’s, the District or Virginia to buy their alcohol because it’s such a disgrace.”

I will have more tomorrow.

 

Why No MoCo Transit Authority

brt-photo1

Bus-Rapid Transit

Only a few days after I wrote a post outlining County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposal to create an Independent Transit Authority (ITA) for Montgomery County, the state legislative bill towards that end was withdrawn at his request as it didn’t seem likely to pass.

While MCGEO’s Gino Renne would probably like to think that the bizarre circus he created around the bill’s hearing, analyzed yesterday (“Ready for His Closeup”), had a lot to do with it–and it didn’t help–ultimately many other factors played a far greater role in the decision not to move forward now.

Playing Captain Hindsight and analyzing what went wrong is sometimes a little frustrating to those involved. Still, analysis can serve as food for thought for next time, not a bad idea since Tom Street in Ike Leggett’s office told me that the County Executive hasn’t given up yet: “He is soliciting ideas and alternatives but still believes, absent hearing about anything better, that he has the right approach.”

The Process

At the hearing, there was much outrage expressed about the political process. Except that this is the normal process for how bills become laws. The General Assembly meets only for 90 days every year and a lot has to get done in the session. Late-filed bills occur in every session and the hearing was moved to Rockville from Annapolis to make public input easier.

Many often complain that the state legislative delegation doesn’t work well with the County government. In this case, the delegation responded quickly to a request from the County Executive, who was just reelected to a third term, to aid with a top priority.

Nonetheless, the Executive needed to think more about the unofficial process (i.e. do more to get his ducks in a row in advance). Though many people testified in favor of the bill, they were for the bill rather than FOR the bill.

If there were clarion calls from the organizations that should emphatically favor this legislation (e.g. Action Committee for Transit), I sure didn’t hear them. More consultation with key players probably would have served the Executive well.

Executive Leadership

County Executive Ike Leggett deserves credit for getting the discussion started on an ITA. While not without drawbacks, it provides a means for Montgomery to move forward in a meaningful way on its transportation priorities and to make sure that tax dollars for the purpose stay in Montgomery.

Nonetheless, the WaPo editorial lauding the County Executive for his leadership  doesn’t mention that he walked out of the hearing early without talking to any of his constituents as he departed. County Executive Leggett normally excels at listening–a key part of the job–so I was surprised to hear this. If he wants something of this magnitude that will inevitably engender some controversy, he needs to be willing to stand his ground and argue for it.

To Do What?

More needed to be done to outline specifically the intended purpose of the ITA with various ideas floated. While the County Executive  proposed this with something in mind, it was not made sufficiently clear to the public.

He needs to outline for the community what he wants to do. In particular, he should explain that we need to build the Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT)–already advanced into the design phase–and one other BRT line in the network approved in the County Master Plan as a demonstration project before doing the rest of the planned system.

The CCT is widely supported and will give the County a real economic boost. As Tom Street explained: “The CCT has more documented job creation potential than any other proposed transit project in the County. It is a very high priority for the Executive.”

Additionally, the Viers Mill BRT route provokes less controversy than others as most of it can be built in the median. The operation of one line will likely help answer questions many residents have regarding a mode of transit new to them.

The Business Community

The business community is hesitant to get fully behind an ITA because, like everyone else, they don’t want to pay and balk when asked to trust the tender mercies of the County Council on the amount. But business would be more supportive of a finite amount utilized to build projects that it wants.

One potential solution would be to create special tax districts geared toward capturing revenue from commercial landowners who stand to benefit tremendously from this project to provide the capital needed for construction but not operating costs. The county already has the authority to do this without an ITA.

These tax districts would shift capital costs away from residents, which they would like, towards commercial beneficiaries. Capping the costs at capital expenditures would reassure business, however, that they are not on the hook for unlimited amounts.

Residents and the Charter Limit

Montgomery County currently charges the highest property tax and highest income tax legally permitted. Residents are naturally suspicious when asked to pay more. Their suspicions rise even further when shifting expenses from the current budget to the ITA would allow more spending in other areas than possible under the current Charter limit.

The County Executive will never assuage all concerns. Some will oppose all taxes and just don’t want any BRT lines. But there are steps he could take to build greater trust with the public. Making clearer the purpose of the ITA in conjunction with the County Council would be a good start.

Additionally, any tax expenditures shifted over from the budget to the ITA–for example, if the ITA managed the Ride-On system– should still continue to count towards the Charter limit. This should reduce concern that the ITA is simply a ruse to raise spending on non-transportation measures.

The taxes designated for the ITA should also focus on operating rather than capital expenditures. If special tax districts targeted at business pay for most of the capital costs, it is easier to make the case that we should then pay to maintain this infrastructure. It would also reduce the new taxes required from residents.

County Council Leadership

The Executive and the County Council could have worked more closely together with the Council signally support by vocally backing a proposal earlier. This time, the Council appeared to lead from behind and to distance themselves from the ITA proposal.

Council President George Leventhal projects himself as a transit leader despite his tepid support for BRT. But he missed a real opportunity to take a leadership role here in crafting a proposal and building support. The Council President should take the lead with County Executive Leggett to present a united proposal.

Both could then claim credit for having moved Montgomery off the dime on public transit. The Council has a key role to play here due its extensive authority and because its commitments are critical to establishing support from key players.

Alternatively, the Council could find the means to construct the Viers Mill BRT line within its existing budget as an initial more affordable step toward building a larger system.

 

Ready for His Closeup: MCGEO’s Gino Renne

GinoRenneMCGEO President Gino Renne

MCGEO President Gino Renne should be on reality television instead of leading a union. When it comes to political drama, few serve it up more regularly than him. Unfortunately, his members appear to be bit parts in the MCGEO drama. Renne’s leadership has lost them allies in the past–and now it is costing them jobs.

The 2014 Election

In the 2014 Democratic primary, Renne bet large, thinking that taking down a number of incumbents would set him up as labor’s leader in the County and put the fear of Gino into the County Council. It backfired, big time, as an array of MCGEO-backed challengers and candidates for open seats lost.

Beyond wasting the dues of his members on campaign contributions for candidates that didn’t win, his actions alienated his members from their employers. After all, MCGEO (UFCW Local 1994) is the union that represents Montgomery County government employees, so the County Council sets their salaries.

Look at Me! I’m Still Relevant!

But Gino Renne raised the bar in the hearing on the independent Transit Authority (ITA) proposed by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. Opposing it did not just tee off the County Executive but actually undermined the prospect of steady work for his members.

The ITA would allow the County Council to create a property tax that went specifically to transportation projects. As a result, it would provide a steady funding stream for work done by MCGEO members, expanding employment and allowing the union to grow.

But Renne nonetheless fought the state legislation to allow the County to create an ITA and turned the bill hearing on it into quite the event. Flanked by 50 often vocal yellow shirts, Renne argued that his union would no longer be assured of representing workers employed by the authority.

Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15) did her best to point out that this concern was directly addressed in the bill (see p. 8, lines 14-20):

(II) for collective bargaining for Transit Authority employees with arbitration or other impasse resolution procedures with authorized representatives of Transit Authority employees; and

(III) that the authorized representative of Transit Authority employees shall remain the authorized representative of those employees unless decertified by the employees under the collective bargaining law enacted under this subsection.

In other words, why was Renne there? Or more to the point, why wasn’t Renne leading the charge for the bill? Renne made himself the star of the Gino Renne show at the very real cost to his membership. Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe it.

MCGEO Paves the Way for Alcohol Reform

[UPDATE at the end of this post.]

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Montgomery County District 5, Evan Glass pushed hard for liberalization of Montgomery’s antiquated monopoly on the sale of alcohol in the County. Despite his narrow defeat, the next four years presents the best opportunity for reform in ages.

MCGEO, the union that represents the employees at County owned liquor stores, bet disastrously on the wrong candidates in the recent Democratic primary. The attempt by MCGEO under the leadership of Gino Renne to flex its muscle and become the leading force among unions and possibly in County politics backfired and earned the union far more enemies than friends.

Montgomery County Council
Let’s look first at County Council races. In District 1, MCGEO endorsed Duchy Trachtenberg’s bid to return to the Council in a challenge to incumbent Roger Berliner. Duchy even hired MCGEO’s former executive director as her campaign manager. Trachtenberg lost with 21% of the vote. MCGEO didn’t just lose; it looked puny and ineffectual.

The big race in District 3 went no better for MCGEO, Gaithersburg Mayor Sid Katz defeated their choice of Ryan Spiegel, who won less than one-quarter of the vote. In Districts 2 and 4, MCGEO did not endorse either incumbent in the primary even though they were unopposed. No relationships built there.

Tom Hucker, who was expected to win by more, limped home to the District 5 nomination in his battle against newcomer Evan Glass. While MCGEO should have a friend in Hucker, his narrow victory hardly impresses and its not clear yet how much weight this new member of the Council will carry with his colleagues.

In the at-large races, MCGEO supported incumbent Marc Elrich so a bright spot for them there. However, they also supported Beth Daly, the most serious challenger to the other incumbents, who all won reelection. No real reason for Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, or Hans Riemer to prioritize MCGEO’s interests. And Hans has already expressed public interest in alcohol reform.

General Assembly
MCGEO played it safer in the General Assembly but surely has teed off the three incumbents whose opponents it supported in District 18. It gave $1000 to Sen. Rich Madaleno’s opponent. Madaleno won despite being heavily outspent by his self-funding opponent who dumped over $300K in the attempt. Unfortunately for MCGEO, he is already one of the more influential insiders on the Budget and Taxation Committee.

While MCGEO supported Jeff Waldstreicher, it also gave $1000 to Natali Fani-Gonzalez, which certainly cannot especially please incumbents Al Carr and Ana Sol Gutierrez. The two incumbents romped home easily with Fani-Gonzalez placing sixth out of seven candidates.

The Results
MCGEO spent a lot of money and political capital in an effort to look strong but made its weakness apparent. Its ill-conceived campaign to plant friends on the Council and instill respect of its power has left it vulnerable. Montgomery officials can move ahead with alcohol reform. They know they have nothing to fear.

UPDATE: MCGEO made another terrible investment in the District 17 Senate race. They donated $6000 to Del. Lou Simmons, another heavy self-funder. Despite having a clear financial advantage, Lou lost the nomination to former Del. Cheryl Kagan by 9 points.

MCDCC Part III: Renovation or Takeover?

Kunes AlbornozDave Kunes and Gabe Albornoz

Check out Part I and Part II of this four part series on the contretemps at MCDCC.

In the wake of the boycott of the Spring Ball, the Montgomery County Young Democrats (MCYD) and labor unions started applying pressure for major changes on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) to include more labor representation and more young people.

The prime movers in this effort appear to be Dave Kunes, Chair of MCYD at age 24, and Gino Renne, MCGEO President. Renne is the most senior of the leaders of the three unions–the others are the FOP and the Firefighters–involved in government operations in Montgomery County.

Labor talked up running an alternative slate for MCDCC. Kunes, who then worked for Del. Tom Hucker and now works for MSEA as well as chairing MCYD, organized a PAC to back candidates for MCDCC. MCGEO donated to the PAC. At this point, perspectives on the story diverge.

No one disagrees on the basic facts, essentially a meeting occurred between MCDCC Chair Gabe Albornoz and others, including Kunes, where they agreed to put together a unity slate that would incorporate significant new members.

It’s the interpretation that varies. Some see Gabe as taking advantage of the situation to renovate a MCDCC in need of new ideas and new blood. Others see it as Gabe suing for peace in order to avoid competing slates and more acrimony within the Montgomery County Democratic Party.

Either way, the result turned out the same. MCDCC set up committees of five people who were not running for MCDCC to interview people for slots on the unity slate. So far, so good.

Except that laudable step was undercut completely by the closed, secret nature of the process. Only certain people, essentially current MCDCC members and selected Young Democrats, were invited to apply. If the goal is truly renovation rather than major change to benefit specifically MCYD and labor, why keep it secret and limit applications?

The people involved may call on Captain Hindsight to lament this approach. Sorry but not buying. They organized it specifically to accomplish their goals. They own it.

Regardless, this lack of transparency and the limited nature of the invitations had the desired effect. Roughly eight members of the unity slate, or one-third of candidates, are young Democrats. As a result, the committee is set to take in a major influx of people who helped place the pressure on MCDCC to change.

Additionally, some changes were further negotiated between the major players behind the scenes after the interviews. In particular, the unity slate dropped Young Democrat Brígida Krzysztofik in favor of Kevin Walling, who had raised money for his delegate race in District 16. Both are LGBT. Krzysztofik was quietly promised that she would get a slot next time.

Some of the unity slate choices make more sense than others. I was surprised to learn that the slate didn’t include Jay Wilson, a very talented, smart Young Democrat and Vice President of the African-American Democratic Club. (I know Jay through his work for a nonprofit that we both support.) Despite passing on Jay, African Americans comprise roughly one-third of the slate.

Most of the retiring members have done so by choice but a few were defenestrated from the slate against their will. The primary example is Harold Diamond, who won a seat in District 19 challenging the slate in 2010, but was not selected for the unity slate.

Diamond chaired both the Ballot Questions Advisory Committee as well as the precinct officials meeting to vote on them. He had the nice sounding but dreadful in practice idea of populating the committee with essentially anyone who volunteered. Not the best means to recruit a group of volunteers who are particularly sensible, representative, or sensitive to the variety of interests and trends within the party.

The meeting of the precinct officials also left several key issues until very late in the evening and Diamond repeatedly tried to steer matters in the direction he favored. No surprise he was left off the slate. Nonetheless, he will be seeking reelection from District 19.

Despite labor’s grievances avowedly being a prime motive for unhappiness with MCDCC, only one of the new members has a direct link to the three governmental unions who were upset with MCDCC–Erin Yeagley works for MCGEO. However, Dave Kunes also works for MSEA and the Young Dems as a group are perceived as labor proxies.

The oddness doesn’t end there. The dispute began because labor was frustrated with the County Council. But MCDCC’s major power is to fill vacancies in the legislature. Vacancies on the County Council are filled by appointment. On the other hand, Gino Renne will likely view it as mission accomplished if he can prevent MCDCC from sending out another sample ballot endorsing a question opposed by organized labor even if unanimously supported by an all-Democratic County Council.

Some view all of this as simply an power play by Dave Kunes supported by the unions. Certainly, the idea that crisis is another word for opportunity has more than a dollop of truth. Nevertheless, harnessing ambition for public goals can be a powerful force for change. Kunes revitalized the Young Democrats and made them a force in the County. Regardless of how it came about, the changes at MCDCC provide a real chance to regenerate the party.

Politics is perhaps the only profession in which people are supposed to loudly protest their lack of ambition or desire for advancement as they move their way up the ladder. So what if ambition played a role in his organization of this renovation/partial takeover? All our officials should be so skilled and talented.

The final part in this series will explore the upcoming election for MCDCC as well as its future.