Tag Archives: Marc Elrich

County ReMARCs: County Executive Marc Elrich on Accessory Dwelling Units

The following is a detailed explanation and analysis by County Executive Marc Elrich of the major changes to zoning law proposed by Councilmember Hans Riemer:

Dear Resident,

There is a proposed amendment to the County’s zoning code that would fundamentally alter virtually all residential areas in the County now zoned for single-family detached homes. In a nutshell, ZTA 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses would delete several existing requirements that must be met by property owners who want to build an additional living unit on a lot zoned for a single-family detached dwelling.  Yet as I have traveled around the County, I’ve discovered that most residents are either unaware of the proposed zoning changes or may not have a clear understanding of what they are.

Accessory apartments, also known as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are allowed today in virtually all residential zones in Montgomery County. They can be built by converting part of an existing home, building an addition, or in some zones by constructing a free-standing unit in the back yard. They can answer the need for additional housing options, whether for extended families or as a source of supplemental income that makes homeownership more affordable for more people.

Although I supported recent legislation intended to encourage more ADUs in the County, I have questioned whether ZTA19-01 provides the right framework for addressing our housing needs while maintaining the quality of life that has attracted so many people to our single-family neighborhoods. Despite the rhetoric that ADUs are a tool for affordable housing, it is highly unlikely that they will help the extremely low-income households (defined as 30 percent of the area median income) that most need affordable housing.

Here are some questions and answers about the ZTA as approved by the County Council’s Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee (PHED). I hope you will have time to read this and share your thoughts with me, your civic and/or community association, and with councilmembers prior to their review of the legislation, scheduled for mid-June.

What problem is ZTA 19-01 trying to solve?
Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced ZTA 19-01 to encourage the creation of more ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) in single-family neighborhoods throughout Montgomery County. He and others see them as a means of producing additional housing options, including but not limited to affordable housing. (However, there are no requirements to ensure affordability.) Councilmember Riemer has explained that ADUs can be an apartment over a garage, a basement apartment, or a “tiny house” on a side lot or back yard – a second, separate living unit on a single-family lot, with a full kitchen and bathroom, and accessed by a separate entrance.

Are ADUs, including “tiny houses,” already allowed in Montgomery County?
Yes, they are. They can be built in, or as an addition to, an existing home and as a detached unit on lots of one acre or more. There are 414 licensed ADUs in the County; 356 of them (86 percent) are in the County’s smaller-lot residential zones found in areas like Wheaton, Silver Spring, Aspen Hill, Bethesda, Kensington, Takoma Park, Colesville, and Germantown. There are also unlicensed ADUs, but the County does not know how many.

Didn’t the Council make changes to ADU requirements last year?
Yes. Until last fall, ADUs were approved via conditional use (formerly known as a special exception) – a complicated, time-consuming, and sometimes costly process. To ease the approval process and encourage more ADUs, the previous County Council amended the zoning code in October 2018, removing the requirement for conditional use approval and allowing ADUs as a “limited” accessory residential use that meets certain standards. This change means that a homeowner’s application for an ADU can be approved as long as the ADU meets the standard requirements for parking, size of the ADU, and distance from other ADUs.

Is ZTA 19-01 needed so that I can have a separate unit for my in-laws?
Probably not. In virtually every neighborhood, your in-laws can have their own dwelling unit within your home, and depending on the zone you live in, you can construct a detached unit if you meet the conditions mentioned above.  If your application for an ADU is denied because of parking or distance-separation requirements, you can apply for a waiver of those requirements through the process established in last year’s revisions to the zoning code. As a councilmember, I supported the changes made last fall because I believed they would provide more opportunities for ADUs without compromising the underlying intent of the County’s single-family zoning.

If the ADU approval process was just recently amended, why is this ZTA needed now?
That is a question I am wondering about myself. The Council made some important changes, but the changes are still new; they did not take effect until January 15, 2019 – the same day that additional changes were introduced via ZTA 19-01. While additional changes may be needed, such as adjusting the parking requirements, it makes sense to assess the effectiveness of the recent changes first and to do a better job of getting input from residents around the County about potential future changes. It also makes sense to have a companion bill that addresses related issues in the County’s code – issues that can’t be dealt with in a zoning text amendment.

Would ZTA 19-01 allow a detached ADU on any single-family lot regardless of size?
Yes. Current zoning regulations allow detached ADUs in certain “large-lot” zones on at least one acre. ZTA 19-01 would allow them in virtually all areas zoned for single-family detached dwellings, including areas where the average lot size is 6,000 square feet or less. This is a major Countywide change to single-family detached zoning, which currently allows homeowners to build an accessory structure in the back yard (i.e. a shed or other outbuilding) while ZTA 19-01 would allow a second, separate living unit.

What are the proposed size limitations for these detached ADUs?
Council staff summaries of the PHED Committee discussions refer to limiting the size to the least of  “50 percent of the gross floor area of the principal dwelling or 10 percent of the lot area or 1,200 square feet of gross-floor area.” It isn’t clear whether gross-floor area refers to the footprint of the principal dwelling or the gross-floor area of all levels of the principal dwelling. The detached ADU can be up to 20 feet (2 stories) high.  There is also a provision to allow an ADU up to 32 feet long (i.e. a trailer or manufactured home).

Will ADUs have an impact on already overcrowded schools?
If the intent of the ZTA is to encourage larger, family-sized units, it is possible that there will be an increase in the number of students. And although the owner of a newly built home must pay a school impact fee, a freestanding ADU for a family generates no fees.

Does ZTA 19-01 propose changing parking requirements?
Yes.  Under the current zoning code, if two off-street parking spaces are required for the principal dwelling unit, one additional off-street space is required for an ADU. Homeowners can request a waiver of this requirement if there is adequate on-street parking. ZTA 19-01 would eliminate the requirement for one additional off-street parking space if the property is located within one mile of a Metro station or within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park.

What happens if I live on a street with little or no off-street parking and I’m less than a mile from the Metro?
Parking may get very difficult in your neighborhood since there is no requirement and no assurance that the additional residents will not have cars.

What are the parking requirements in neighborhoods that don’t have driveways?
A homeowner who wants to convert part of the principal dwelling or build an addition or separate ADU would be required to build a driveway with two off-street parking spaces. This is true under the existing zoning code and apparently does not change under ZTA 19-01. It isn’t clear whether this can be appealed through the waiver process.

Can my neighbor build an ADU and then turn it into an Airbnb?
Yes, after one year under the existing zoning code and under ZTA 19-01. There is no language that requires a property owner to get approval for this change.

Are there potential environmental impacts?
In some cases, yes. There shouldn’t be any if an ADU is created within an existing dwelling unit, but environmental impacts can occur if an addition or separate dwelling unit is built in a back yard. Land disturbance during construction and the resulting replacement of green space with hard (impervious) surfaces means that less stormwater can be absorbed. This can lead to changes in the amount, velocity, and direction of rainwater runoff. Also, ground disturbance and construction can lead to the removal of trees or impacts to their root zones. There are no provisions in ZTA 19-01 that address these issues, although other jurisdictions that allow ADUs have requirements to protect and preserve trees and control stormwater runoff.

Why haven’t I heard about ZTA 19-01 before receiving this email?
Most ZTAs go through the review process without a huge public outreach component, primarily because most deal with specific, fairly narrow changes to the zoning code. There was a public hearing for ZTA 19-01, and shortly after its introduction in January 2019 Councilmember Riemer held a “community policy forum” inviting anyone interested in “reforming” the County’s existing ADU regulations to attend; most forum attendees were enthusiastic supporters of the ZTA.   There were also three PHED Committee work sessions in March and April. For most residents, the County Council’s open meetings process is “inside baseball” – not something that they keep track of or follow on a regular basis. Recent comments from residents of the County’s suburban single-family neighborhoods indicate that very few were aware of these public discussions of the ZTA and are concerned because of its potential consequences. Some councilmembers have responded by reaching out to their constituents to get feedback on the proposed changes, but to my knowledge no other efforts have been made to expand public outreach so that County residents whose neighborhoods would be directly impacted by the proposed changes have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommended changes

Will ADUs provide affordable housing?
There is no specific language in this ZTA that assures that the rents for ADUs will be affordable; it is premised on the idea that the easier it is to add ADUs, the more housing there will be, and the price of that housing will be lower.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this is how rental prices for ADUs work, primarily because construction costs are high, especially for detached units. It is also possible that allowing two dwelling units on any lot will drive up the value of the property and other homes in areas of the County that now offer a rich supply of affordable housing in modest-sized homes.

What are some of the best practices in other areas that allow ADUs?
Some jurisdictions in the DC area and around the country are embracing ADUs, but not without standards, programs, and processes to ensure their successful assimilation into single-family neighborhoods. Here are some of the best practices my staff and I have reviewed:

  • Other jurisdictions have significantly smaller size limits (which may increase the likelihood that rents will be affordable);
  • Several have robust information programs, education outreach, and even financial support to help with the high cost of building an ADU;
  • Many have regulations on other issues – like stormwater management, tree protection, amnesty programs to encourage illegal ADUs to apply for licensing, design standards to encourage compatibility with the look and scale of the principal dwelling, a regular inspection regime, and incentives to keep ADUs from being converted from long-term to short-term rentals. Some of these could be addressed in ZTA 19-01; others could be wrapped into a companion bill that would revise relevant parts of the County code.

What changes will the full Council review in June?
The following provisions have been approved by the PHED Committee and will be reviewed by the full Council:

  • Remove the current requirement for one additional onsite parking space if a property is in the City of Takoma Park or within one mile of a Metrorail Line station;
  • Remove the minimum one-acre lot size for detached ADUs, thereby allowing them on any residential lot regardless of lot size – detached ADUs would be allowed in all residential zones including the smaller-lot R-60, R-90, and R-200 zones where they are currently not allowed (attached ADUs are allowed in all residential zones);
  • Allow a detached ADU that is up to 32 feet long;
  • Limit the size of ADUs located in the interior of a house to 1,200 square feet unless the proposed ADU is in a basement whose footprint is larger, in which case the ADU in the basement can match the larger footprint regardless of size;
  • Limit the size to the least of 50 percent of the gross-floor area in the principal dwelling or 10 percent of the lot area or 1,200 square feet of gross-floor area.
  • Delete the maximum size of an addition that can be used as an ADU (the current zoning code says that the maximum floor area used for an ADU in a proposed addition to the principal dwelling unit must not be more than 800 square feet if the proposed addition increases the footprint of the principal dwelling);
  • Allow an accessory structure built before May 31, 2012 to be used as an ADU without regard to setbacks if it was legally constructed and there is no increase to the footprint or height of the structure; if an existing structure violates the setback standard, a new window on any wall on the side of the setback violation may not be constructed;
  • Delete the distance requirement between ADUs;
  • Delete the requirement that a house must be five years old before creating an ADU.

As I’ve indicated, I believe it is important to establish a responsive, well-regulated, and fair approval process for ADUs for property owners seeking alternative housing options, whether to address multigenerational needs or generate a source of income to provide mortgage relief or allow seniors to age in place. However, this is not a “one-size-fits-all” County, and how we achieve these goals matters if we want to successfully integrate a larger number of ADUs into our single-family neighborhoods. This is where you come in.  If you have specific changes you would like to suggest or views you want to share about ZTA 19-01 or ADUs in general, please let me know by sending an email to Marc.Elrich@montgomeryCountymd.gov with “ADU” in the subject line. I also encourage you to share your views with councilmembers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this,

Marc Elrich
County Executive

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Elrich Sends Pro-Business Signals – Anyone Listening?

Immediately after taking office as county executive, Marc Elrich confronted a budget dilemma. The way he handled it deserves far more notice that it has received.

Outgoing Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett promised bond rating agencies that he’d move towards a reserve fund of 10% of the country budget. Increasing the county’s reserves provides evidence of fiscal prudence that bond-rating agencies like, so adherence to Leggett’s target helps preserve the county’s AAA bond rating.

But revenues for the current fiscal year so far have fallen short of projections. I don’t view this as due to wildly unrealistic projections by the outgoing executive or council. Projections are called projections and not certainties for a reason. Sometimes, we end up with more money than expected too.

The shortfall presented newly minted County Executive Elrich with tough choices. Elrich could have declared that the 10% reserves target was unnecessarily high and that he would not be bound by Leggett’s commitment. Alternatively, Elrich could have taken a wait-and-see attitude in expectation that the final revenues for the fiscal year will prove higher.

Elrich chose neither of these more expedient options. Instead, he made the tough choice and pledged to cut spending. By asking county agencies for a variety of options, Elrich also used it as an opportunity to do in a smart, policy-oriented way rather than a uniform across-the-board cut. In short, it’s a first small step towards reshaping country government.

In his first major decision, Elrich also acted in an inclusive way by bringing in Council President Nancy Navarro to discuss it in advance of the decision, though the Council will, of course, need to scrutinize Elrich’s independently developed proposal for cuts.

Business, taxpayers and the bond-rating agencies could hardly have asked for a more fiscally responsible approach. In his first move, Elrich sent a message that he intends to pursue strong, responsible fiscal management and work within fiscal constraints.

Throughout the campaign, Elrich repeatedly explained, at times to deaf ears, that he wants to reshape country government to make it more efficient. He understands that this is imperative if only because the county’s current fiscal path is simply unsustainable.

Moreover, Elrich wants to realize savings precisely because he wants the county government to do more. If the county maintains its current trajectory, that won’t be possible. Squeezing more out of residents isn’t really much of an option, as previous councils have already more or less maxed out the local income and property tax.

It’s a pity that the opinion pages that predicted an Elrich administration as dire for business and proper fiscal management haven’t paid more attention.

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Marc Elrich Has a Mandate

Mason-Dixon conducted a poll for outside groups supporting Marc Elrich’s campaign for Montgomery County executive at the end of September. Beyond predicting the outcome accurately, it indicates that Marc Elrich not only won the election but also a mandate for his development agenda.

One of Marc Elrich’s central issues has long been making developers pay more towards the county infrastructure needed to support the expanded population that development brings. Indeed, voters are quite mistrustful of the existing relationship between government and developers.

Developers Have Too Much Influence

Mason-Dixon asked voters, “Do you feel there is or is not a ‘quid pro quo’ relationship between county politicians and the development industry, where campaign contributions from developers result in county approval of development projects without proper planning for infrastructure, such as roads and schools?”

Notwithstanding the endless handwringing by the Washington Post as well as Councilmember Nancy Floreen that Elrich would kill economic growth in Montgomery, voters were far more worried about developer influence than limitations on them. Fully, 60% said there is a quid pro quo compared to just 14% who said there is no and 26% who weren’t sure.

As the following graph shows, this is a widely shared belief with far more people thinking that there is a quid pro quo relationship among all groups, including Republicans and supporters of both Nancy Floreen and Robin Ficker.

Infrastructure is Overburdened

Unsurprisingly, 72% of all voters agreed that the “current pace and type of growth in Montgomery County has overburdened our roads, schools and other infrastructure and public services.”

Again, there was wide agreement on this question across gender and party lines with 68% of Republicans and even 56% of Floreen supporters concurring.

Developers Need to Pay their Fair Share

Fifty-four percent agreed that “developers don’t pay their fair share.” Here, there was greater disagreement:

At 67%, Elrich supporters were much more likely to think developers need to pony up more than the 50% of Ficker supporters, and 35% of Floreen supporters. Sixty percent of Democrats agreed as opposed to 51% of independents an just 37% of Republicans. There was also a gender gap with women agreeing 5% more than men.

Conclusions on Development

Marc Elrich ran on this issue directly, highlighting it in campaign literature and his campaign commercials. Voters strongly agree with County Executive-Elect Elrich that insufficient infrastructure in a major problem and a majority like the idea of developers kicking in more money to help pay the costs associated with development.

People who disagree with Elrich need to ask why they have utterly failed to convince voters. It’s especially striking because incredible sums of money have been spent trying to persuade them otherwise. Even leaving aside the millions spent to support pro-developer candidates in the primary and the general, blogs like Greater Greater Washington, lobbyists, the region’s dominant newspaper, politicians and many others have argued mightily against far less well-funded opponents.

One problem is the false narrative about Elrich regarding development. As he regularly points out, there is plenty of buildable space in Montgomery County already under existing Master Plans. He supports higher density and smart growth development centered near transportation.

Elrich’s BRT plan will greatly expand development opportunities by easing transportation bottlenecks. It’s a positive sum solution that helps expand economic growth, get people – especially poorer residents – around the county, and helps take cars off the road – good for the environment and traffic. It’s also spending smart because it is just a fraction of the cost of either light rail (e.g. the Purple Line) or heavy rail (e.g. Metro).

So maybe it’s time to throw the “Elrich hates development” meme into the bin along with all those campaign flyers.

The idea that voters want developers to chip in more for the infrastructure needed to maintain the high quality of life that makes Montgomery County so attractive strikes a majority of voters as utterly reasonable. Here’s a radical thought: if we have more of that infrastructure, then voters would be less likely to oppose additional development.

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Your Election Night County Executive Scorecard

Eight Maryland counties elect county executives. These powerful offices are the equivalent of being mayor of a city. Incumbents are seeking reelection in five counties.

State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks is sure to win in Prince George’s where the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election.

Baltimore County has quite the race between John Olszewski, Jr. and Al Redmer. Republicans think they have this one, partly due to the enormous margins Hogan is expected to rack up. But Olszewski has unified Democrats and is pulling out all the stops. Democrats think he’ll win this one.

In Anne Arundel and Howard, Democrats are running unexpectedly lively challenges to two favored Republican incumbents. In Anne Arundel, development is a major issue, as are incumbent Steve Schuh’s occasional wanderings into more right-wing rhetoric on non-county issues.

Allen Kittleman in Howard has a more moderate profile but faces a more Democratic electorate. Additionally, Howard has exactly the highly educated profile of places that are swinging hard to the Democrats this year.

Despite challenges, both Anne Arundel and Howard lean Republican and it will an upset if Democrats win either. Based on past election statistics and the political leanings of each county, Schuh ought to be harder to defeat. But Kittleman has carefully tailored his profile to his county.

Montgomery has more of a race than usual. Councilmember Floreen has abandoned the Democrats to run as an independent. Though she often voted with Elrich on the Council, Floreen argues that Marc Elrich is too hostile to business. Republicans are left with perennial candidate Robin Ficker.

Elrich should win easily notwithstanding ongoing hostility from the Washington Post and their support for Floreen. Despite an influx of cash into Floreen’s campaign coffers, her campaign has just not been visible enough to make the case against Elrich needed in order to persuade the overwhelmingly Democratic electorate to defect to her in sufficient numbers.

In contrast, Elrich has attacked Floreen as a tool of developer interests and maintained good pre-election contact with Democrats. As a former council president, Floreen represents the status quo in a year when voters seem ready for change.

Even if Floreen does well in the less Democratic upcounty, she will still have to contend with the heavily Democratic crescent that contains far more voters. There are just too many loyal Democrats and not enough has been done to peel them off.

Finally, portions of Floreen’s campaign seem designed to alienate Republicans and she needs their support. Floreen has repeatedly identified herself as lifelong Democrat and publicized photos with Hillary Clinton. Neither seem likely to woo Republicans. Since Republicans have shown themselves willing to reject Ficker, I’m not sure it was the best approach.

I can’t say I know enough about the remaining races to make any strong predictions. In Frederick, Del. Kathy Afzali is challenging incumbent County Exec. Jan Gardner in what I imagine is a hard fought race in this purple county. Harford and Wicomico are the sorts of places that tend to elect Republicans countywide.

Now, I’m heading out to go vote. If you haven’t done the same, I encourage you to join me at the polls!

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Could Ficker Win a Three-Way Race for Executive?

By Adam Pagnucco.

There is much condemnation of Council Member Nancy Floreen among Democratic activists for leaving the party and launching an independent run for Executive.  Some of the outrage is related to party loyalty.  Some of it is related to support for the apparent Democratic primary winner, Marc Elrich.  And some of it is related to Floreen’s record in office and historic support by the business community.  Those are all value judgments best left to the readers.  But one concern can actually be evaluated with data – the notion that a Floreen candidacy could enable GOP candidate Robin Ficker to come up the middle and squeak out a victory.  Could that actually happen?

Ficker, who has a long and infamous history in the county, has been running for office since the 1970s.  He was actually elected to a District 15 House of Delegates seat in 1978, a decision reversed by the voters four years later.  Since then, he has run for offices of all kinds and placed numerous charter amendments on the ballot.  Two of his charter amendments – a property tax limitation measure in 2008 and a term limits measure in 2016 – were passed by county voters.

Robin Ficker’s official House of Delegates picture from 1978.  Forty years later, could he be headed to elected office again?

First, let’s look at Ficker’s electoral history since the 1990s.  He has run ten times and lost on every occasion.  In every race, he has been a Republican except for 2006, when he ran as an independent for County Executive.  (Twelve years later, that’s what Nancy Floreen is doing.)

Besides all the losing, the thing that stands out here is Ficker’s unpopularity in the Republican Party.  He has entered six contested GOP primaries since 1994 and lost five of them.  The only time he had opposition and won was when he ran in the 2009 County Council District 4 special election and defeated two no-name Republicans who barely campaigned.  The lesson here is that when Republicans have an alternative to Ficker who is not a Democrat, they tend to vote for someone else.

Even Republicans are reluctant to buy what Ficker is selling.  Photo credit: Getty Images, John W. McDonough.

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When he did make it to general elections, Ficker earned vote percentages ranging from 34% to 41%.  But most of those elections occurred in Upcounty districts where Republicans are a much larger percentage of the electorate than the county as a whole.

Now let’s look at the performances of GOP candidates for County Executive over the last five general elections.

One of the untold stories in MoCo elections is the recent decline in electoral performance by Democratic nominees in MoCo Executive general elections.  From 1998 through 2006, the Republican nominee did not crack 30%.  In the last two elections, the Republican got 34% of the vote.  For the most part, these were protest votes as the Republican candidates had no money, did not campaign and were not expected by anyone to win.  Another thing to note is that the only one of these elections that had an independent candidate was 2006, when Ficker ran against Ike Leggett and GOP nominee Chuck Floyd.  Ficker got just 9% of the vote, another sign of his unpopularity with both Republicans and independents.

Finally, let’s consider turnout by party in MoCo mid-term general elections.

Over the years, Democratic turnout percentage has edged up gradually, independent turnout has increased and Republican turnout has collapsed.  At some point, it’s reasonable to expect that independent turnout might exceed the GOP.

For Ficker to win, he would need to hold onto all the GOP votes, win more than 70% of independents and have Floreen and Elrich split everyone else exactly down the middle.  That would result in Ficker getting 34% of the vote and Floreen and Elrich each getting 33%.  That’s extremely unlikely for two reasons.  First, as detailed above, Ficker is weak among GOP voters and Republicans and independents would have a viable alternative in Floreen.  Second, for this scenario to work, almost half of all Democrats would have to vote against their own party’s nominee to keep Elrich at 33%.  It’s easier to see a path to victory for Floreen, who could win by getting half the Republicans, all the independents and roughly 28% of the Democrats.

Just to be clear, we are skeptical that anyone can defeat a Democratic nominee in a MoCo countywide election.  But whatever the ramifications of a possible Floreen independent run, we’re pretty sure that one of them will not be a victory by Robin Ficker.

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MoCo Democrats Reveal Preferred Directions for the County

By Adam Pagnucco.

Lots of attention has been paid to who will win the MoCo Democratic Primary for Executive.  At this point, it appears to be Council Member Marc Elrich.  But much less attention has been paid to something equally important: the voice of the voters.  In this primary, MoCo Democrats spoke out loud and clear about their preferred directions for the future of the county.

The Executive race is like no other in MoCo.  The office may not be as powerful as the County Council on paper, but its holder is THE leader and spokesman for the county and sets the tone and direction of the county going forward.  Voters understand that.  And they scrutinize the message and vision of the Executive candidates to a much greater extent than others running for local office.

In this primary, there were six candidates for Executive.  Each had enough resources to be heard.  And as a group, they sent three kinds of messages to the voters.  By choosing between these three messages, the voters indicated their preferred directions for the county’s future.

Status Quo (23% of the vote)

Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal ran on their records in office and argued that they merited a promotion to Executive.  Berliner and Leventhal were arguably the two most effective legislators on the County Council.  Both showed substantial skill at passing a large variety of bills, including difficult ones like Berliner’s bill to protect street trees and Leventhal’s bill to prevent unilateral sales of county property by the Executive.  The two served a combined twenty-four years as committee chairs and each was elected Council President twice.  Their records were not just their own, but were also essentially those of the council itself.  Boiled down to its basic nature, their message was, “I’m an experienced leader and you can count on me to continue the county’s success.”

Berliner and Leventhal ran on their records as Council Members in their mail.

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In many years, this kind of strategy would have worked.  MoCo Democrats tend to respect effective elected service.  But this was not one of those years as Berliner and Leventhal combined to get 23% of the vote.  More than three-quarters of Democrats opted for change of one kind or another.

Progressive Plus Anti-Developer Direction (29% of the vote)

Despite being in elected office continuously for 31 years, Council Member Marc Elrich ran as a change candidate.  He argued that the county needed a more progressive social justice direction that would help renters, vulnerable people and those living in and close to poverty.  He was especially focused on closing the achievement gap in public schools and instituting the most progressive environmental standards in the nation.  At the same time, he lambasted developers as “the special interest with too much influence over the government” and vowed to “hold developers accountable for providing the resources necessary to maintain our quality of life.”

Elrich’s comments about developers on his website and in email are in line with the message he has used for decades.

This wasn’t just Elrich’s campaign; almost the entire progressive movement in MoCo lined up behind him and did everything they could to get him elected.  The result was 29% of the vote.

Competitive Direction (48% of the vote)

The three non-Council Members – businessman David Blair, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and Delegate Bill Frick – had very different biographies but they had similar campaign messages, especially on the economy.  All three agreed that the county’s economic competitiveness is slipping and must be restored to fund the kinds of progressive priorities favored by all the candidates, and most of the voters.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick made economic competitiveness the focus of their campaigns in their mail and websites.

Blair, Krasnow and Frick combined to receive 48% of the vote with essentially the same message on the economy.  The Executive election revealed that the group of voters wanting economic competitiveness and tax restraint is the largest faction in the county’s Democratic Party.  The competitive direction candidates did not win because there were too many of them and they split up each other’s support, allowing Elrich to squeak in by 80 votes.

Combine the competitive direction Democrats with the roughly 40% of registered voters who are unaffiliated or Republicans and you get 70% of the general electorate – the exact percentage who voted for term limits.  These numbers are not a coincidence.

The Executive election is not quite finished yet.  Council Member Nancy Floreen is trying to get on the ballot as an independent, which we believe is an uphill battle, and a general election awaits.  But through their votes on candidate messages, MoCo Democrats have spoken about where they would like the county to go.  Elected officials would be wise to heed them.

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Post Editorial Board Goes After Elrich… Again

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Washington Post has published an editorial branding Council Member Marc Elrich, who is currently leading in the Democratic primary for Executive, as “an outlier who proudly positioned himself on the ideological extreme left” and “the most insistently anti-business and anti-development member of the Montgomery County Council for more than a decade.”  Those who are interested in the Post’s opinion can read it here.

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Heavens to Nancy. We Might Have Competition in a MoCo General Election!

You can read some of my thoughts on Nancy Floreen’s mulling over entering the county executive race in an interview with WAMU.

In essence, I consider it virtually impossible that Councilmember Floreen plunges into the race if David Blair ends up winning the tightly contested Democratic primary. Floreen’s bid is being talked up by the more or less the same developer folks who back Empower Montgomery and vehemently oppose Elrich.

David Blair has a different background from Nancy Floreen. He’s a former business exec, while she has earned her political stripes serving as Mayor of Garrett Park, on the Planning Board, and on the county council. But their issue positions aren’t radically different. Essentially, a bid by Floreen would be a mulligan for the business community if Blair loses.

Even more important, Floreen would lack the essential money from the business community required for a serious campaign. Getting on the ballot is tough enough in such a short period and would be hard to do without financial support. Of course, that leaves aside the money needed for a campaign or fighting a lawsuit challenging her eligibility to be on the ballot because she filed to run as an unaffiliated voter while still registered as a Democrat.

Some argue that Floreen’s gambit is an effort to try to get a women into power after the county executive and council primary results resulted in the nomination of one woman. At the end of the day, I tend to regard that as nice verbiage that will disappear if David Blair wins the nomination. Besides, Nancy Floreen has a lot more to offer beyond “girl power” as a candidate.

Earlier today, Del. Kirill Reznik made the case that the Democratic candidates are all good, reasonable people. Boiled down, it articulated the wisdom of the old, typing practice phrase “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party.” It’s time for Democrats to rally around the winner.

Except it’s hard for me to get that exercised about the idea of Nancy Floreen running as an independent. If an independent like Bernie Sanders can take lots of Democratic Party money for his Senate bids and even run for the Democratic presidential nomination, why can’t a Democrat like Nancy Floreen run as an independent?

The Republican label is now so toxic that it’s virtually unthinkable of a Republican winning an election in Montgomery. Having Robin Ficker as your champion doesn’t help. That has forced all contests into the Democratic party, and only a select share of the electorate participates in the Democratic primary. Many voters end up frustrated as it renders the general election meaningless.

Parties are valuable because they provide useful cues to voters as a starting point (often an ending point) in evaluating candidates. There are divisions but no truly organized factions within the Democratic Party to structure politics for voters. Moreover, as V.O. Key noted long ago. one-partyism facilitates rapid ideological movement within a party of the sort we’ve seen in Peter Franchot’s evolution from progressive tribune to Hogan buddy.

The increasing leftward trend of the Democrats and extreme right-wing nature of the vast majority of today’s Republicans leaves a lot of unoccupied space in the center. Unsurprisingly, some pols may begin to take advantage of it and a lot of voters might well respond.

I should make clear that, while I respect Nancy Floreen, that these points are general rather than specific. She’s right that the county could sorely use more competition in the general. At the state level, the Democrats would also benefit as it would help motivate Democratic voters to turn out in the general election.

More specifically, I do not share the fears held by some in the business community regarding Marc Elrich as county executive. It’s important to look at specifics beyond ideological type. Elrich is far from someone who simply mouths progressive slogans and will mindlessly attempt to implement them.

If you listen to him speak in detail about issues, it’s clear that he’s highly knowledgeable and has many concrete, practical ideas that are far from whackadoodle to address problems that all Democrats claim they want to address. Elrich will also have to deal with a county council with a range of views. Assuming he wins the Democratic primary, I think he deserves his shot and will have my vote. I can say the same regarding David Blair.

Though I end up with the same vote as Kirill Reznik here, I applaud people looking beyond party (at least when the candidates merit it). Small-d democratic competition is healthy. Let’s embrace it.

P.S. Having assumed life would be dull after the primary, I’m stepping away from the keyboard for a few weeks. I trust Adam Pagnucco will continue to make healthy mischief in my absence.

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County Exec Race Going to Be Extremely Tight

Yesterday, Adam Pagnucco explained that David Blair needs to win the outstanding ballots by 6.2% in order to pass Marc Elrich in the final vote tally. The absentee ballots counted yesterday suggest that this is entirely possible.

Yesterday, 3793 absentee ballots were counted. Among those voters, 3292 participated in the Democratic primary. Fewer voters tend to cast votes as one goes down the ballot, a phenomenon known as roll-off. In the Democratic primary for county executive, 3140 cast valid votes.

Blair lead Elrich by 7.1% among the absentees counted, which allowed him to pick up a net 223 votes and close the gap with Elrich to 269 votes. Substantial numbers of absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted.

Why the difference between election day and absentee voters? It could be a number of factors. One reason might be if Blair had a better absentee voter program than Elrich. Once an absentee ballot is requested, it’s vital for campaigns to contact a voter in order to try to obtain their vote. Another explanation might be that voters who made decisions prior to election day tended to vote differently than those who cast ballots on the day itself.

In any case, it now looks like the final count may be exceedingly close. We’ll almost certainly have to wait for provisional ballots to be counted, after Independence Day. Provisional ballots may show a different pattern than for absentee ballots, but that is a wild card and we don’t know how voters affected by the MVA screw-up tended to vote compared to the whole electorate. (It turns out the number of registered voters affected has crept up again and now reached 90,000.)

Even when the count is finalized, I could well imagine the losing campaign requesting a recount.

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Does Blair Have a Chance?

By Adam Pagnucco.

With early votes and election day votes counted, Marc Elrich leads David Blair by 452 votes to win the Democratic County Executive nomination.  This would be a close margin in a House of Delegates race but it’s incredibly close for a county-wide race.  The final outcome will now be decided by absentee and provisional ballots.  Does Blair have a chance or will Elrich hold on to win?

According to Bethesda Magazine, the county’s Board of Elections received 4,900 Democratic absentee ballots as of Monday.  In addition, 3,614 provisional ballots were cast but that total includes all parties.  For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that 2,500 of those provisional ballots came from Democrats.  If there are only 5,000 Democratic absentee ballots received, that is 7,500 outstanding votes.  A higher end assumption would be that 7,500 Democratic absentee ballots come in, resulting in 10,000 outstanding votes.

Let’s do a math exercise on the final outcome of the absentee and provisional votes.  In the first scenario, let’s assume that the percentages of three categories – Blair’s percentage, Elrich’s percentage and the percentage of all the other candidates – exactly match the shares recorded during early and election day voting.  In this scenario, Elrich picks up between 30 and 40 votes more than Blair and he would win.

Now let’s do a scenario in which Blair wins.  Since Blair and Elrich are the top two and no one else is even close, it’s the margin between them that will determine the victor.  In this second scenario, we will hold the percentage of all the other candidates constant and merely adjust the totals for Blair and Elrich.  Adding 3.3 points to Blair and subtracting 3.3 points from Elrich produces a net gain for Blair of 465 votes in a 7,500 vote universe, enough to win.  That margin would go up to 620 votes in a 10,000 vote universe.  But note that this scenario requires Blair to lead Elrich by 6.2 points among these groups, a very different result than Elrich’s 0.4 point lead in early and election day votes.

We adjusted the percentage for the other candidates up and down and didn’t find much change in the margin Blair needs, which is more than six points over Elrich.  Again, this is a departure from the cumulative early vote and election day totals.

Will it happen?  Readers, you tell us!

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