Tag Archives: Reggie Oldak

Clash on the Issues, Part III: Blame It on the Alcohol

This is the third in a series about the issue positions of candidates in District 1 based on the debate hosted by Friends of White Flint. Today’s topic: what do the candidates think about the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control’s alcohol monopoly?

Time to Get Off the Sauce: Candidates for Privatization

Bringing levity to the debate on several occasions, Pete Fosselman started by bluntly stating “I like my liquor” to laughter from the crowd. He proposes letting the county retain control of hard liquor but privatizing the sale of beer and wine, arguing that the change would boost in Montgomery restaurants. As an industry that makes most of their money on alcohol sales, they watch this aspect of the business carefully.

Andrew Friedson spoke passionately in favor of privatization. Fighting back against those concerned about the loss of revenue generated by the monopoly, Friedson stated “I believe government should be judged on how well it serves people, not how well it makes money.” Moreover, he argued that the monopoly costs Montgomery revenue, as it is hard to explain why alcohol sales are 41% lower here than elsewhere in the region unless you think Montgomery has “a secret temperance movement.”

Meredith Wellington agreed with Friedson, saying thoughtfully that the monopoly is a symptom of the county’s problematic approach. Arguing that government can’t do everything, Wellington said that we want entrepreneurial people in the county and need to work with them to help us market the county to businesses.

Though concerned about losing the union jobs, Reggie Oldak also thinks the county should not be in the liquor business, pointing out that $30 million is not much in a $5.5 billion budget. She shouldn’t worry so much. Private liquor distributors are also unionized. Why should the county should favor jobs with one union over another?

They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab, I Said No, No, No: Candidates against Privatization

Bill Cook believes that privatizing the liquor industry would be a huge loss for the county because we’d lose $30 million and those “great paying union jobs.” Taking perhaps an unusual tack, he then proceeded to attack of his own potential constituents, Total Wine Co-Owner David Trone, who lives and has located the headquarters of his business in District 1.

Stating that there is “nothing wrong” with the county selling liquor and endorsed by UFCW 1994 MCGEO, Ana Sol Gutiérrez favors modernization, not privatization. She says that “significant steps have been taken” in terms of improvements. I wonder if she also thinks Metro escalators rarely break down. Gutiérrez likes that we can take on new debt by bonding the revenue stream. In other words, the county is fiscally hooked on alcohol.

Jim McGee opposes privatization but favors modernization. Unfortunately, that has been promised for years but is much like waiting for Godot. They say that it’s coming. But when is it coming? At the same time, McGee thinks it is too hard for microbreweries to distribute their product.

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Clash on the Issues, Part II: is Ballooning Debt a Problem?

This is the second in a series about the issue positions of candidates in District 1 based on the debate hosted by Friends of White Flint. Today’s post looks at whether the candidates are concerned about the share of the county budget going to service debt, which is approaching 20% according to the question.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez doesn’t see County debt as a problem and views it is analogous to a home mortgage, leaving me hoping that we don’t end up under water like so many home owners. She has confidence in analyses showing the county is financially stable but also expressed interest in finding “other funding streams,” which sounds like taxes. Throughout the debate, however, she referred to mysterious state-level funds that the county had left untapped, a perplexing claim from a this long-time delegate on the appropriations committee who should be well placed to direct funds to the County.

In a similar vein, Bill Cook commended the Council for its balanced budget and well-funded rainy day fund, and blamed “reckless” development without appropriate impact taxes for placing additional burdens on county residents.

Reggie Oldak took a more centrist position, arguing that too much debt is a burden and Montgomery needs to preserve its AAA bond rating. At the same time, she agreed it is shortsighted not to spend on the safety net, leaving me a bit concerned as debt should go to capital, not operating, expenses.

Noting a lot of agreement among the candidates, Jim McGee took a similar position. He views debt as an “investment in the future” but also says we need to see the return on the investment. He also noted aptly that interest rates are rising, so debt will cost more in the future. Economic growth is the real solution to this problem.

Meredith Wellington was the first to express directly that she is very concerned about the debt gobbling up more of our budget even as revenues have not bounced back and we’ve raised taxes. She supports the affordability guidelines, even though they constrain the county’s ability to borrow, and said we need to set priorities. In short, Wellington was the first to identify rightly that growing debt and flat revenues is not a sustainable fiscal path, and that the county will have to make real choices as a result.

Andrew Friedson concurred with Wellington. He countered Gutiérrez’s home mortgage analogy directly, arguing cogently that we cannot do the equivalent of taking out a bigger mortgage or taxing our way out of it. There is certainly little appetite for increased property or income taxes in Montgomery, especially in the wake of the County’s big tax hike.

Showing his expertise on the topic, Pete Fosselman noted the $375 million paid in interest last year and the $120 million hole in the current budget. He’s concerned about the County’s AAA bond rating, arguing that we need fiscal discipline and to work better to provide services through nonprofits even as we stop funding politically connected “sock puppet nonprofits.”

Once again, voters appear to have a real choice, as candidates expressed broad differences on both debt as a problem and the solutions. All should be concerned with the county bond rating because lower bond ratings mean we pay more in interest and can afford less. As Wellington identified, and Friedson and Fosselman agreed, we are not on a sustainable fiscal path, so debt should be a real concern. The era of difficult choices is far from over.

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Clash on the Issues, Part I: Recruiting Amazon

This is the first in a series about the issue positions of candidates in District 1 based on the debate hosted by Friends of White Flint. Candidates clashed greatly on whether and how to pitch White Flint as Amazon’s future location. While all touted Montgomery County’s assets, there was enormous disagreement on providing tax incentives.

Jim McGee argued against doing anything to recruit Amazon to Montgomery. He’s outraged that Jeff Bezos makes “$35 billion per year” and opposes the siting of the equivalent of “two Pentagons” here. While correct that Bezos is wealthy, though missing that it’s for creating a world-beating company, this analysis ignores both Amazon’s duty to its shareholders or the reality of its economic power to command incentives. McGee admitted candidly that he was “probably not the right guy” to make the pitch to Amazon.

Bill Cook wants the jobs but is “not willing to prostrate” before Amazon. He’d tell Jeff Bezos that he doesn’t need the money and you already have a mansion in Kalorama. Cook says he knows that Amazon is coming to Washington but won’t be going to DC or Fairfax because “the schools suck are terrible.” Neither true nor the way I’d put it. The Washington area provides three excellent candidates but Cook’s attitude would assure that Amazon doesn’t come to Maryland.

In contrast to these wildly unrealistic, populist views of the world, Reggie Oldak countered that it would be great if Amazon came, pointing out astutely that we are giving tax breaks, not subsidies, and that collecting 90% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Additionally, we’d receive transit funding from the State. Indeed, the tax breaks are spaced over many decades based on Amazon spending many times more in salaries.

Several candidates, such as Andrew Friedson, pointed out the attractiveness of our location near DC and three airports along with our transit system, educated workforce and excellent school system. Citing Montgomery as a diverse and welcoming community, Pete Fosselman argued emphatically that the tax breaks don’t outweigh the “phenomenal” long-term benefits. Fosselman also pointed out the State’s new funding for Metro along our planned BRT system as real positives in our recruitment pitch.

Demonstrating her planning skills, Wellington also emphasized our great location and said agreed with Pete Fosselman’s support for the Council’s recent zoning changes shortening the comment period for the site, perceptively pointing out the most important discussions occur before the submission of the plan. She’d work to make sure that Amazon’s new building integrate well into the community.

Ana Sol Gutiérrez said “Let’s make a deal. We can both win” but did not outline the sort of deal she’d expect or support. Gutiérrez said that the Governor is enticing Amazon with tax credits but wanted to know what we would gain from Amazon, saying that it’s not about the jobs but the diversity. I suspect most would disagree with Gutiérrez and say that it is, in fact, about the jobs, pointing out that Amazon’s arrival here would provide opportunities for our diverse workforce and assure that all people hired by Amazon, or the many businesses its arrival would spawn, would be covered by Montgomery’s protections for employees.

Unfortunately, Dalbin Osorio was ill and unable to attend the debate, which was too bad as he was a lively and interesting candidate at the first debate.

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Campaign Finance Reports: District County Council, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

In addition to the wild and woolly Executive and Council At-Large races, MoCo has two competitive District County Council elections.  Let’s have a look.

Council District 1

In District 1, which stretches from Kensington in the east to Poolesville in the west, nine candidates are vying to succeed incumbent Roger Berliner, who is term limited and is running for Executive.  But of these nine, only four look competitive at the moment and one stands out: former aide to the Comptroller Andrew Friedson.

Friedson’s lead in total raised and cash balance is as obvious as it is staggering.  But consider these three facts.  First, if Friedson were running in the Council At-Large race, his total raised for the cycle ($218,903) would be second only to Hans Riemer ($219,103), who is the only at-large incumbent running.  Friedson’s cash on hand ($200,622) would be second only to Delegate Charles Barkley ($232,428).  Second, Friedson’s lead is not in money alone.  We added up the number of individual contributors each of the top four fundraising candidates had in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Kensington, Cabin John, Glen Echo, Poolesville and zip codes 20852 (Rockville) and 20878 (Gaithersburg/North Potomac)  to approximate in-district contributors.  Friedson had 289 contributors in these locations, followed by Reggie Oldak (217), former Town of Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman (195) and Meredith Wellington (92).  Third, Friedson has accomplished this in just five months.  Fosselman has been running for ten months, followed by Oldak (nine months) and Wellington (eight months).  We wonder how much Friedson would have raised if he had been campaigning longer.

The good news for Reggie Oldak is that she has done well in public financing and should have no problem hitting the $125,000 cap for public matching funds.  The bad news is that it’s probably impossible for her to catch Friedson because once she hits the cap, she will be limited to $150 individual checks.  Wellington has relied on self-financing more than the other candidates and has a high burn rate (41%).  Fosselman should have been the fundraising leader in this race.  He was Mayor of the Town of Kensington for a decade and is plugged into Ike Leggett’s network, the county developer network (he once worked for Rodgers Consulting) and what is left of the network of former Governor Martin O’Malley, who endorsed him and had his PAC max out to him.  But Fosselman is fourth in cash on hand and faces the risk that the business community will turn to Friedson as a better prospect to win.

Council District 3

In District 3, which is mostly comprised of Rockville, Gaithersburg, Aspen Hill, Leisure World, part of Norbeck and Washington Grove, former J Street Political Director Ben Shnider is taking on incumbent Council Member and former Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz.  Shnider, who is in the traditional financing system, outraised the incumbent, who is taking public financing.

Shnider’s fundraising edge, along with his endorsement by SEIU Local 32BJ, gives his campaign credibility against Katz, who has been in county and municipal politics for decades.  A further look at the fundraising numbers reveals two things.  First, 76% of Shnider’s fundraising has come from out of state.  (Katz’s percentage is just 2%).  But second, and more worrisome for Katz, Shnider is starting to catch on in the district.  When we added up the number of individual contributors from Rockville, Gaithersburg, Washington Grove and zip code 20906 (Leisure World/Norbeck) to approximate in-district contributors, Katz had 99 and Shnider had 75.  Shnider is the underdog in this race, but Katz needs to start working harder to hold him off.

The other districts lack competition.  District 2 incumbent Craig Rice has not been raising money and is apparently unworried about his Republican rivals in the age of Trump.  District 4 Council Member Nancy Navarro and District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker have no opponents and are headed to reelection.

We will get to state legislative races soon, folks!

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Updated: Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, we posted preliminary fundraising totals for candidates in public financing.  But one of those reports was wrong because of a problem with the State Board of Elections’ processing software.  This post contains updated information.

Shortly after our original post, we received the following communication from Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang’s campaign.

Hi Adam, this is Jonathon Rowland, campaign manager for Hoan Dang.  Thank you for the article this morning.  I just want to correct the amount stated.  When we filed with the Board of Elections, our report was duplicated because of a glitch in the system giving us double the amount of donations.  We have been in contact with the Board of Elections since Monday to resolve this issue.  The actual amount of donations is 316.

When your author called Rowland for more details, he said that the Dang campaign found the error first and asked the board to correct it.  Board staff acknowledged the mistake and said that they were working with their IT developer to fix it going forward.  No public funds were ever distributed before the Dang campaign caught the mistake.

Including information provided by Dang’s campaign today, here is the updated comparison of the five campaigns who have applied for public financing.

Dang is not the leader in public financing.  George Leventhal, who is running for Executive, is the overall leader in qualifying contributors and receipts.  (Executive candidates get higher match rates than council candidates.)  Among the council candidates, incumbent Hans Riemer leads in qualifying contributors and Bill Conway leads in matching funds.  This should not discount a strong performance by Dang, whose financial numbers are not terribly different from Riemer’s.

Going forward, we hope the state prevents the kinds of mistakes that affected Dang’s campaign.  In the initial glitchy filing, Dang supposedly requested $148,328 in public matching funds.  (Again, the IT glitch was not Dang’s fault.)  In the updated filing, Dang requested $74,144 in public matching funds.  That’s a $74,184 difference.  If Dang had not caught the mistake, could that difference have conceivably been paid out?  There’s no evidence available on that point.  But for the good of public confidence in the county’s public financing system, we hope such a mistake never happens.

On a different issue, we asked what happened to Council Member Marc Elrich’s filing for public matching funds in our original post.  Elrich said he had enough contributors to qualify back in June but has not filed yet.  When asked about it on Leventhal surrogate Saqib Ali’s Facebook page, Elrich said his delay in filing was related to a payment his campaign had made to the county party, which was subsequently ruled to not be in compliance with public financing requirements.  We reprint Elrich’s statement below.

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Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Correction: The numbers for Hoan Dang in this post are inaccurate.  For updated numbers on Dang and a response by Marc Elrich, please visit our updated post.

One of the virtues of public campaign financing is the rapid release of financial reports for participating candidates.  That’s right, folks – for this group of candidates, there is no need to wait until January to see fundraising numbers.  That’s because when they qualify for public matching funds and request them from the state, their financial reports are released almost immediately.  This is terrific for all data junkies like your author as well as inquiring minds among the readers!

Below is a summary for the five candidates who have applied to receive matching funds from the state.  Bear in mind the following characteristics of the data.  First, the number of qualifying contributors means the number of contributors who live in Montgomery County.  Non-residents can contribute up to $150 each but the state will not authorize matching funds for them.  Second, the individual contribution amounts are the basis on which the state determines how much in public matching funds will be released.  Third, the date of cash balance is important because it varies depending on when the applications were sent in.  That is unlike the regular reporting dates on which financial positions are summarized at the same time for all candidates.  And fourth, for those candidates who have only filed once (which includes everyone except George Leventhal), the cash balances do not include public funds from the state.  To estimate the cash positions of those candidates, the cash balance should be added to the public matching funds they requested.

What do we make of this?

1.  Let’s start with the obvious: there are a lot of small checks out there!  While many contributors are probably donating to more than one of these five campaigns, it’s not a stretch to say that close to a thousand people will have contributed by some point in the near future.  It’s hard to make comparisons with the past without exquisitely detailed research to back it up (anyone want to pay us for that?) but our hunch is that this is a larger early donor pool than in prior cycles.

2.  The big story here is Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  At-Large Council Members George Leventhal (who is running for Executive) and Hans Riemer (the only incumbent running for reelection) have a combined 22 years of representing the whole county.  But Dang had more in-county contributors than either one of them!  How does that happen?  Dang ran for Delegate in District 19 in 2010.  He was financially competitive, raising $103,418, but he finished fifth out of six candidates.  There was no reason going into this race to believe that Dang would receive more grassroots financial support than Leventhal or Riemer.  But so far, he has.

3.  Dang is not the only story.  Look at first-time candidate Bill Conway, who collected more private funds than Riemer primarily by having a larger average contribution.  In most elections, challengers struggle to be financially competitive with incumbents.  But the early performances of Conway and Dang relative to Riemer suggest that, at least among publicly-financed candidates, some or all of that gap may be closed.  Our hunch is that a group of at-large candidates will all hit the public matching funds cap of $250,000 and therefore have similar budgets heading into mail season.  The big question will then become how those totals compare to what candidates in the traditional system, like Marilyn Balcombe, Charlie Barkley, Ashwani Jain and Cherri Branson, will raise.

4.  Where is Marc Elrich?  The three-term at-large Council Member and Executive candidate announced that he had qualified for matching funds back in June at roughly the same time that Leventhal and Riemer said the same.  Riemer followed up by filing for matching funds and Leventhal did it twice.  Why hasn’t Elrich filed more than two months after his announcement?  One suspects that the bewildering paperwork requirements of public financing are responsible for the delay, but political types are starting to chatter about it.

That’s all for now.  Candidates, keep those reports coming in so your favorite blog has more material for the readers!

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