Tag Archives: Robin Ficker

MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Six

By Adam Pagnucco.

Part One of this series laid out the rules and methodology for how we determined MoCo’s most influential people. These lists were developed by adding together the nominations of 85 people who are themselves extremely knowledgeable and influential. Today, we continue the list of the most influential non-elected people in MoCo.

12. Steve Hull, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, Bethesda Magazine/Bethesda Beat – 9 votes

Source: While Bethesda Magazine / Bethesda Beat is not a political publication it has become one of the main local sources of news which means which stories are run and what information they present have influence. Just avoid the comment section!

AP: Let’s just state the obvious. Without Steve, MoCo would be close to a news desert. Steve would do just fine if all he had was Bethesda Magazine, but thank God he also runs Bethesda Beat. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about the community.

11. Josh Kurtz, Co-Founder and Editor, Maryland Matters – 10 votes

AP: As if being the best political writer in the state wasn’t enough, Josh had to go and found Maryland Matters, which is now the single best place to read about state politics. Political junkies all over the state are grateful!

10. Gustavo Torres, Founder and Executive Director, CASA – 11 votes

Source: Head of CASA only grows as a force to reckon with.

AP: From a church basement to the pinnacle of state and local politics, Gustavo is arguably the most powerful immigrant advocate in the entire Mid-Atlantic region. As CASA gets bigger along with the immigrant population, there is no end in sight to its influence.

9. Robin Ficker, Attorney, Former Delegate and Political Heckler – 12 votes

Source: His ballot measures have passed and upended things. He’s a fool of great consequence.

Source: Ficker knows how to craft winning ballot petitions and campaigns behind them. Ficker’s smarts are masked by his nutty personality, which causes people to underestimate him.

Source: Has accomplished more than some elected officials.

Source: May be obnoxious and annoying but his referendum drives influence the county.

Source: Crazy, but holds outsized influence.

AP: Ficker doesn’t get much love from my sources but one could make the case that he is actually the most influential non-elected person in the county. Who else has nearly single-handedly passed two charter amendments in the last twelve years with another possibly on the way? He has far more influence now than he ever did in his one term as a Delegate, and if his new anti-tax charter amendment passes, it will have a huge impact on county government for a loooooooong time.

7 (tied). Diana Conway, President, Women’s Democratic Club – 14 votes

Source: President of the Women’s Democratic Club, energizer bunny energy, often found walking the halls of Annapolis or e-mailing Councilmembers, throws a who’s who holiday party.

Source: Extremely connected, a force. Strong voice and everyone knows where she stands. Unafraid to go against the tide.

Source: Diana Conway is the president of the Women’s Democratic Club which was a pretty sleepy affair until Linda Kolko’s presidency and continuing through the presidency of Fran Rothstein. Now, they co-sponsor all sorts of events with “Do the Most Good,” and “J Walkers” and “Resist” and some others who I hope would forgive me for not having their names on the tip of my keyboard.

AP: Her nickname is Madam Kickass and that is the double truth, Ruth! Few people in the county can match Diana’s brains, tenacity and sheer capacity to do anything she decides to do. Her presidency of WDC is only the latest sign of her growing influence. PS – I feel sorry for the bureaucrats who have to answer her emails about artificial turf fields!

7 (tied). Rich Madaleno, Director, Montgomery County Office of Management and Budget and Former State Senator – 14 votes

Source: The budget whisperer. He plays a critical role in explaining how the county budget works to, well, everybody but especially Marc Elrich. Retains great Annapolis contacts.

Source: He’s become one of the county executive’s top defenders and surrogates while continuing to be an idea machine.

AP: The budget director is always important, but Rich’s experience at the state level and his status as a long-time (and effective!) former elected official make him even more influential than his position warrants. The budget crisis resulting from COVID-19 makes his role more critical than ever.

Part Seven will contain the much-awaited, soul-searing conclusion!

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Who Are These People?

By Adam Pagnucco.

They look like the folks who were elected in 2018.  Their names match the names listed on the county website.  There is no evidence of alien abductions or replacement by clones.  And yet, they don’t sound like members of the Montgomery County Council.

Who are these people?

In a scene seemingly lifted from a strange dream, a majority of the county council convened yesterday to oppose two state bills giving them additional taxing authority.  One bill would let them raise the maximum income tax rate and establish brackets instead of the current flat structure.  Another bill would let them raise property taxes on different categories of property, including homes with more than 5,000 square feet.  Council staff recommended that the council support the legislation.

Six council members said no.

Who are these people?

The six individuals (assuming they are not cloned replacements) who said no are Council Members Gabe Albornoz, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice, Hans Riemer and Andrew “Real Deal” Friedson.  The vote of Friedson, who has emerged as the council’s leading voice of fiscal sanity, is no surprise.  But Katz, Navarro, Rice and Riemer all voted for the 8.7% property tax increase of four years ago, an event that contributed to the passage of term limits.  The increase was supposed to close MCPS’s achievement gap, but a recent Office of Legislative Oversight report showed little if any progress on that issue despite the large tax hike.

Some members of past councils might have jumped up and down to be awarded more taxing authority by the state.  The constraints on both property and income taxes are real.  State law requires that counties charge one tax rate for almost all real property (although offsetting credits can be awarded and multiple taxes might be levied).  State law also requires that counties may charge a maximum income tax rate of 3.2% using a flat structure with no brackets.  The state bills advocated by Council Member Will Jawando and Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr do not mandate county tax hikes, but they do grant enabling authority to the council to devise them.  Certain options, like establishing a new top income tax bracket, could raise millions for county government.  And yet six council members said no.

Who are these people?

Let’s let them tell us.  Here are a few quotes from the council meeting at which the state bills were considered.

Friedson: “We need to demonstrate as a county, as a county council, as political leadership at this really important time for where we move forward that we are focused relentlessly on growing the tax base and not only focused on raising the tax rates.”

Albornoz: “We all read the report recently that our colleagues in Prince George’s County have surpassed us with regards to economic development here locally and so we are now not just competing with our colleagues and friends across the river and the District of Columbia, but we’re competing with local jurisdictions right here within the State of Maryland to actively and aggressively expand economic development opportunities here within the county.”

Riemer: “My concern at the moment is there is a really significant tax proposal that is already on the table, and that is to tax services.  And that is going to have a huge impact on our county’s economy.  I feel like we ought to not confuse the conversation about that issue with additional proposals.  I think we ought to let the state leadership kind of drive the train… We ought to just hang back at this time and let the state process do its work and not complicate that matter with trying to drive funding proposals from the county level that are really reaching to the same goal.”

Rice: “I don’t think that we should be continuously going to the well locally and asking our residents individually to be paying more when we realize that as a state we know we can do it the right way.”

Riemer: “I don’t quite understand the timing of this idea and really why we’re talking about it.”

Friedson: “It is the wrong message to be sending at the worst time.”

Left unsaid but no doubt on the minds of the council was the menacing specter of political heckler Robin Ficker, who was on that very day delivering 16,000 signatures on behalf of his latest charter amendment to limit tax hikes.  Past tax hikes helped Ficker pass two charter amendments in 2008 and 2016, but his newest one, which would prohibit growth in property tax collections from exceeding the rate of inflation, is the most draconian of them all.  Ficker cites a long history of county tax hikes in justifying his quest to bring them to an end.  They were, of course, passed by prior county councils.  This time, six council members declined to throw more red meat to Ficker.

Who are these people?

Could it be that they recall the harsh lesson of four years ago and are now more careful in considering the issue of taxes?

If not, let’s call the aliens and ask what they did with our council members!

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Picture This

By Adam Pagnucco.

Picture this, dear readers: two events, both scheduled for today.

Picture 1: Robin Ficker, author of numerous charter amendments on taxes and term limits, has announced his intention to deliver 16,000 signatures in support of his latest anti-tax amendment to the county executive’s office.  Ficker needs at least 10,000 signatures to place his amendment on the ballot.  Let’s remember that no one in the history of Montgomery County has more experience in gathering signatures than Robin Ficker.

Picture 2: Just a short walk away in the county council building and almost simultaneously, County Council Member Will Jawando and Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr have announced a press conference in support of two state bills that would enable the county to levy tax hikes.  One bill would allow counties to set different property tax rates for commercial properties, industrial properties and residential properties with more than 5,000 square feet.  The other bill would allow counties to increase their maximum income tax rates from 3.2% to 3.5% and establish income tax brackets.

Picture 1 is to be expected; we have seen Ficker’s grandiose signature deliveries before.  Picture 2 is problematic for two reasons.

First, Jawando and Palakovich Carr justify their bills partly “in order to pay for the increased local share of education funding required under the Kirwan Commission.”  Counties around the state are concerned about how they might pay for any additional local obligations to schools stemming from the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations.  Those obligations are laid out in Appendix F of the Kirwan Commission bill’s fiscal note, which is reprinted below.

A careful look at the phase-in schedule shows that Montgomery County is not currently required to contribute any more to its public schools than it already has been doing until Fiscal Year 2027, which is MORE THAN SIX YEARS AWAY.  Why are these elected officials pushing tax hikes now?  One struggles to see how this is linked in any way to Kirwan.

Furthermore, even in years in which no tax hikes are levied, the Montgomery County government gets an average of more than $100 million in new revenue a year, and that excludes intergovernmental aid.  If the phase-in schedule above were altered to allow a more gradual phase-in for the county’s local obligations – say, $25-30 million a year instead of cramming it all into four years – the county might not have to raise taxes at all.  The county might have to restrain spending in other areas to allocate greater shares of new revenue to MCPS, but that would make up for the fact that local money for MCPS has been one of the slowest growing parts of the county budget for a decade.

Second, this plays directly into Ficker’s hands.  There was a time not so long ago when Ficker’s name was so radioactive due to his NBA heckling and his rampant placement of illegal campaign signs that his very association with a ballot question was enough to kill it.  Those days are gone.  In 2008, the county raised property taxes by 13%.  Voters responded months later by passing Ficker’s charter amendment requiring that nine county council members must vote in favor of any property tax increase breaking the county’s charter limit.  In 2016, the county raised property taxes by 8.7%.  Voters responded by passing Ficker’s charter amendment on term limits by a landslide.  Now, counting the bills supported by Jawando and Palakovich Carr as well as a separate bill by Council Member Evan Glass calling for new taxes on teardowns, there are three different bills pending that allow county tax increases just as Ficker is pushing for a new anti-tax charter amendment.

Ficker must be the happiest man in MoCo.

Ficker does not win passage of his charter amendments because voters love him.  He has run in almost every four-year election cycle since the 1970s, with just one victory (a 1978 Delegate race) that was reversed after a single term.  He has not come close to being elected since.  Ficker wins because he has deduced something that county politicians hate to admit, at least in public: voters are skeptical that our elected officials are capable of behaving responsibly with their tax dollars.  Indeed, the county has levied nine major tax hikes since Fiscal Year 2003, with only one (an energy tax increase in Fiscal Year 2011) occurring during a recession.  The most recent tax hike, the 8.7% property tax increase in 2016, was marketed in part as a way to close MCPS’s achievement gap.  Three years later, the council’s Office of Legislative Oversight found that the county has made little or no progress on the achievement gap despite the massive tax hike.

This kind of thing is why Ficker wins.

Let’s think of what is at stake.  In 1978, Prince George’s County passed an anti-tax charter amendment only a little more draconian than Ficker’s.  Five years later, in the wake of the devastating recession of the early 1980s and lacking an ability to raise taxes, the county had to gut services and lay off more than 500 teachers, laying the groundwork for decades of problems.  Heaven help MoCo if we proceed in that direction.

If MoCo’s elected officials want to avoid that sort of outcome, they need to behave responsibly.  Save the tax hikes for times of desperate need, like recessions.  The rest of the time, figure out how to live within your means just like your constituents do.  Above all, stop giving ammo to Ficker.

The alternative?  Picture this.  Ficker celebrates in November, bellowing in victory at the passage of yet another charter amendment.  And the county government, struggling in fiscal chains strung up by distrustful voters, becomes more vulnerable to the next recession.

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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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To the Numbers: Pre-Election Turnout by Party & County

Today’s stats include both early voters and returned absentee ballots, so we can get an overall sense of who has already voted. There are some substantial changes in county rankings from when I ran these numbers just yesterday.

Specifically, Prince George’s has gone from being towards the bottom of the pack to virtually the same as the state average. St. Mary’s has fallen several places from being 14th to 20th in turnout out of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.

However, Talbot continues to lead the pack with just under 30% of its voters have done their civic duty compared to just 7.3% in placid Allegany. Overall, 15.3% of registered Marylanders have voted as of the end of the seventh day of early voting.

Next up are statistics by party and county:

Democrats have a 3.3% lead (difference from math based on the chart due to rounding) over Republicans in participation in early voting and returning absentees.

Montgomery Dems continue to lead the way for their party with Democrats out voting Republicans by 7.1%. One might attribute this to MCDCC having gotten their organizational act together and the weak organization of local Republicans.

Is there also a Ficker Factor? Ficker is a peripatetic one-man band but not well organized or supported. State Republicans seem unenthusiastic with Larry Hogan avoiding him at a recent rally and Kathy Szeliga failing to include him on a list of key races in her email blast. As Adam Pagnucco noted, Republican primary voters have repeatedly rejected Ficker when given the opportunity.

In Howard, it has gotten more imperative for Allen Kittleman to turn out election day voters as Democrats have out participated Republicans in by 6.3%. In Frederick, Democrats are 5.9% ahead of Republicans, which can’t hurt County Executive Jan Gardner and Sen. Ron Young’s reelection bids. Democrats are also notably ahead by 4.5% in Anne Arundel where Republican County Executive Steve Schuh is facing surprisingly strong competition and Sarah Elfreth hopes to win John Astle’s open seat.

Here is the share of Democrats and Republicans among people who have already voted sorted from most to least Democratic:

Among the state’s 24 jurisdictions, exactly one-half have more Democratic than Republican voters and vice-versa. Notice, however, that all of the state’s really large jurisdictions are in the top portion of the chart and have substantially heavier Dem turnout.

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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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Is Ficker Using Public Financing to Promote His Law Practice?

By Adam Pagnucco.

County Executive candidate Robin Ficker is enrolled in the county’s public financing program and has announced that he has qualified for $231,185 in public matching funds.  Those funds are supposed to be used to finance his campaign for office.  But his Facebook ads raise the question of whether he is also using them to promote his law practice.

Ficker has run at least three political Facebook ads from his Robin Ficker Law Offices page.

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The content of the ads is unquestionably political.  But the Facebook page is a mixed bag.  It advertises his services as a criminal defense lawyer and has his business phone number.  It also offers a combination of political content and promotion of Ficker’s legal work.

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To be fair, Ficker’s ads do not advertise the legal posts.   But whenever a voter sees one of his political ads, they see “Robin Ficker Law Offices” at the top.

Maryland COMAR 33.13.10.03 prohibits the use of campaign funds for “the personal use or the personal benefit of a candidate.”  Montgomery County COMCOR 16.21.01.05 prohibits the use of public financing funds for “personal use.”  Whether Ficker is running afoul of these regulations is a matter for the authorities.  But if he wants to avoid this issue entirely, Ficker should establish a political Facebook page that is separate from his business.  That’s what other candidates do and Ficker should do the same.

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Voting for Change

In this county executive race, I’ve been looking for someone who can shake things up a bit. This doesn’t mean that I think Montgomery County is a bad place to live or that Ike Leggett has done a bad job. On the contrary, County Executive Leggett saw us through a deep recession and protected key county services by making tough choices. I grew up and love living here.

But Montgomery County is not on a sustainable path. We need to do more to encourage employment and economic growth. The current model of county government cannot continue as it relies on ever greater expenditures that we still have trouble meeting even now that the recession is behind us.

As a result, I’ve been looking for a candidate for county executive who recognizes our many manifest strengths but is unafraid to try new solutions. I’d like our new county executive, whatever their political perspective, not to feel trapped by how we’ve handled matters in the past.

We have a number of excellent candidates this year. As we head down the home stretch of what has been an unusually hard fought and negative campaign by Montgomery County standards, tempers are beginning to fray. I hope we can all take a deep breath and recognize that just about all of the candidates have the skills required to serve ably as county executive.

Rose Krasnow is a triple threat in terms of experience working on Wall Street, having lead a major city government in Rockville, and holding a senior position at the Planning Board. If you speak with her, it rapidly becomes clear that she is extremely fluent – more than most sitting politicians – in the complex issues of the budget and planning. At the same time, her campaign’s emphasis on experience has left me wondering how she’d be innovative beyond favoring growth.

I have long made clear that George Leventhal is temperamentally unsuited to be county executive. Nonetheless, I’d regard it as a sign from above that this blog should continue for another four to eight years if he won, as he and Robin Ficker provide more than enough copy. George is already wearing Superman outfits. Can we get him into cheetah shorts? Seriously though, his support from a group that wants massive new development on River Road, despite no plan for transit there, and for rezoning single-family neighborhoods for apartment buildings gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Bill Frick knows how politics works from his experience in the House of Delegates. Yet he is outside county government and has a real zest for restructuring it, as his leadership in taking on entrenched interests supporting our county’s liquor monopoly demonstrates. Like Rose, he’d like to get the county’s growth engine moving again. Unfortunately, his campaign just doesn’t seem to have taken off.

In my view, Roger Berliner has the strongest “insider” case to make. He has a number of nice accomplishments under his belt, including good work on the environment. Compared to many, he has a far more intuitive understanding of the perspective of ordinary residents on issues such as PEPCO service and the impact of federal tax changes on county residents. He has been making the case that he knows how to innovate (think evolution, not revolution) and has had good success at building coalitions on the Council. Roger has struggled because it’s an anti-establishment year and David Blair has taken much of the oxygen his campaign needs.

That leaves Marc Elrich and David Blair, who are seen as the leading two candidates despite the absence of any public polling data. Despite having served on the Council for three terms, Marc Elrich is unquestionably still an outsider who is not part of the Rockville consensus. He has never been elected council chair. While some might see this as a sign he doesn’t play well with others, it is more of a badge of honor in a year when voters are highly critical of the Council.

Marc makes many happy but others quite nervous because of his strong progressive viewpoint. But he simply is not Montgomery County’s version of Hugo Chavez. More importantly, he is not some ideologue who is all hat and no cattle. This is a candidate who has thoughtful, practical, concrete ideas on how to make meaningful change that benefits all county residents. His plan for countywide BRT remains the best, biggest idea proposed to combat transportation problems that cause development-limiting and soul-killing traffic in a long time.

In Marc’s case, his professed desire to help “all residents” is not simply a code for only the poorest, though his passion for politics stems from working to help people who are struggling.  Marc gets that the middle class face increasing burdens. Unlike some progressives, he also understands fully that the county cannot flourish without its share of successful businesses and upper class residents, so demonizing them is not the solution.

Marc hasn’t held executive positions previously but has clear ideas about how he would restructure county government from day one. One concern has been that he has a progressive candidate would cause skittish business to shy away. Except that I think business would quickly see that, while we’d have some real change, the People’s Republic is not upon us.

David Blair has burst on to the political scene thanks to the political ads that he has been able to self-fund and two editorials endorsing his candidacy from the Washington Post. I’ve met David but since he hasn’t previously had a high local profile or been active in politics, he is less of a known quantity to me.

As with Marc Elrich, I would ignore stereotypes that suggest David Blair is the boogeyman is disguise. His having been a Republican many years ago should not be disqualifying. Yes, he is a businessman running for office but he is not Trump II. Though it’s a low bar, I see no sign that he shares any of Trump’s repulsive bigoted narcissistic tendencies. People who know Blair think he is a terrific guy and would be a great county executive.

At the same time, I have some concern with plutocratic politics. I admire successful businessmen but don’t know that his success always translates into political acumen and am uneasy with the idea that the ability to spend a lot of money on a political campaign is a qualification for public office. But not all wealthy businessmen are the same. Jim Shea, a trailing gubernatorial candidate, has been deeply involved in the Baltimore community for years, and has lots of thoughtful ideas for Maryland.

David Blair brings some real assets to the table. He would have instant credibility with the business community. Unquestionably, he has executive skills. Unlike many executives, he seemingly has the ability to hear people and listen to them, as well as give marching orders. If elected, he’ll need to develop them further in order to work with a Council that doesn’t work for him. I think he’ll have the ability to run with good ideas even if they didn’t pop out of his own head.

I’m still wondering how much of a change agent David Blair would be as county executive. On the plus side, he’s an outsider who is not wedded to current perspectives and has articulated various fresh policy ideas. Nevertheless, it’s unclear to me how much change this would mean in practice. I’ve heard that he wants to retain much of the current administration. When I asked the campaign about this, they replied:

We are committed to ensuring the best and brightest lead our departments and are fortunate that many of these leaders are already in place. We will evaluate each position and our approach will be comprehensive, transparent and inclusive.

Voters can view this as a sensible process for ensuring orderly turnover and acknowledging that many good people are already in place who would know how to carry out needed reforms. Alternatively, others will see this as someone who isn’t quite ready to hit the ground running and is still learning about county government departments.

The other concern from my perspective is the need for more business versus residential development. Though there is a lot of residential development slated to go ahead, developers want more density and development for the same reason that government employees want higher salaries.

Except residential development is different from other kinds of business because it brings new residents who demand a welter of more expensive services. In particular, few residents are net contributors to the county budget while they have kids in school, as education takes up half of the county budget.

Our infrastructure is already strained. We need more business beyond residential development to bring in the revenue to pay for it. As a businessman, I think David Blair grasps that idea well and has emphasized business in his campaign. But his major outside funding and backers comes from the development industry.

Final Thoughts

Like many candidates, I’m grateful that the primary will be over tomorrow night. Not to flail a dead horse, but remember that we have a lot of good people running for office and respect the choices of our fellow citizens. Let’s also comfort and thank those who run but don’t win. Running for office isn’t easy and Montgomery is fortunate to have so many willing to put themselves out there.

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, June 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

The June campaign finance reports are in and they will be the last ones available prior to the primary. Today, we’ll look at the County Executive race.  A note on methodology.  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Third, for publicly financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in the column entitled “Cash Balance With Requested Public Contributions.”  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

Below is our fundraising summary for the County Executive candidates.  The numbers for Robin Ficker presume he has qualified for public matching funds but we have not heard definitively whether he has.

It’s official: David Blair has broken Steve Silverman’s 2006 spending record of $2 million in an Executive race.  (Sorry Steve but you knew it wouldn’t last forever!)  Blair’s $3 million in spending, mostly self-financed, exceeds the $2.1 million combined total so far reported by the other candidates.

Marc Elrich has excelled in public financing and has also had the good fortune to see the second-best financed candidate (Roger Berliner) going negative in TV and mail against the best-financed candidate (Blair).  Combine that with the attack strategy of Progressive Maryland and Elrich can use his own money to promote himself and let others do the dirty work of bringing Blair down.  It couldn’t get any better for Elrich.

Speaking of the attacks on Blair, the scale of them is becoming clear.  Berliner has spent $51,048 on mail and $391,234 on TV, all of which had negative messaging about Blair.  The Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC has so far raised $100,000, most of it in union money, to oppose Blair.  The combined amount between the two – $542,282 – is likely the most money ever spent on attacking a candidate for County Executive and the race is not over.  To our knowledge, none of the other Executive candidates has been targeted by negative TV commercials or negative mail.

The other three Democratic candidates – George Leventhal, Rose Krasnow and Bill Frick – are struggling to compete with limited resources.  Leventhal has had money problems for the entire campaign but he is working his heart out.  That plus his longevity and diverse base of supporters get him into the mix but he is still a long shot to win.

Rumors have swirled for weeks about labor polling and MCGEO President Gino Renne confirmed them to Bethesda Magazine on Friday.  Renne said that Elrich and Blair were “neck and neck” in a number of polls and said, “When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on… I would say it’s statistically insignificant [between Elrich and Blair]. It’s all about who can get their voters to the polls. If the election were today, I’d have to call it a toss-up.”

We have written about Elrich’s base before: it’s a combination of anti-development activists, progressives and people living in and near Takoma Park.  But Blair is developing a base too by consolidating those who want a different direction in county government.  Frick and Krasnow have a similar message but they don’t have the money to make it stick like Blair does.  And so this election is turning into a contest between different visions of change: a move towards greater progressivism or a move away from tax hikes and towards more economic development.

Who knows which side will win?

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