By Adam Pagnucco.
Senator Brian Feldman (D-15) and Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) make the case for County Executive candidate Roger Berliner in this email sent out by the Berliner campaign.
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.
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.
By Adam Pagnucco.
This is the fourth straight mailer sent by Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, against David Blair. Berliner’s grounds for criticizing Blair are that he is a former Republican, has no experience in government service and is self-funding most of his campaign, all of which are true. In this particular mailer, Berliner says, “My other Democratic opponents have a history of involvement in local issues and have earned the right to be considered. I hope you choose me, but they each have experience as Democrats worth evaluating. I respectfully urge you to not consider David Blair.”
Berliner has officially joined the Anybody But Blair camp. We reprint the mailer below.
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?
By Adam Pagnucco.
Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, has issued a statement saying that he is dropping the image of Donald Trump from his TV ad. The ad both criticized businessman David Blair, who is also running for Executive, and made a case in favor of Berliner. We print Berliner’s statement below.
June 6, 2018
BERLINER CAMPAIGN DROPS TRUMP IMAGE TO SHARPEN FOCUS ON BLAIR’S LACK OF EXPERIENCE
The Berliner for County Executive Campaign will begin running a new version of its TV ad tomorrow on local cable stations designed to focus more attention on candidate David Blair’s lack of government experience and use of his personal fortune to buy the election.
The original ad showed a photo of Blair blending into a photo of President Trump. The overlay of Blair and Trump was designed to highlight the dangers of electing inexperienced business executives whose campaigns rely on lavish spending by a wealthy candidate.
Berliner said, “The comparison to Trump when it comes to zero experience and trying to buy the election is completely valid. We made this change because the reaction to the Trump image was so intense that it began to distract from our main charge that David Blair is unqualified to be County Executive. This new version will keep the focus on Blair and make our message even more powerful.”
Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, is running this TV ad equating businessman David Blair with Donald Trump.
By Adam Pagnucco.
The May campaign finance reports are in and we will start breaking them down with 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.
Council Member Roger Berliner (whom your author supports) is the leader in money raised other than self-funding and also in cash on hand. He is closing in on a million dollars raised for the race, which was roughly Ike Leggett’s total in 2006. He has enough money to be heard in the final month.
Council Member Marc Elrich is the leader among the publicly financed candidates. His total raised of $745,352 is almost five times what he raised in his 2014 council race when public financing was not yet available. Elrich has a long history of vastly outperforming his fundraising because of his large and loyal base of supporters, some of whom have been with him for decades. With more than $400,000 to spend in the final month, he won’t blow anyone out, but he can combine that with a grass-roots field program to finish strong.
Businessman David Blair is going to break Steve Silverman’s fundraising record in 2006 with more than $2 million. The difference is that Silverman raised his money from the business community while Blair is mostly a self-funder. Blair’s self-financing of $1.9 million sends a message that he is deadly serious about winning. He is the strongest of the outsider candidates.
Council Member George Leventhal will get votes because of his longevity, name recognition and sheer hard work in the campaign cycle. (His brilliant Avengers-themed video could get some votes too!) But he doesn’t have enough resources to make a big push at the end.
Former Mayor of Rockville Rose Krasnow is a substantive and knowledgeable candidate who impresses those she meets. But she made two big mistakes in this campaign: getting in late and using public financing. Those mistakes reinforce each other. If she had gotten in early, she might have been able to raise enough in public financing to compete with the totals accumulated by Elrich and Leventhal. Since she did get in late, traditional financing offered a better option to raise money in a hurry. Now she is in the same situation as Leventhal and Bill Frick: struggling to make a final push.
Your author likes Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) a lot personally but he doesn’t have the resources to make his case. We wish Frick had stayed in the House of Delegates and plotted a course to succeed his former district mate, Brian Frosh, as Attorney General. The path not taken will be harder now.
Republican Robin Ficker has applied for public financing, but as of this writing, we don’t know whether he will receive it.
Overall, there are two competing narratives among those who are really focused on this race – admittedly, a minority of the voters. First, there is the view that the county should be more progressive. It should be bolder about closing the achievement gap, do more to help vulnerable residents (including renters), institute tougher environmental protections and push back against the influence of developers and big businesses. People with that perspective are mostly rallying behind Elrich, who is the overwhelming choice of progressive endorsing organizations.
Then there is the narrative advanced by your author’s writings on the county budget and the economy, the Washington Post’s endorsement editorials and the now-famous report by Sage Policy Group: to pay for progressive priorities, the county needs a stronger tax base. That message plays more to the outsider candidates, especially Blair, who put it in a recent mailer. But there’s no reason why Berliner and Leventhal shouldn’t embrace that perspective too.
It’s important to recognize that these views are not mutually exclusive. Not all progressives are skeptical of economic growth. And not all people who would like to see a stronger economy oppose spending the resulting revenue on progressive priorities. But the two messages contain differences in emphasis and differences in potential for attracting blocs of voters. Both of them represent change in some form, implying that running on resume and experience won’t be enough in this cycle – at least not in the Executive contest. Everyone needs to pick a path forward to win.
Next: the Council At-Large race.
By Adam Pagnucco.
The Washington Post’s endorsement of businessman David Blair hit like a grenade this past weekend, blowing up the County Executive race. What does it mean?
First, in reading the language of the Post’s endorsement, we are struck by how closely their views on the challenges facing the county resemble our own. The majority of these opening three paragraphs mirror what we have been writing about the county economy for years.
These seem like boom times in Montgomery County, the mainly rich suburb that has absorbed roughly 100,000 new residents since 2010 to a population now approaching 1.1 million. Amazon (whose CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post) has shortlisted the county for its second corporate headquarters; construction cranes tower over Bethesda and Silver Spring; and the public school system, one of the nation’s largest, includes some of the best high schools anywhere.
That’s why it’s easy to overlook some ominous signs of fiscal and economic trouble ahead. A burgeoning population of retirees, immigrants and other less affluent residents has strained local resources and budgets. Those moving into the county tend to be poorer than those leaving. The chasm between economically prosperous pockets (such as the ones dominated by cranes) and stagnant ones is widening. Most worrying, business and job growth are anemic.
That’s the unsettling backdrop for the June 26 Democratic primary, which is likely to determine who will run the county for the next four years. County Executive Isiah Leggett, a deft and capable manager, is retiring after 12 years in the job (and no Republican has won an election in Montgomery since 2002). The central question is which of the candidates for county executive is most capable of juicing a sluggish commercial environment — the only way to broaden the local tax base so it can sustain the county’s excellent schools and progressive services.
The Post framed the election’s central question correctly. And their policy view, clearly established in the language above, will no doubt influence their choices for County Council. That said, they do not share your author’s view that governing experience is useful for addressing these challenges. So be it.
The Post has a pretty good record in top-tier MoCo Democratic primaries. They endorsed Chris Van Hollen (CD-8) in 2002, Ike Leggett (County Executive) in 2006 and 2014 and John Delaney (CD-6) in 2012. They also endorsed Kathleen Matthews (CD-8) in 2016, who finished third.
Even so, the Post is not a king-maker; one of the good things about MoCo politics is that we have no king-makers here. But their endorsement matters, especially when five candidates are vying to be the chief rival for Marc Elrich. Consider what Roger Berliner (your author’s choice), Bill Frick or Rose Krasnow would have said if they had gotten the Post endorsement. If Berliner had received it, he would have told non-Elrich voters, “I am the one who combines the Sierra Club, moderates, District 1 voters and now the Post. I’m the alternative to Elrich.” Frick would have said something similar while substituting realtors for the Sierra Club. If Krasnow had received it, she would have said, “I am the only woman in a primary in which sixty percent of voters will be women and now I have the Post. I’m the alternative to Elrich.” None of these things can be said now. All three lose the opportunity to leverage the Post endorsement to expand outside their geographic bases.
It is sometimes said that Elrich has a ceiling. Some voters will find a decades-long socialist who equates transit-oriented development with ethnic cleansing and favors rent control unappealing. But Blair has a ceiling too. That was expressed by a commenter on Seventh State’s Facebook page who wrote, “I don’t want a businessman political newcomer who is trying to buy the election.” Fair or not, that is a common sentiment among Democratic activists, and those who feel this way are not persuadable on this point. Blair can send them thirty mailers and they won’t budge. How many rank-and-file voters have this view? David Trone, who shares this handicap, received 22% of MoCo’s vote in the 2016 Congressional District 8 race. That’s an imperfect analogy because CD8 omits some relatively moderate areas in MoCo’s Upcounty and Trone was not talking about the unpopular nine percent property tax hike in his campaign. Still, Blair will need more than 22% to win.
Besides Blair, the other big winner from the Post’s endorsement is Elrich. Elrich has been crusading against rival candidates who have been supported by wealthy businessmen for years; now he gets an ACTUAL wealthy businessman as perhaps his chief opponent. Elrich is no doubt rubbing his hands together in glee as his progressive hordes gird for battle against plutocracy. His field coordinator must be dizzy with joy.
Both the Elrich and Blair campaigns need to consider the following question. Which group is larger in the Democratic primary electorate: the people who believe that taxes have gone up but their service quality has not or the people in Elrich’s base? If the former outnumber the latter – not an impossible prospect considering that a majority of Democrats voted for term limits two years ago – then maybe an outsider has a shot. It would be totally unprecedented given that every prior MoCo Executive has had governing experience before assuming office. But Robin Ficker winning a charter amendment vote by forty points was also unprecedented.
Thanks to the Post, a wild election has gotten a little wilder. There are only forty-three days to go before this story reaches its momentous conclusion!
Marc Elrich has cornered the progressive market in the county executive race. He has scooped up the lion’s share of endorsements from progressive groups and unions, and stands out as the most left-wing candidate in the race. Marc’s civic activism around the county has also won him a great many fans.
As Adam outlined yesterday, the challenge for the other candidates is to emerge as the alternative. Who is best positioned to do this?
Roger Berliner is probably the best County establishment candidate. After several terms on the Council, he has compiled a highly marketable record of leadership on environmental issues, especially for voters who are more concerned about climate change than economic equality. We’re a wealthy county, so even in a Democratic primary, there are lot of these voters.
Roger’s challenge is building a larger coalition is his record on business concerns. He has steered a middle course on these issues, which may be where many county voters are, but impedes him being a convincing champion of business or change. Roger is doing his best to make the case that he’s the person to lead on innovation and reinventing county government but it’s a hard sell for a multi-term councilmember.
George Leventhal’s comments on Facebook after the recent business forum reporting that he hears complaints about too much and too little growth from different people pretty much capture it all. Candidates simply cannot come across as annoyed with voters. What do those people want anyway?
Even more bizarre was George’s comment at the forum: “Democracy is not a spectator sport. If the business community wants to be heard, you have to speak to us.” Really? After 16 years on the Council, you have no idea what the business community thinks? They have lobbyists and are often highly engaged with the process. Politics is about addition, not subtraction.
Rose Krasnow has some clear strengths in the race. She’s the only female candidate in the #metoo election, though sometimes she sells it a little too hard. Her time as Mayor of Rockville, working on Wall Street, and as a senior staffer at the Planning Board allow her to make a very convincing case that she has the experience to lead the county in a new direction. The Planning Board is a great place to meet a lot of leaders around the county, especially in the not always popular but well-funded development community.
While Democrats are often not too keen on Wall Street, Rose’s real problem, ironically, is her identification with the Planning Board. It’s like flypaper for all the problems in the county and almost worse than being an incumbent when voters are in a mood to shake things up. Too much traffic? Too many portable classrooms? Blame the Planning Board. It may not always be fair (or unfair) but if you want fair, politics is the wrong line of work.
Businessman David Blair is certainly making a splash around the county. He’s already on TV and sending out mail, giving him profile among county voters as a sunny guy in a way that resembles David Trone’s last congressional bid. Empower Montgomery, which he helped found, seems ready to launch an independent expenditure campaign on his behalf.
If he spends enough, he could well become the not Marc. Of course, he’s going to have to compete with David Trone who will also be filling our airwaves. There is also the question of how many rich businessmen do Democrats want to elevate in the days of Trump. Still, I’ve heard positive feedback from some about his business plans, though his press interviews have at times demonstrated a lack of fluency with issues or government. Could this stall his campaign once he faces greater scrutiny?
Last but not least, Delegate Bill Frick is an interesting candidate. Although he’s an elected official, he is not associated with county government, so doesn’t carry their baggage. In short, he manages to combine appealing experience without the blame – a combo that worked rather well for former Rockville Mayor Doug Duncan. As someone widely seen as smart and a good, often passionate speaker, he ought to be an appealing candidate.
So far, however, his campaign has yet to catch fire. Insiders ding him for switching races but I seriously doubt voters know or care. He needs an issue and the county’s strongly disliked liquor monopoly looks like a good target notwithstanding the mud MCGEO has thrown at him. Frick needs convince voters, donors and opinion leaders opposed to Marc that he is best positioned to unite an alternative coalition to renovate county government. He has a good case.
By Adam Pagnucco.
The Washington Post recently published an article declaring that the contest to succeed County Executive Ike Leggett was seen as “anybody’s race.” Pshaw! One of two candidates will win it. One of them is Council Member Marc Elrich, who finished first in the last two Council At-Large primaries and is nearly sweeping progressive endorsements. The other is…
We don’t know yet. And we don’t know if we ever will.
During the 2016 Congressional District 8 race, your author called up one of the smartest people in state politics we know. This fellow lives outside MoCo but he tracks all parts of the state and has sources everywhere. When we asked him who was going to win, he said, “When I talk to the various campaigns, all of them say they’re gonna be the last one at the end along with Jamie Raskin. When I hear that over and over, when I see that they all think that Jamie is the man to beat, that leads me to think Jamie will win.” That dynamic is going on now in the Executive race.
Elrich’s long-time message combining opposition to development with far-left progressivism has earned him an overlapping base of land-use voters, liberals and Downcounty residents, especially in and near Takoma Park, where he served 19 years on the City Council. In the 2014 Council At-Large race, Elrich finished first in every council district except 2 (where he finished second to Nancy Floreen) and first or second in every local area in the county except Damascus and Laytonsville. He finished first in 138 of 251 precincts. In the 2010 Council At-Large race, Elrich finished first in all five council districts and in every local area in the county except Cabin John, Damascus, Darnestown and Laytonsville. He finished first in 166 of 243 precincts. No other MoCo politician running for county office in this cycle has a base of this kind.
How did he assemble it? For many years, Elrich has been assisting residents who oppose master plans all over the county. And whether they won or lost, those development opponents came away from the fight with Elrich as their hero. Here is an illustration: an email sent out by the East Bethesda Citizens Association on 6/2/16, on the eve of the council’s consideration of the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan, describing their meeting with Elrich and calling for action:
A year later, Elrich cast the lone vote against that master plan as he has with several other plans. This plan’s opponents have now been incorporated into Elrich’s base – assuming they were not part of it already.
While other candidates struggle to attract volunteers, Elrich’s volunteer base is well established. In 2014, the campaigns of Elrich and his ally, Beth Daly, posted poll coverage sign-ups on Signupgenius.com. They were able to recruit coverage on 67 precincts, many on more than one shift, with particular strength in the voter-rich areas of Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Leisure World. No one other than the Apple Ballot could touch this. Now that he is running for the county’s highest office, how many precincts will Elrich be able to cover?
Among the influencers and highly informed activists, this election is rapidly becoming defined by whether you’re with Elrich or not. If you don’t believe us, check out the Council District 1 candidates. They’re an interesting group that collectively spans the differences of opinions in the county district containing the most Democrats. Bethesda Magazine reporter Andrew Metcalf asked them during a recent debate for whom each was going to vote in the Executive election. After significant prodding, here’s how the candidates responded:
Bill Cook – would vote for Marc Elrich
Pete Fosselman – undecided; wouldn’t vote for Elrich
Andrew Friedson – undecided; disinclined to vote for Elrich
Ana Sol Gutierrez – torn between Elrich and George Leventhal
Jim McGee – would probably vote for Elrich
Reggie Oldak – refused to say; would not vote for Elrich
Dalbin Osorio – would vote for Elrich
Meredith Wellington – undecided
All of the non-Elrich candidates have potential as well as challenges. Council Members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal are running on their experience and qualifications. (Disclosure: your author respects both but supports Berliner.) Berliner is trying to get known outside his council district and Leventhal has been severely out-polled by Elrich in the last two elections. Delegate Bill Frick, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and businessman David Blair are the fresh faces. But they are little-known in most parts of the county and Blair started as a complete unknown. All of these candidates have a long way to go and each of them is in the others’ way.
To contrast with Elrich effectively, a non-Elrich candidate needs to hit this sweet spot dead-on: “We live in a great county, but we can be even better. Here are some ways we can improve.” That involves a bit of threading the needle for the two council incumbents. It’s understandable that they might react to critiques of the county’s economic performance as criticism of their records, but they should think of it like this: every Executive leaves unfinished business for the next Executive. Ike Leggett inherited his share of problems from Doug Duncan, who in turn inherited some issues from Neal Potter. This is entirely normal, so who is the best choice to lead in the future? As for the non-incumbents, they aggressively point to the need to improve, but they tend not to have many specific proposals to get better because they don’t know the history and operations of county government as well as the two Council Members. To be fair, how could they? If no one hits this sweet spot, that leaves Elrich as the only candidate with a crystal-clear message that is distinct from the others. Those who hear Elrich’s message and agree with it are less likely to peel off to someone else than tentative supporters of the other candidates who might change their preferences between them.
One more thing: we wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all, of the non-Elrich candidates have polled. If so, they all probably found similar results. And so they could all tailor their messages in similar ways and maybe even say the exact same things. That would blur the differences between them and make Elrich stand out even more. This may already be happening as Berliner, Blair and Frick all repeatedly mentioned “innovation” at last Friday’s Executive forum. Was that a coincidence?
If questioned privately, we bet all of the non-Elrich candidates would grudgingly admit that it’s a problem that five of them are in the race. Each of them wants to be the person who gets to take on Elrich one-on-one. So each of the five is looking at the others and saying, “If YOU all get out of the way, I can beat Elrich.” But no one is dropping out because they all think they have a shot. The big winner from this is – you guessed it – Marc Elrich.
One non-Elrich candidate needs to emerge from the pack and consolidate everyone that is not in Elrich’s camp. If that happens, Elrich is beatable. But if nothing changes and this election continues down the path it is on, Elrich will win with less than 40% of the vote.