Tag Archives: Roger Berliner

Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, May 2018

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.

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What the Post’s Endorsement of Blair Means

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!

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The Not Marcs

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.

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The Executive Contest is a Two-Candidate Race

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.

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Executive Candidates React to Sage Consulting Report on MoCo Economy

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last Friday, the candidates for County Executive attended a forum to discuss a report by Sage Consulting listing numerous problems with the county’s economy.  Afterwards, most of the Executive candidates commented on the report and on the economy more generally via email and social media.  Their responses say a lot about which ones take the economy seriously, an issue that has drawn much attention from Seventh State.

Council Member Roger Berliner (whom your author supports) sent out this email over the weekend.

Our county has serious work to do to improve our business climate, diversify our economy, and increase the number of good jobs. It must be Priority #1 if we are going to be able to meet the needs of our school system, reduce congestion, invest in public safety, and protect our environment.

I have a record that I am proud of on improving our economy and a vision for our future that you can read about here. Some of my competitors have records too. Others have just words. It’s important to consider what we have done in pursuit of increasing prosperity, not just what we say we will do.

My record includes leading the successful effort to reduce our energy tax three years in a row; creating the small business navigator and a micro-loan program to help our local small businesses and entrepreneurs thrive; and playing a leading role in our Amazon bid. My vision is of a forward leaning county that embraces innovation, education geared towards the jobs of tomorrow, and vibrant urban centers served by state-of-the-art transit.

Yesterday, a consultant tasked with assessing our business climate and outlook, issued a scathing report. It highlighted one startling statistic: that “between 2011 and 2016, the number of [business] establishments in Montgomery County increased by 6, or roughly the population of businesses at a strip mall.” The report concludes that “Montgomery County therefore desperately needs to step up efforts to expand its commercial tax base.” You will get no debate from me on that point.

At the same time, the report declares:

This should not be mistaken for an assertion that Montgomery County is anything other than the finest possible location for Amazon HQ2. It will be difficult for Amazon to identify an area that is as open to new ideas, offers such abundant human capital, is as saturated with transportation options, supports such high quality public education, is as institutionally rich, and is as committed to shared prosperity as Montgomery County, MD.

So, while it is true that we have our challenges, challenges that must be met head-on, it is also true that we have extraordinary assets and a quality of life to match. I will build on our assets as your next County Executive, work diligently to improve our business climate, and am 100% committed to expanding a “shared prosperity.”

Life is good in Montgomery County, but we can make it better still. That’s my goal: a “more perfect” Montgomery County.

In service,

Roger Berliner

Delegate Bill Frick (D-16) sent out this email hours after the Executive forum ended.

Something doesn’t add up. How does a county with our talent, our people, our great public schools and our values lag behind the rest of our region in job growth and economic development? How is it that private sector employment has declined by 12,500 jobs from 2006 to 2016? How is it that, during that same time period, Montgomery County created on net just six new businesses?

The answer is clear. As I told the Montgomery County Business Roundtable earlier today, it is our political culture. My opponents have built a political culture in Montgomery County that doesn’t want to work with businesses to thrive and grow here in our County.  And if we elect someone to be County Executive who is part of that culture, things will not get better for business.

I am an outsider to Montgomery County Government and yet I have real governmental leadership experience as the Majority Leader of Maryland’s General Assembly. I have the relationships in Annapolis that can help our County. But since I am not a multi-millionaire, and unlike three of my opponents, I am not spending your taxpayer dollars to fund my campaign, I need your help to communicate with Montgomery County residents who deserve leadership that the current members of the County Council will not provide.

Montgomery County is an awesome place to live. It’s why I’m raising my two children here and sending them to our public schools. But we have a problem, and that is that we must reform in order to create new private sector jobs and increase our tax base. We have to focus on the core functions of county government – education, public safety, and transportation – and those need to be our priorities for our budget. Our County Government does not need to be in the liquor business, a failed venture that is hurting our food culture to the benefit of downtown DC restaurants. We have to have a culture of ‘yes’ in county government so that we are trying to find reasons to say yes to businesses rather than find reasons to say no.

Sincerely,

Bill

Former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow ran this Facebook ad.

David Blair commented on Twitter.

Council Member George Leventhal commented on Facebook.

We are not aware of Council Member Marc Elrich commenting via email, Facebook or Twitter.

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Top MoCo Fundraisers, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Recently, we have run several reports on fundraising through January 2018.  This post combines all of our data and presents the top 20 fundraisers in MoCo so far.  Note that we break out self-financing and report totals raised for the cycle, not just totals since the last report.  And… here they are!

A few random thoughts.

1.  It’s natural to expect Brian Frosh and Peter Franchot to be the leaders since they both hold statewide offices.  Of the county-level candidates, Council Member Roger Berliner, who is running for Executive, is number one.

2.  The numbers for Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18), who is running for Governor, are misleading since he will be applying for public matching funds.  Madaleno has said that he anticipates receiving about $975,000 from the state.

3.  Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher (D-18), who is running for Senate, is the leading fundraiser among all of MoCo’s state legislators.  He will need that money against his self-funding rival, Dana Beyer.

4.  County Executive candidate David Blair, gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah, Council District 1 candidate Andrew Friedson and Council At-Large candidate Bill Conway are first-time candidates.  It’s a significant achievement for first-timers to make a list of this kind although it’s somewhat tempered by the self-financing of Blair and Vignarajah.

5.  Delegate Marc Korman (D-16) is the only first-term elected official on this list.  That’s a big deal and a sign of good things to come.

6.  Council Member Marc Elrich, who is running for Executive, has never been on a top fundraising list in his life.  He is now, and that’s thanks to public financing.

7.  Lieutenant Governor candidate Susan Turnbull raised more money in a month and a half of campaigning than half the people on this list did in the entire cycle, a staggering feat.

8.  Governor Larry Hogan has raised more money this cycle ($11.5 million) than everyone on this list combined.

Note: an earlier version of this post mistakenly omitted Turnbull’s results.  We have corrected it to include her.

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Sierra Club Endorses Berliner, Council Candidates

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Montgomery County Sierra Club has endorsed Roger Berliner for County Executive as well as several council candidates.  With a brand commonly recognized by progressives around the country, the Sierra Club’s support is valued in MoCo.  Many expected this endorsement to go to Marc Elrich, so this is a blow to him and a boost for Berliner.  It’s also a big pickup for District 3 challenger Ben Shnider, who is starting to get traction against incumbent Sidney Katz.  We reprint their press release below.

*****

Sierra Club endorses Berliner for County Executive; and several outstanding candidates for County Council

ROCKVILLE, MD – The Sierra Club, representing 6000 members across Montgomery County, announced today that it is endorsing Roger Berliner for County Executive and several outstanding candidates for the County Council.

Those endorsed for the four At-large Council seats are Evan Glass, Will Jawando, Danielle Meitiv, and Hans Riemer.  In addition, Sierra Club is endorsing Ben Shnider for District 3; Nancy Navarro for District 4; and Tom Hucker for District 5.

With all the open seats in this election, 2018 provides an historic opportunity to elect a county government committed to forging significant and measurable solutions to addressing climate change through a variety of new and enhanced programs and policies.

Dave Sears, chair of the Montgomery County group of Sierra Club said, “We are excited about the prospects of our endorsed candidates focusing their skills, experience, and knowledge on making our county a national model for how local governments address the climate  emergency facing our planet.”

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Campaign Finance Reports: County Executive, January 2018

By Adam Pagnucco.

Christmas morning is over and your blogger is done opening the presents – errrrr, campaign finance reports.  Now we get to share them with you!  And we will start by breaking down the Montgomery County Executive race.

Before we start playing with the toys, let’s clear away the wrapping and discuss a few data issues.  Our numbers are different from what you will read in other outlets.  That’s because Seventh State readers are special and we are going to give you only the best!  First, we calculate total raised and total spent across the entire cycle and not just over the course of one report period.  Many candidates, particularly in other races we will discuss, have been campaigning for more than a year and we want to capture that.  Second, we separate self-funding from funds raised from others.  Self-funding includes money from spouses.  Total raised does not include in-kind contributions.  Third, for self-financed candidates, we include public matching fund distributions that have been requested but not deposited in raised money and in cash on hand (which we call adjusted cash balance).  That gives you a better idea of the true financial position of publicly financed campaigns.

And now, we reveal the numbers you all have been craving: the first round of fundraising reports for the seven people running for County Executive.

This is exactly the kind of race Council Member Marc Elrich wants.  He is up against five other candidates, only one of whom has run countywide before, who are nothing like him and cannot steal votes from his progressive and anti-development base.  Better yet, because of public financing, he has the resources to be financially competitive.  (The thought of Elrich with money is almost as strange as the sight of Elrich wearing a suit and tie.)  Elrich has been building a grass roots base for thirty years and he will be able to combine it with substantial labor, progressive and environmental support.  This election is starting to turn into Elrich and a competition to become the non-Elrich alternative.

Council Member Roger Berliner has to feel good about his report.  He leads the field in total raised for the cycle and cash on hand, and also has the lowest burn rate.  Berliner can now start making the case to those who are not inclined to support Elrich that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  Doing that is essential for his path to victory.  (Disclosure: your author is a publicly-listed supporter of Berliner and has done work for him in the past.)

Businessman David Blair is sometimes compared to fellow businessman David Trone, but he is not using a Trone-like strategy.  When Trone entered the CD8 race last year, he staffed up rapidly and began spending millions on television within weeks.  Accordingly, some observers expected Blair to write himself a million dollar check, putting opponents on notice and perhaps intimidating one or two of them to withdraw.  But while Trone plays to win, Blair looks like he’s playing around.  He gave himself just enough money ($300,000) to equal the formerly penniless Elrich in cash on hand and trail Berliner.  As for private sector fundraising, Berliner has raked in almost three times as much as Blair.  Blair needs to sharpen his message, learn more about the county and show a hunger to win.

Council Member George Leventhal is plenty hungry.  He might be the hardest-working candidate in the race and he clearly believes he’s the best person for the job.  But Leventhal is killing his campaign with his sky-high burn rate (46%), which is more than double the burn rates of Elrich (19%) and Berliner (18%).  Like Berliner, Leventhal needs to show to non-Elrich folks that he is the most viable alternative to Elrich.  To do that, he needs to tighten up his spending and get some big endorsements – sooner rather than later.

Bill Frick, you know we love you.  We admire your heroism on the liquor monopoly and we appreciate all the great fodder you have given us over the years.  But you showed a cash balance of $150,753 – less than half what Berliner, Elrich and Blair reported.  Why are you doing this, Bill?  We want many more years of you in public office, so please take our advice: stay in the House and run to succeed Brian Frosh as Attorney General when the time comes.  We will help you do it!  We will even write dozens of blog posts just like this one.

Former Planning Department staffer and Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow is an appealing, substantive and competent candidate with fans in both the business and smart growth communities.  The fact that she is the only female candidate running against five men in a Democratic primary electorate that is almost 60% female is a big plus.  Her numbers are not in yet, but she told Bethesda Magazine that she had raised $39,800 from small contributions in the public financing system.  If that’s true, it means she is on pace to qualify for public matching funds much faster than either Elrich or Leventhal did.  Still, we don’t understand why she entered public financing.  It takes a long time to raise money that way and it prevents her from tapping into what could be substantial business support.  Even if she qualifies for matching funds, she could very well trail all the other Democrats in fundraising except maybe Frick.

Republican Robin Ficker appears roughly halfway to qualifying for public matching funds.  That means the county’s most infamous anti-tax activist could wind up campaigning on the public dole.  And all of you MoCo residents will be paying for that!

Next up: the council at-large candidates.

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Running Locally? Please Stop with the National Rhetoric

Based on their emails, many Democratic candidates for local office are none too interested in the bread and butter issues of local government. Why talk about snow plowing, property taxes, and sector plans when you can run against Donald Trump?

Roger Berliner is running for Montgomery County Executive to fight for net neutrality and against federal tax legislation:

At-Large Montgomery County Council Candidate Seth Grimes is running on a similar set of themes:

As it turns out, Montgomery County does not regulate the Internet.

Similarly, George Leventhal is running for County Executive to fight for gun control:

Of course, the reason George’s “action” on the issue consists of a resolution that wouldn’t stop a BB gun is that the county cannot do anything on guns any more than it can regulate the Internet.

These three candidates are good examples but they are far from alone in talking non-local issues, so don’t think they’re remotely outliers. Voters are quite naturally fixated on the latest horrendous news to come out of Trump’s cauldron.

Among Democrats, there is no greater motivator than running against Trump and his works. My guess is that it works a lot better at getting people to open up their wallets than talking about the county’s budget shortfall or zoning.

However, as someone who writes about local and state politics (and Trump too), it grates. Democratic candidates agree on all of these issues, so it doesn’t distinguish them. Despite trying to gain points for standing up for “the resistance,” opposing Trump is truly the path of least resistance in scoring Democratic dollars or votes.

It’s all the more problematic because there are many pressing local and state concerns. I just don’t seem to hear much about them from many candidates who are busily trumpeting their opposition to all things Trump.

If you’re running for the Democratic nomination for Montgomery County office, tell voters what you’re going to do here. If you focus on core county issues and concerns, that would be even better. I’m even willing to stipulate that you are a fervent Trump opponent.

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County Executive Candidates on the Liquor Monopoly

Question: The county’s liquor monopoly has come under heavy criticism–not least from Seventh State. If at all, how would you reform or change, or press the state legislature to change, the Department of Liquor Control?

Roger Berliner

At the county level, I have been the chief advocate for ending our unique – and counterproductive – liquor monopoly.  As someone who has fought monopolies most of my professional life, I know in my bones that monopolies are rarely, if ever, in the public interest.  Government monopolies are generally even less efficient.  And a government monopoly that tries to do a job that the private sector does in the rest of the country is almost always less efficient.  That is true in MoCo.  As a result, our residents vote with their feet.  Almost one-third of our purchases of liquor are made outside Montgomery County.  Our restaurants hate it.  Top flight restaurants have said that they would never come here. Bottom line: our monopoly needlessly perpetuates the reputation of our county being anti-business and anti-consumer and stunts our economy.

However, the state is a critical partner in this conversation.  It is state law that created our monopoly, and state law must be passed to change it.  The positive side of this dynamic is that the state would be the principal, direct beneficiary of increased liquor sales.  I would work with the Governor and our legislature to split the savings that the state would derive and hold the county harmless as it weans itself from this monopoly.  The dollars are not that significant given that our retail operations should continue to do well – assuming that they can compete!  And in the long run, our county will prosper more without the monopoly than with it.

Marc Elrich

Any discussion of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) must acknowledge that the Montgomery County budget relies on over $30 million in liquor revenue per year.  That is no small amount of money, and it supports critical county services, including almost $11 million for bond payments.  Nobody who has proposed privatizing the county’s liquor supply has a workable plan to fill the budget hole privatization would create, likely because there is no way to do so that doesn’t create other problems for the state.

Privatization proposals thus should not be taken seriously; instead, we should continue to look for ways to make the DLC more efficient and effective than it has been in the past, and to increase sales so that we can increase the revenue that the DLC generates.

We’ve already changed the way the DLC is run by bringing in industry professionals, including the director and the warehouse manager, who have improved the operations of the liquor system and brought in a philosophy of continuous improvement.  I’ve also encouraged introducing lower markups for more expensive items, which they did, and I’ve supported and will continue to support efforts to help local breweries and wineries sell and distribute their goods.  Both the new director and I want to hear and consider other ideas for helping transition the DLC from something that the county has long taken for granted into a professionally run system.

In fact, if a private-sector business had a division that produced a substantial profit but was identified as having management problems and customer service issues that prevented it from being more profitable, its most likely course of action would be to change management, work to improve services, and strive for greater profits.  That is exactly what we have been doing with the DLC.

Bill Frick

I have been the state’s leader on fixing this abysmal broken system.  My “end the monopoly” effort, helped immensely by the Seventh State’s Adam Pagnucco, fell short in 2016 in large part because of vigorous opposition from the Council and County Executive.  We agreed to let the Executive lead a work group on the issue, but that work group served no real purpose other than to push the issue onto the desk of the next Executive.

This is a great opportunity.  The DLC has value, and I have proposed to ensure that the value stays with Montgomery County by selling off the DLC’s assets, such as its franchise rights to beer distribution, its stores and warehouse, to generate millions in capital dollars that can be spent on school construction.  Because the elimination of the DLC will generate millions in repatriated sales and excise tax dollars, I would work with my colleagues in the legislative leadership to help return some of those revenues to the County.  Finally, we all know that the work of alcohol distribution will not disappear with the end of the DLC, rather, those jobs will migrate to the private sector and will likely grow in the County as our consumers come home to buy their beer, wine and spirits here.  I will work with the private sector distributors and unions to find the best outcomes for current DLC employees as we get the County out of the liquor business.

George Leventhal

I am willing to entertain serious negotiations with parties who are willing to make a serious offer to purchase the right to distribute beer, wine and spirits in Montgomery County. In FY 2018, that enterprise generated more than $33 million in surplus revenue over expenses to the county’s general fund, of which $11 million was spent on debt service for approximately $100 million in Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, which were issued more than a decade ago to pay for transportation improvements, including the Montrose Parkway. I think we should commission an independent economic analysis of the present value of a guaranteed revenue stream of more than $30 million each year. My understanding is that it would come to hundreds of millions of dollars – more than enough to retire the bonds. I do not think the county should simply give away these valuable rights, which belong to the people of the county. However, serious offers from serious buyers should be considered. Simply giving the rights (and the associated revenues) away would require that the bonds be retired or refinanced through other means. If general obligation bonds were used to refinance the Liquor Control Revenue Bonds, it would reduce the county’s ability to construct new schools and other capital projects by $100 million.

In the absence of a serious offer to buy the rights to the entire enterprise, I continue to support the County Council’s 2015 proposal to privatize special order sales of beer and wine. Problems with delivery of special orders comprise the vast majority of complaints from restaurants, but the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis declined to take up the County Council’s proposal in the 2016 session after County Executive Leggett asked for more time for study.

The Montgomery County delegation also declined to take up proposals for immediate privatization or for a voter referendum. Candidates for County Executive who have concerns about the Department of Liquor Control’s shortcomings should remember that liquor laws are made in Annapolis, not in Rockville. I would also support action by the state legislature to allow sales of beer and wine in grocery stores. Beer and wine stores will soon be able to sell spirits under legislation that passed in the 2017 session, which I supported.

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