Five of the six Democratic candidates running for Montgomery County executive detailed plans Thursday night to help improve Latino student achievement, promote development in the eastern portion of the county and to address federal immigration issues at a Silver Spring forum.
The candidates trumpeted several policies as part of their efforts to win support from the room of more than 100 Latino advocates and others gathered at the Silver Spring Civic Building.
County Council members Marc Elrich, George Leventhal and Roger Berliner as well as Potomac businessman David Blair and former Planning Department deputy director Rose Krasnow participated in the forum. Del. Bill Frick was not present because he was in Annapolis for the General Assembly session, according to the hosts.
The forum was hosted by the Latino Democratic Club of Montgomery County and moderated by former WAMU reporter Armando Trull.
Elrich noted he has been endorsed by CASA, the local Latino advocacy group, after his work on a new law that will raise the county’s minimum wage to $15 per hour and his efforts to provide tenants in the county with more rights.
“I’ve been endorsed by CASA, not because of the words I say, but because of the work I do,” Elrich said.
The crowd at the forum Thursday night at the Silver Spring Civic Center for the forum. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Leventhal said he would work to make sure Montgomery County Public Schools hire more Spanish-speaking administrators and faculty. He also called for strengthening small business programs offered by the county, such as the minority- and women-owned business program, which he said the county spent $260 million on last year.
All five of the candidates present promised to continue the county’s policy of not allowing local police forces to assist federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers with federal immigration enforcement.
“Our police do not act as immigration officials in Montgomery County,” Berliner said. “That’s who we are and that’s who we will always be.”
Blair called for setting up a legal fund to guarantee that if immigrant residents of Montgomery County were detained, they would be represented by a lawyer.
“One area I’ve been keenly focused on recently is universal representation,” Blair said. “This boggles my mind, that the hardest criminals are guaranteed legal representation, yet when one of our hard-working, honest immigrants gets detained by ICE, we don’t provide them with legal representation. That’s got to change and I would fund that as your county executive.”
Leventhal said he plans to propose a bill to the council to prevent ICE from using the county jail to house the agency’s detainees.
“We don’t do that now,” Leventhal said. “But there are counties in Maryland that do and when the largest county in Maryland prohibits it, it will send a loud signal to the rest of the state.”
Krasnow said she strongly supports funding to help immigrants legally challenge deportations.
To support economic development in Latino communities, Blair said he would fund entrepreneurship classes in county public schools.
“My dad was an entrepreneur, so growing up, it didn’t seem all that difficult to become an entrepreneur,” Blair said. “Not everybody has that. So one of the things I would encourage and support is to try to get entrepreneurship classes in our schools … so more kids can get exposed to it at an early age.”
He also said the county should promote a “buy local” campaign to highlight local businesses.
Berliner trumpeted his work setting up the small business navigator and microloan program in the county, which he said can help business owners and entrepreneurs get the advice and capital they need to start or expand their local companies.
Elrich said he’d like to make the Purple Line Compact “real.” The compact signed by Prince George’s and Montgomery leaders last year is an agreement to protect local businesses and residents as the light-rail line is built in the two counties. However, it doesn’t have any legal authority.
“We’ve got to put teeth into programs that guarantee that we’re going to work to keep the jobs and we’re going to work to keep the housing so the results of what could be a very successful transportation project is not the loss of people’s homes and jobs,” Elrich said.
Krasnow told the audience that she feared the county wouldn’t land Amazon’s second headquarters because of its policies relating to businesses. Montgomery is among 20 jurisdictions in North America shortlisted for the site of the headquarters. Amazon is expected to announce a location this year.
“Our county is truly known as being business unfriendly, a hard place to get permits, a hard place to get up and running,” Krasnow said. “We’d be lucky to get Amazon because they would solve so many of the issues we’ve been talking about.”
She said the company would create jobs, improve transportation and increase the tax base. She also called for additional support for small businesses in the county.
Elrich wrapped up his comments Thursday night by saying he aims to correct the injustices he believes were caused by federal policies and actions.
“The United States has set Central America on fire,” Elrich said. “We supported the death squads. We supported the dictatorships. When the regional wars were over, we did nothing to clean up the mess we left behind. And for those reasons, people left—I wouldn’t want to live an environment that’s that unstable. So I feel a deep, personal, American responsibility for making sure the people who came here fleeing what we created in Central America get treated fairly and get the opportunity for better lives that we made impossible in the countries they came from.”
In an exit poll of 68 attendees, Elrich and Leventhal tied for the most support with 28 votes, Blair received five votes, Berliner four and Krasnow three, according to the results provided by the Latino Democratic Club.