Montgomery County executive candidate Marc Elrich believes a quote he gave during an interview with a regional transportation blog is being taken out of context to be used against him.
The quote first appeared in an opinion article on the blog Greater Greater Washington in which several contributors wrote about why they don’t believe Elrich is a good choice for county executive.
The piece asserted that Elrich, a three-term County Council member, “isn’t convinced Montgomery County needs to add many new homes or residents, or jobs.” It noted that many people with jobs in Washington, D.C., or Bethesda are living in Frederick County and driving through Montgomery to get to work.
It then quoted Elrich as saying he would “prefer to put jobs in Frederick” to deal with this commuting issue. Greater Greater Washington has endorsed one of Elrich’s Democratic opponents—council member George Leventhal—in the race.
The Elrich quote was later used by The Washington Post editorial board in a second editorial endorsing another Democratic county executive candidate, businessman David Blair. The Post wrote that “One leading candidate declared he’d rather divert jobs to neighboring Frederick County than attract them to Montgomery, which desperately needs to expand its tax base to maintain its highly rated public schools and services.”
On Wednesday, Elrich shared the audio from the interview with Bethesda Beat. Prior to Elrich saying the line, he is asked by blog contributors why he wouldn’t support building more housing in Montgomery County to house people who live farther out and commute to D.C.
He responded, “I prefer to put jobs in Frederick. Why wouldn’t you put jobs in Frederick city?”
He later added, “I don’t think it’s wrong to have other cities function as cities and grow. Montgomery County was a lousy little bedroom community in 1960.” He also said the county has more than 20,000 residential units that have been approved, but not yet been built.
“If there was a demand, there’s no government regulation preventing those units from being built,” Elrich said in the audio interview. “There is 20 million square feet of office space in a pipeline waiting to be built. I’m not in a crisis where I don’t have a place to put people or people can’t pull building permits if they want to pull building permits.”
In further conversation with the blog writers, Elrich contends that up-zoning more residential areas of the county may hurt development in urban cores because developers may choose to build on cheaper, more residential land rather than in more expensive locations such as downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring. He said he’d prefer to focus development within a half mile of already established transit.
In an interview Wednesday with Bethesda Beat, Elrich said he believes the blog post “had nothing to do with anything I said.”
“I made what I thought was an observation anyone else would make—we shouldn’t have people commuting that far away to jobs,” Elrich said. “I don’t think anyone thinks this is a good pattern. I think they turned it into, this is my economic policy, that Montgomery County should have less jobs and Frederick should have more jobs. They misconstrued the whole thing.”
He added the blog’s writers were also discussing rezoning single-family neighborhoods in the county for apartments, a move he doesn’t support.
“We absolutely stand by what we wrote and I don’t think that it’s taken out of context at all,” David Alpert, the blog’s founder and president, said Thursday. He noted the discussion was about how to make it possible for people commuting from Frederick County to live closer to jobs in Bethesda.
“The consequence of being unwilling to find ways to accommodate more people in and near job centers like Bethesda, as we said in the article, is either people have to drive long distances, which creates traffic, pollution and poor quality of life, or jobs move out of the area,” Alpert said. “I don’t think either of those is a good approach for Montgomery County.”
Elrich also took on The Washington Post, which he said didn’t contact him for more context before using the line in its editorial supporting Blair.
He contended the paper’s editorial board is “desperate to get their pro-developer baby” into the county executive office and “that’s what this is all about.”
“Nothing I suggested was about taking jobs out of Montgomery County,” Elrich said.
Blair responded to Elrich’s comment in a statement Thursday, “The Washington Post is a true independent voice and we are proud to have their endorsement. We will continue to focus on the issues and moving Montgomery County forward. We will not be distracted by ridiculous name-calling.”
The other candidates running for the Democratic nomination for county executive are council member Roger Berliner, state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda) and former county planning department deputy director Rose Krasnow.