Campaign signs posted outside the Silver Spring Civic Center early voting site Thursday morning Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Business group releases ‘economic ballot’ scoring county executive, council candidates

Amid the blizzard of glossy political fliers hitting local mailboxes in recent days is one entitled “Voter Guide: Your Montgomery County Economic Ballot.” It’s a scorecard with ratings of candidates for county executive and key County Council races, based on responses to a dozen questions.

The scorecard is a product of Empower Montgomery, founded by several members of the county’s business community in 2015—including Charles Nulsen, president of the Bethesda-based Washington Property Co., who now sits on the group’s advisory committee. Empower Montgomery is a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization under IRS rules, which as it explains on its website, “allows us to perform a wide range of public education and advocacy activities.”

Such organizations, while not allowed to explicitly endorse or oppose candidates, often tiptoe along the edges of such activity. “Use your Economic Ballot to choose candidates who will embrace a dynamic, forward-thinking approach to government!” the Empower Montgomery flier urges.

To guide voters, scores are assigned based on the group’s assessment of the answers provided. In the Democratic primary for county executive, the highest overall score, “11”, went to former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, followed by a “9” for both businessman David Blair and state Del. Bill Frick. All three have advocated strongly pro-development policies in the campaign.

On the other end of the scale, County Council member Marc Elrich, long a scourge of much of the county’s business community, was the only candidate in negative territory—with a “minus-5” rating. His two council colleagues in the contest—Roger Berliner and George Leventhal—were in plus territory, with scores of “7” and “3,” respectively.

Before announcing for county executive last year, Blair was listed as a co-founder of Empower Montgomery on the group’s website. He subsequently sought to downplay his role in its formation, although he has acknowledged contributing financially to the organization.      

The dozen questions posed to the county executive candidates are not contained in the flier, but readers are directed to the group’s website to peruse them. The website does not include the candidates’ verbatim answers, but Empower Montgomery assigns each response a rating of “good answer,” “bad answer” or “unclear/non-answer.”

Questions about the same topics—ranging from incentives to attract new businesses to proposed road and mass transit projects to the wisdom of the 8.7 percent property tax increase in 2016—were also posed to the Democratic primary candidates for County Council at-large and in the competitive contests in council District 1 and District 3.

Eleven of the 33 at-large candidates responded, with scores—listed in the mail flier—ranging from an “11” for Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of Commerce, to a zero rating for former Obama administration official Will Jawando. In the contest for Gaithersburg/Rockville-based District 3, the flier shows incumbent Sidney Katz rating a “plus-4” and his challenger, political operative Ben Shnider, with a “minus-3.”

The questionnaire results for the Bethesda/Chevy Chase-based District 1 open seat are not listed in the mail flier. But the Empower Montgomery Web site shows five of the eight Democratic contenders responding, with scores ranging from a “plus-10” for both Andrew Friedson, a former aide to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, and former county Planning Board member Meredith Wellington to a “minus-4” for health benefits professional Jim McGee.

The high score for Wellington was a bit of a surprise: She has long-time political ties to Elrich, who is said to have been behind her unsuccessful bid for Planning Board chair four years ago.

  • Louis Peck


In District 16, delegate candidates reach for Raskin’s coattails

In 2016, in his bid for a first term in Congress, now-U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park won 24 of 28 precincts in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area—some by margins approaching 4-1—in capturing the Democratic primary. So it’s little surprise that several candidates taking aim at an open state delegate seat in Bethesda/Chevy Chase-based District 16 this year are endeavoring to tie themselves to Raskin as closely as possible.

“Whether it was marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty or criminal justice reform, you were always a brilliant strategic actor … a voice of reason in contentious debates,” reads a quote from Raskin contained in a recent mail flier sent out by one candidate, attorney Sara Love. The quote is positioned directly above a box with organizational endorsements of Love.

On the website of another contender, healthcare professional Jordan Cooper, Raskin—just above the section on endorsements—praises Cooper as a “relentless and unstoppably focused Democratic activist whose passion is lowering health care costs and increasing accessibility.” And on the website of yet another candidate, Montgomery Blair High School computer mathematics teacher Samir Paul, Raskin—also above a listing of various endorsements—praises Paul as “an inspiration to young people in our community and a promising voice for Montgomery County’s future.”

There’s just one fly in the ointment: Raskin has not actually endorsed Cooper, Love or Paul.

In fact, Raskin has adopted a policy of not making endorsements in open seat races this year—with the notable exception of backing his friend and long-time state Senate colleague, Richard Madaleno, in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Just this past week, Raskin said he had no plans to make an endorsement in the race to succeed current County Executive Ike Leggett. 

“There are literally hundreds of residents running within my district—and many of them are good friends of mine,” Raskin said in an interview, explaining his hands-off endorsement policy. 

The quote in Love’s flier is dated Nov. 16, 2016, a week after Raskin won his U.S. House seat; Love was then Annapolis policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “I wrote her a letter thanking her for all the work we did together and the critical role that she played in a number of legislative battles we had,” Raskin recalled. “I was sending letters to a lot of people—I was getting very sentimental. It never occurred to me that Sara Love might run for office.”

In keeping with his non-endorsement policy, Raskin said he had declined a request from Love to endorse her. “And she asked if she could use this note that I had written on her website,” he recalled. “And I said, ‘Sure, who am I to stop her from using a note that is her private property?’ But I asked her to make it clear, by dating it, that it was not an endorsement in 2018, it was a letter sent to her in 2016.”

Raskin said it had been “a surprise to me” when the quote from his letter appeared in a mailer rather than on Love’s website. “We had not talked about that,” he added. “So now I’m in the situation of saying nice stuff about the other people I know who are running.”

Cooper and Paul also had sought his endorsement, Raskin acknowledged, while adding in a somewhat wistful tone, “These are all complicated, nuanced situations among friends.”

What makes it more complicated is that, while not endorsing in open seat races, Raskin has endorsed several incumbents seeking re-election—including Dels. Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman, part of the eight-person District 16 candidate field that includes Cooper, Love and Paul.

Chuckled Raskin, “When I first ran for the state Senate [in 2006], against a 32-year incumbent, you could count my endorsements very quickly on one hand—which makes it so funny that everybody thinks my endorsement can get them elected now.”

  • Louis Peck


Labor union leader says group’s polls show Elrich and Blair are ‘neck and neck’ in county executive race

Gino Renne, president of the local government employee union UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, said in a Thursday interview with Bethesda Beat that polls commissioned by his union and allied labor groups over the past month show a “two-person race” for county executive between County Council member Marc Elrich and Potomac businessman David Blair. He said the polls show the two are “neck and neck” less than two weeks before the June 26 Democratic primary.

Renne declined to provide Bethesda Beat with the polls themselves, citing agreements with the other labor groups, but said they’ve commissioned about five polls that have gauged the opinions of about 3,000 Montgomery County voters.

“When you combine all the different polls, it’s a good solid snapshot of what’s going on,” Renne said. “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.”

Local 1994, which represents about 7,000 local government workers, endorsed Elrich in April.

No polls from an unbiased source have been released publicly in the county executive race.

The other Democratic candidates in the race are County Council members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal, state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda) and former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow.

Andrew Metcalf


EMILY’S List backs Krasnow for county executive

Rose Krasnow received a late campaign endorsement from EMILY’S List this week. Krasnow announced Monday she secured the backing of the group that supports female progressive candidates running for office.

“As a former mayor and city councilor, Rose Krasnow knows what it means to be a community leader,” Geri Prado, senior director of state and local campaigns at EMILY’S List, said in a statement. “As county executive, Rose will continue to support infrastructure funding and workforce development. It’s clear Rose will be a strong advocate for Montgomery County families.”

Andrew Metcalf