As Perez nabs Post endorsement, MoCo elected officials split over governor’s race

As former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, a long-time Takoma Park resident, garnered the coveted endorsement of The Washington Post editorial page this past weekend, elected officials in his Montgomery County remain split — largely among Perez and two other contenders with Takoma Park connections — in the 10-way contest for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.   

With two months until the July 19 primary, half of the county’s 32-member all-Democratic state legislative delegation have weighed in on the gubernatorial race. Sen. Susan Lee of Bethesda is the latest to endorse author and former anti-poverty organization CEO Wes Moore, a Takoma Park native now based in Baltimore. Moore has the backing of six of Montgomery’s state legislators.

Six members of the county’s Annapolis delegation as well have lined up behind Perez – also a former Democratic National Committee chair — while three have endorsed Comptroller Peter Franchot. 

Overall, Franchot — who has spent more than one-third of a century in Annapolis as a state legislator and then comptroller — has been endorsed by 10 current elected officials in Montgomery; Perez can claim nine and Moore eight, while two are backing former U.S. Education Secretary John King of Silver Spring.

The breakdown of the endorsements by the county’s all-Democratic Annapolis delegation:

Franchot — Senate Majority Leader Nancy King (Montgomery Village), Sen. Craig Zucker (Brookeville) and Del. Pamela Queen (Olney);

Moore  — Lee, Sen. Cheryl Kagan (Rockville), House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke (Burtonsville), and Dels. Kumar Barve (Rockville), Anne Kaiser (Silver Spring) and Emily Shetty (Kensington);

Perez — Sen. Ben Kramer (Derwood), and Dels. Julie Palakovich Carr (Rockville), Bonnie Cullison (Aspen Hill), Lesley Lopez (Germantown), Kirill Reznik (Germantown) and Vaughn Stewart (Derwood)

King — Del. Lorig Charkoudian (Takoma Park).

Zucker is a former top aide to Franchot, as is District 1 County Council Member Andrew Friedson — the comptroller’s sole council backer. Council Member Will Jawando is the single council member endorsing Moore.

Perez represented District 5 on the council from 2002-2006, and a significant chunk of his support comes from county government officials: County Executive Marc Elrich (who taught Perez’s older daughter as an elementary school teacher in Takoma Park), and council members Gabe Albornoz and Evan Glass are backing Perez.

So is former County Executive Ike Leggett, who in 2018 endorsed the gubernatorial bid of then- Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, whom Leggett once taught in law school; Baker is also in this year’s field, with Council Member Nancy Navarro as his running mate. Meanwhile, Leggett’s predecessor as county executive, Doug Duncan, has endorsed Franchot.

During his four terms as comptroller, Franchot formed close relationships with local officials around the state — which are reflected in his backing this year. His Montgomery supporters include Register of Wills Joseph Griffin, Sheriff Darren Popkin, Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman and Council Member Ryan Spiegel, and Takoma Park Council Members Terry Seamens and Jarrett Smith.

Another Takoma Park council member, Kacy Kostiuk, is backing King, while Town of Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin is in Moore’s camp.

–Louis Peck

Blair goes on TV – and plans to stay there until Primary Day

David Blair last week became the first candidate in the county executive race to run paid TV spots, purchasing time over seven days on county cable systems.

A campaign spokesman said Blair plans to remain on TV until Primary Day, although details of his ad buys beyond the first week were not immediately on the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Inspection File (https://publicfiles.fcc.gov/).

Blair’s initial 30-second spot starts out with his harkening back to his first run for executive in 2018, as he talks about what he’s been up to since. Blair, a multimillionaire former health care company CEO, started the Council on Advocacy and Policy Solutions in 2019 with his own funds – while also underwriting a number of local philanthropic initiatives. 

“Remember me?” Blair asks cable viewers. “I ran for Montgomery County executive, got the Post endorsement, but fell 77 votes short. So I took my experience as an entrepreneur and job creator and worked with community groups to combat poverty and lift our residents up.”

Actually, the timing of Blair’s new ad efforts suggest that he thinks voters do remember him – at least to an extent. Four years ago, as a political unknown, he began advertising on cable in early March – more than two months earlier than the start of this year’s TV effort. He ultimately lost the Democratic primary to the current incumbent, Marc Elrich, after a recount determined the margin to be 77 votes.

Elrich, seeking a second term, has yet to purchase cable time this year, according to the FCC website — nor has the other major Democratic contender, Council Member Hans Riemer. Unlike Blair, both Elrich and Riemer are relying on public campaign financing, which limits the size of private contributions a candidate can accept.

In 2018, Blair spent a record $5.7 million on his campaign, with $5.4 million coming out of his own pocket. By early April, he was advertising on over-the-air TV stations in the Washington market, where a 30-second spot can run into the thousands of dollars. As of this week, Blair had yet to purchase time on D.C.-area broadcast stations, according to the FCC site.

By comparison, advertising on Montgomery cable systems is a relative bargain: Documents filed on the FCC site showed Blair paying a little less than $20,400 for 158 30-second units during his first week on cable, for an average cost of about $130 per spot.

Blair purchased time adjacent to cable newscasts on CNN and MSNBC — both of which are seen as having a liberal orientation attractive to Democratic viewers.

Late last year, Blair said he “can’t imagine” spending as much on this year’s campaign as he did in 2018. He disclosed spending $1.08 million as of January of this year, according to reports filed with the Maryland Board of Elections.

How much more he plans to spend in 2022 will become clearer when the next round of disclosure reports is due in mid-June. 

–Louis Peck   

Environmental endorsements, part I: Sierra Club snubs veteran MoCo senator

In all, 30 of Montgomery County’s 32 current state senators and delegates are running for re-election this year. And when the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter recently released its list of legislative endorsements, it included the names of 29 of the 30 Democratic incumbents.

The sole incumbent the Sierra Club opted to pass over? Veteran District 39 Sen. Nancy King (Montgomery Village), currently the Maryland Senate’s majority leader.

King said during a telephone interview that she had not received an explanation from the Sierra Club. But a source with direct knowledge of the group’s decision-making, who requested anonymity to discuss private deliberations, indicated the snub of King was due in significant part to her role as Montgomery County’s most outspoken advocate of Gov. Larry Hogan’s controversial plan to widen I-495 and I-270 through construction of toll lanes.

The Sierra Club has been adamantly opposed to the Hogan proposal, citing the environmental impact and the possibility of major overruns in a project with an estimated construction cost of up to $11 billion. At the beginning of her current term in 2019, King— then chair of the influential Senate Budget and Taxation Committee — blocked legislation approved in the House of Delegates to place restrictions on public-private partnerships; the Hogan administration wants to utilize a so-called P3 to underwrite the I-495/I-270 project.

King, majority leader since 2020, continues to serve on the Budget and Taxation panel. “I’m the one public official who looks at the traffic on I-270 and speaks out — we’re not going to force all these people out of cars,” King said, while adding, “I’m not anti-transit by any means.”

Elected officials along relatively narrow portions of the Capital Beltway in the southern section of the county have been strongly resistant to Hogan’s plan, advocating greater reliance on mass transit instead. But further to the north — in King’s district and other areas along I-270 — the reception to the Hogan plan has been more positive, given limited mass transit options now available.

King, elected to the House of Delegates in 2002, was appointed in 2007 to the District 39 Senate seat after it was vacated by resignation. She has since been re-elected to three terms and is regarded as a heavy favorite in the July 19 primary against first-time candidate Adam Cunningham. No Republican has filed to run for the slot in the November election.

The Hogan administration first proposed the I-495/I-270 widening plan in late 2017, though legislative debate on the matter did not begin in earnest until 2019 — a year after the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter endorsed King’s 2018 re-election bid.

King is not without environmental support this year: A week before the Sierra Club released its endorsements, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters announced it was supporting King as well as all of her colleagues in the Montgomery Senate delegation.

–Louis Peck

Environmental endorsements, part II: Elrich, Riemer line up green support after Sierra Club backs Blair 

The county’s Sierra Club made news last month when it decided to endorse David Blair, a businessman who lost to County Executive Marc Elrich by 77 votes in the 2018 Democratic primary.

It surprised some involved in local environmental issues, who argued that Blair does not have a strong record on such issues. But local Sierra Club members said that Blair’s experience as a business executive would help fellow elected officials and other leaders accomplish many goals related to combating climate change, from increasing transit options to reducing greenhouse emissions in buildings.

In the days and weeks following the Sierra Club endorsement, other environmental leaders backed either Elrich, or County Council Member Hans Riemer, who is running for county executive. 

Multiple life members and former members of the Sierra Club said in a news release they backed Elrich, pointing to his work on the Climate Action Plan, championing renewable energy and launching Flash Bus on U.S. 29, while advancing design of other bus rapid transit projects in the county.

Anne Ambler, past chair and life member of the Montgomery County group of the Sierra Club, was perhaps most direct on the Sierra Club’s pick in endorsing Blair.

“I am totally shocked by this misplaced endorsement,” Ambler wrote in a prepared statement. “Marc has performed exceedingly well in an extremely difficult time. No previous county executive has had to deal with directing the response to a deadly pandemic along with all the usual challenges. Yet Marc also managed to make progress on addressing climate change.”

Shortly after those members voiced support for Elrich, other local and state environmentalists backed Riemer, pointing to his record of trying to establish some level of solar power in the agricultural reserve, his support of more housing near Metro stations, and other issues.

One of the most notable endorsements was from Mike Tidwell, founder and director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“I believe it takes a climate activist to know a climate activist,” Tidwell said in a prepared statement. “And Hans is a climate activist through and through. I believe he’s the only real climate candidate in this race.”

–Steve Bohnel

Louis Peck can be reached at louis.peck@bethesdamagazine.com. Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com