Troy Murtha, 27, is running for County Council District 4. Credit: Submitted Photo

For Troy Murtha, the decision to run for the Montgomery County Council seat representing District 4 boils down to a desire to answer this question: How do elected officials create processes and systems that lead to better outcomes for county residents?

A North Bethesda resident, Murtha, 27, is a full-time student at The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. The youngest Democrat running for the District 4 seat, he said his family moved to the county when he was 2 years old and he has lived here ever since, except for about two years when he worked as an engineer in Melbourne, Florida.

District 4 covers North Bethesda, Kensington, Silver Spring and Takoma Park. The other Democratic candidates are:

  • State Del. Al Carr of Kensington, who decided the day of the April 15 filing deadline to switch from running for re-election to his District 18 seat in the General Assembly
  • Amy Ginsburg of North Bethesda, executive director of the Friends of White Flint nonprofit 
  • Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart
  • John Zittrauer of Silver Spring, an employee of Denizens Brewing Co.

Murtha said his campaign is focusing on the issues of housing, public transit and the local economy. But he added that candidates will need to adapt to unforeseen circumstances that await in the years ahead.

“One thing I’ve repeated throughout the campaign is we can’t always tell what the big issue is going to be … nobody knew in the 2018 elections that they were going to be running on COVID years later,” Murtha said.

Regarding housing, Murtha said that more housing, both affordable and market-rate, needs to be built because demand now far exceeds supply. He supports the broad goals of Thrive Montgomery 2050 — the county’s proposed general master plan update. 

Murtha said county officials should have sought more direct community input while developing the general master plan update. He’s concerned about the impacts of the proposal, including whether underprivileged communities may be displaced.

The county held hundreds of meetings in-person and virtually about Thrive, but an Office of Legislative Oversight report earlier this year stated that more feedback was likely needed from low-income communities and communities of color.

Murtha also called for improving public transportation in the county, noting that he paid $35 for an Uber ride after his broke down while he was en route from North Bethesda to a forum for District 4 candidates in the Silver Spring area.

If someone’s car breaks down, it shouldn’t be a “catastrophic” situation to find other viable transportation, Murtha said, calling for more bus rapid transit projects — with dedicated lanes for those buses — and projects like the under-construction Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail line that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. That project, now expected to be completed in 2026, is roughly 10 years too late, he said.

Murtha said the county does a great job of studying transportation projects, but fundamental changes can occur, whether it be in engineering or other areas, by the time the project is actually constructed.

“We make a lot of assumptions when we do studies, and for as long as those studies take, the assumptions can be overturned,” Murtha said.

The law student admitted that as a younger candidate, he has faced challenges running for elected office. The current election system favors incumbents and others who are more connected to political donors, Murtha said. 

Still, it’s been a privilege to run for the District 4 seat, he said.

“Montgomery County is a wonderful place with wonderful residents, and there … is room for a diversity of housing options and transportation options,” Murtha said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com