With just under five weeks to the Nov. 8 general election, all nine members of the County Council are backing County Executive Marc Elrich in his bid against Reardon Sullivan, the former chairman of the county’s Republican central committee.
What a difference a primary election win can make.
In the run-up to the July 19 Democratic primary, most council members did not publicly endorse a candidate for county executive. Council Member Nancy Navarro, who was running for lieutenant governor along with gubernatorial candidate Rushern Baker, was the only one to endorse a candidate. She backed David Blair, a Potomac businessman and Elrich’s main challenger in the rematch of their 2018 primary contest.
Blair, who lost to Elrich by 77 votes in the 2018 Democratic primary, finished 32 votes behind Elrich this time. The prolonged counting of mail-in ballots and a recount meant the final result wasn’t known until more than a month after the primary election.
Now Blair says he is endorsing his former opponent.
In a text message, he wrote Thursday that he’s supporting Elrich and “all the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.” He did not elaborate on why he prefers Elrich over Sullivan — but he had called the incumbent to wish him well in his next term after the primary results were finalized in August.
Elrich is seen as the favorite in the general election after the competitive primary because registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4 to 1 in the county.
Sullivan said in an interview Friday that he’s not surprised by the council members’ decisions to endorse Elrich, and that he was more focused on campaign outreach to residents and businesses than receiving politicians’ endorsements. But he noted in a follow-up email that he has been endorsed by the county’s police union, and multiple business organizations.
“Would you expect them to back anybody else? Would you expect any of the current council members to jump ship?” Sullivan said.
Council Vice President Evan Glass and Council Member Andrew Friedson texted they are backing Elrich and all Democrats on the ballot. Council Member Hans Riemer, the other major contender in the Democratic primary for county executive, said in a recent interview that while he and Elrich don’t agree on every issue — the two notably sparred on housing policy during the primary campaign — Elrich is a far better choice to lead the county than Sullivan.
“He and I agree on a lot of things,” Riemer said. “Like, the emphasis on youth violence prevention … that’s right on the money. Marc and I would agree on that. We disagree on things” such as the county’s decision to allow the Fraternal Order of Police to review personnel and disciplinary documents of county officers before they are released if the records are requested under the provisions of a new state law.
“I have no hesitancy over endorsing Marc over Reardon Sullivan,” he later added. “Sully is a nice guy, and we had fun together on the [primary] campaign circuit, but that doesn’t mean we’re close in our views.”
Navarro — who like Riemer is leaving office in December due to term limits — holds a similar view. She said she agrees with Elrich’s views on some issues, including the passage of the county’s racial equity and social justice law, which ensures all legislation is reviewed under that lens. The two also were in agreement on improving early childhood education and similar initiatives countywide.
Still, she said she supported Blair in the primary in part because he had a vision for economic development that prioritized equity and bringing more resources to underserved communities countywide.
“The fact the election was so, so close is an indication that folks in the county do value that and are concerned and do want to see more economic development, and more amenities and job opportunities … especially in areas of the county that have lacked that level [of support],” Navarro said.
Noting that she is supporting all Democrats on the ballot, she said Elrich is a better option than Sullivan for moving the county forward.
“I would be concerned that somebody like Reardon would come in and try to dismantle a lot of the infrastructure that we put into place that deal with these equity issues,” Navarro said.
Sullivan also faces challenges in the county because of who is at the top of the Republican ticket in Maryland, many political insiders note. Gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, who is facing Democrat Wes Moore, and Michael Peroutka, the attorney general candidate up against Democrat Anthony Brown, are seen as far-right candidates, council members noted in recent weeks.
Having Cox and Peroutka on the ballot is a concern, Sullivan admitted. But he added that he’s focused on Montgomery County issues and not what is happening in statewide races.
Cox does not accept the 2020 presidential election results while Peroutka says he is unsure about the validity of the outcome, according to recent news reports. Sullivan, however, said he trusts local election officials and will accept the county’s general election results.
“Whatever the results say is what the results say and I’ll abide by the results,” Sullivan said.
During the primary, one of the most sought-after endorsements was that of the county’s chapter of the Sierra Club. The group chose to endorse Blair, which local political observers considered a controversial decision at the time.
Dave Sears, political chair of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery Group, said in an interview on Wednesday that the organization is now backing Elrich, noting his consistent opposition to Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to widen parts of I-270 and I-495 using toll lanes.
Outgoing Council Member Tom Hucker, who abandoned his county executive campaign to run instead for an at-large council seat, said that despite their disagreements, he and Elrich agree on issues including public education funding, paying for more mental health resources, aggressively combating climate change, and investing in bus rapid transit. Sullivan does not represent the views of most county residents, said Hucker, who lost his primary race.
“Their nominee and their national party are wildly out of touch with the values of most Montgomery County residents,” Hucker said of Sullivan and Republicans.
Council Member Craig Rice, also leaving office due to term limits, said he wishes Elrich the best in a second term. Like Navarro, Rice said Elrich has focused on serving underserved communities throughout the county, including people of color — whether by addressing health disparities or workforce development.
Rice, who represents the more conservative District 2 that covers the northwestern part of the county, said he and Elrich differ on their views about solving the housing shortage in the county. While it’s important to protect naturally occurring affordable housing, the county executive must also focus on building various types of housing to address the shortage, Rice said.
Prospective incumbents weigh in on Elrich’s tenure
Elrich will also need to work with the council’s incumbents, given they win in the general election. Sidney Katz, who is running for a third council term in District 3 representing Rockville and Gaithersburg, said he and Elrich aren’t “in lockstep” on every issue. But he understands that they are often compared, given their political experience in the county.
“I’ve said it many times … but Marc and I are personal friends, and if they ever decided to make ‘The Odd Couple,’ it would be based on Marc and me,” Katz said.
Council Member Will Jawando, seeking another at-large term, believes there is room for him and Elrich to work with the other council members to implement some form of rent stabilization, while continuing to support mental health services for students and assisting small businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Council President Gabe Albornoz, who is up for re-election for an at-large seat, will see his term as president end in December. He believes Elrich’s administration could move more aggressively on housing issues, but thinks he and the county executive align in several other policy areas, such as addressing climate change and improving social programs.
“I think experience helps, and while we may disagree on some policy decisions, the continuity of his administration is important, particularly now,” Albornoz said, alluding to the county’s continued recovery from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some political observers have said that Elrich can be difficult to work with. But in a recent interview, the county executive said he was optimistic that he could continue making progress on several issues in a second term, should he win — noting there will be six new council members if every Democrat wins, and potentially more Democratic leadership in Annapolis and Washington, D.C.
“As well as the county’s doing right now — we’ve been pretty financially healthy — it’s not enough to tackle all those [issues] at the depth that you need to tackle them at,” Elrich said. “So we’re going to need more state support — and you need a governor who thinks these are important things for us to do — and you need a federal government.”