Updated – 5:10 p.m. – Four-term Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal formally kicked off his campaign for county executive in 2018 on Saturday, saying he will put his experience to work for all county residents.
The Takoma Park resident, a Democrat, said during the kickoff event at Wheaton Regional Park that he would advocate for transportation projects such as the light-rail Purple Line and work to address congestion on I-270. He vowed to fight for state education dollars to reduce overcrowding in county schools, and promote initiatives to support the homeless and make the county a more attractive place to do business.
“I’m not running as an outsider to county government or county politics,” Leventhal said, according to a video from his announcement. “I’m running as the guy who understands the mission of every county department and knows how to provide you with government that works for you and gets results for you.”
Leventhal, 54, has served as an at-large member on the council since first being elected in 2002. Prior to joining the council he served as a legislative director for Sen. Barbara Mikulski and a government relations office for the Association of American Universities.
Leventhal has spearheaded initiatives to aid the homeless throughout the county and helped nonprofits access county funds through his role as the chair of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee.
He is one of four council members—including Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen—who must step down from the council in 2018 due to term limits approved by voters in November. Berliner and Elrich are running against Leventhal in next year’s Democratic primary for county executive. Potomac businessman David Trone, the co-owner of Total Wine & More, has said he is also considering running for county executive, but may instead run for the 6th Congressional District seat if Rep. John Delaney doesn’t run for re-election.
Leventhal’s speech Saturday did not mention his competitors, according to a text copy provided to Bethesda Beat. It focused on his government experience and presented a hopeful message to create inclusivity while managing population growth in a burgeoning county.
“I am a progressive for progress,” Leventhal said. “If you give me the chance to lead this government, we will live together as one community. We can provide a working local alternative to the politics of the current occupant of the White House. We can show the rest of America, and the world, that in our community, this beautiful county that we chose to be our home, we can do better.”
Leventhal said Monday the county doesn't have time for an inexperienced county executive.
"I think we need a county executive who can do the job on day one, which I certainly can," Leventhal said.
Though Leventhal’s message emphasized a commitment to unity, he will likely have to battle a perception that he can be intractable and irascible. Former County Executive Doug Duncan, in handicapping the county executive race last month for Maryland Matters, said it can be difficult to talk with Leventhal about issues.
“George has a reputation for… ‘my way or the highway’—and that’s a problem,” Duncan told the political website. The former county executive was also critical of other candidates.
Leventhal told The Washington Post he knows he has “a reputation for being aggressive or lacking people skills” after he got into a tense exchange with county budget director Jennifer Hughes during a discussion about the county’s computer systems in 2014. Leventhal had accused Hughes of inappropriate body language during the discussion.
On Monday, Leventhal said he's trying to be a better listener.
"I'm very open to having a real and frank conversation," Leventhal said. "That means I can be candid with people. I absolutely don't mind when someone disagrees with me and makes their point firmly and strongly."
Leventhal’s tenacity has also helped him push through controversial and significant measures, such as the general ban on pesticides that passed in 2015, which generated cheers from the audience in the council chambers when it was approved. And in 2005, he helped create the Montgomery Cares program that offers a network of community health clinics that serve the poor.
As the county executive campaign began in a behind-the-scenes fashion earlier this year, Leventhal also showed he’s not afraid to challenge his potential competition. In January, Leventhal accused Trone’s alcohol business of engaging in pay-for-politics.
“They’re indicative of just one trend in the [alcohol] industry of paying off politicians to get what they want,” Leventhal said during a public meeting in January. “The Trones have done that over a long period of time.”
That prompted Trone to respond by calling Leventhal a “fool” and “a bully.”
Leventhal said he will use public financing to pay for his campaign. The county is deploying the public financing system, which will supply candidates who participate with matching contributions for small dollar donations, for the first time in the 2018 election. Elrich is also planning to use the public financing system while Berliner said he will rely on traditional campaign fundraising.
Leventhal said Monday he has received 471 qualifying contributions for a total of $39,461, putting him close to the 500-contribution, $40,000 total required for county executive candidates to start tapping into public funds. Candidates that qualify for public funds can begin using them in July.