Marc Elrich made it official Sunday afternoon—he’s running for Montgomery County executive in 2018.
The at-large County Council member and Democrat from Takoma Park kicked off his campaign surrounded by more than 100 supporters at The Barking Dog in downtown Bethesda.
In a 30-minute-plus speech, Elrich touched on his achievements and priorities—from championing rent control in Takoma Park to pushing for minimum wage increases. He also mentioned his passion for political activism and the experiences that molded him into the liberal elected official he is today.
“I like to remind people I have not become part of the government,” Elrich said. “I have a government office. I’m still a community activist and I still represent the side of the community I came from.”
Elrich said he chose the Bethesda bar because it was a central location for his supporters from around the county to travel to, has plenty of space and was reasonably priced.
The event was the latest in the budding 2018 county executive race that’s expected to attract at least four candidates in the Democratic primary. County Executive Ike Leggett, who hadn’t planned on seeking re-election, must step down because voters approved term limits last year.
Elrich’s colleague George Leventhal, also a Democrat, has said he will pursue the top leadership post in the county, while County Council President Roger Berliner is also considering a run. Elrich, Leventhal and Berliner are barred from running for council again because of term limits.
Meanwhile Total Wine & More founder David Trone of Potomac looms large when it comes to campaign spending. The businessman spent more than $13 million of his own fortune during an unsuccessful campaign for Congress last year, and has said he is looking at entering the race for county executive.
Trone has the potential to vastly outspend other candidates—particularly Elrich and Leventhal. Both are planning to tap the county’s public financing fund, which limits candidates to receiving contributions of $150 or less from individuals that are then matched with up to $750,000 in funds from the county.
On Sunday, though, there was no talk of other candidates.
Elrich, 67, explained how he attended his first anti-war demonstration in 1961 when he was 12. Two years later he attended The March on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, he told about staying in El Paso, Texas, as a young man attending a National Student Association conference and crossing the Mexican border into Juarez to go to the city’s bars. One night when he was returning to El Paso, he saw a boy trying to sell his younger sister to passersby. As he returned to El Paso, he contemplated the differences between the two cities while crossing the Rio Grande—the air and trees were the same on both sides of the river, but he was leaving a poverty-stricken city to return to a nice hotel with air conditioning.
“All that separates us is that someone said I’m drawing a line here,” Elrich said, referring to the border. “This is your life, this is mine.”
Before his election to the council, Elrich taught at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park for 17 years and was a member of the Takoma Park City Council for 19 years.
“I was the champion of rent control in Takoma Park,” Elrich said. “We were a neighborhood that would have easily gentrified totally and completely because we’re right next to Metro. Rent stabilization allowed families that would have otherwise been booted out of the city to stay there.”
He said that in addition to fighting for minimum wage increases on the County Council, he’s most proud of achieving rent stabilization in Takoma Park.
He was first elected as an at-large member to the council in 2006. In 2010 and 2014 he received more votes than any of the other eight council members.
On the council, he led the successful effort in 2013 to incrementally increase the minimum wage and is also behind the bill vetoed by Leggett earlier this year that would have continued those increases until the wage reached $15 per hour by 2020. He also sponsored legislation designed to protect tenants’ rights approved last year by the council and has pursued efforts to bring a bus rapid transit network to the county.
On Sunday, he said he promised to fight against developers and in favor of communities.
“You got to bring communities back into the planning process,” Elrich said. “This process that we have is broken. The planning department is little more than a real estate development wing of the development industry. All they talk about is how tall are the buildings and how much can you put here. And when you say what about the parks, what about the schools, what about the transportation, they say ‘Oh, we have to plan for that down the road.’ ”
He said traffic and congestion are not a sign of success in the county—they are the result of bad planning and a “hole we have to dig out” from.
He plans to pressure developers and businesses to contribute more toward infrastructure costs.
“We have to make developers pay their fair share for things,” Elrich said. “They will not go broke, they will not go hungry. … You need an environment where they can prosper, but you don’t need an environment where they can run over you. That’s the honest relationship between government and the business community—you keep them healthy so you can extract money to do the good things you want to do.”
Elrich has long rejected campaign contributions from developers, and despite planning to use public financing, he says he will continue to refuse contributions from them and land use attorneys.
He also urged the public to be skeptical about PACs and other outside contribution groups. He mentioned Empower Montgomery , which he described as an advocacy group funded by corporate leaders in the county.
That group was founded by Charles Nulsen III, president of Washington Property Co., a developer with significant holdings in the county, according to The Washington Post. The group did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Elrich also said he would pursue economic development programs to help homegrown entrepreneurs succeed in the county rather than chase large companies. The entrepreneurs are more likely to grow in the community and eventually occupy office space here, Elrich said.
He also said he would work to close the achievement gap, protect the environment and run the government more efficiently without pushing for tax increases.
“This county will not tolerate, my sense is very strong on this, they will not tolerate massive tax increases,” Elrich said, adding that he would push for an enhanced procurement process to find the best prices for the county.
The crowd at the Marc Elrich event Sunday afternoon.
Sunday’s event was attended by community members who Elrich has helped over the years. There was Karen Roper, a board member of the East Silver Spring Citizens’ Association and community activist, who Elrich encouraged to push for local amenities from a developer constructing a new condo building next to her neighborhood.
Tony Hausner, who founded the public safety group Safe Silver Spring about eight years ago, praised Elrich for his work on environmental and low-income issues.
Gino Renne, president of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents about 7,000 county employees, posed with Elrich for a photo. While the union has not formally backed a candidate, Renne and Elrich have worked together in the past on efforts to raise the minimum wage.
Matt Losak, executive director of The Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said Elrich earned his support for shepherding the tenant rights bill through the council.
“One of the characteristics Marc has is he takes on unpopular issues and sticks with them for the long haul,” Losak said. “Giving tenants more rights has been very unpopular in Montgomery County. Elrich took it on because he knew it was right and had faith in it.”
On Tuesday, Marc said he was pleased by the turnout
“It’s really gratifying,” Elrich said. “We didn’t fill the room with politicians or big names or anything, it was normal people from normal communities.”