2017 | Politics

Political Musical Chairs Coming to Montgomery County

Term limits and Rep. John Delaney's possible run for governor create a Democratic political vacuum with dozens of incumbents jockeying for new positions

Candidates eyeing new offices in 2018 include (from top left) Rep. John Delaney, David Trone, Del. Bill Frick, state Sen. Rich Madaleno, Del. Aruna Miller and County Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal

Photos provided/ Bethesda Beat file photos/ Official photos

June 26, 2018, could bring a sea change in Montgomery County politics.

That’s the day of the Maryland primary election. With more than two dozen candidates so far eyeing political office at the county and state level, there will be several winners and probably even more losers.

“Compared to 2014, it seems like there are a whole lot more potential candidates gearing up early and we’re over a year from the June 2018 primaries,” state Del. David Moon (D-District 20, Silver Spring) said. “I don’t think we saw this stampede of candidates last time and I chalk that up to a lot of seats opening as well a renewed Democratic energy following the election of Trump.”

 

The Congressional Race

At the top of the political pyramid is Rep. John Delaney, who represents the 6th Congressional District that stretches north from Potomac and includes western Maryland. Delaney is planning to announce next month whether he’s running for governor against Republican incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan. If he does, his seat opens up.

Already eyeing Delaney’s seat are three state legislators—Sen. Roger Manno (D-District 19, Silver Spring) and Dels. Bill Frick (D-District 16, Bethesda) and Aruna Miller (D-District 15, Germantown). Frick and Miller have filed documents with the Federal Election Commission that allow them to start fundraising.

Miller, a civil transportation engineer, would be able to trumpet the potential of being the only woman representing Maryland in Congress. Maryland is represented in Congress by eight male representatives and two male senators.

Frick, the House majority leader and an attorney at the Washington, D.C., firm Akin Gump, has a Harvard law degree and is viewed in Annapolis as someone who is politically quick on his feet.

Manno serves as majority whip in the Senate and is known to have widespread union support, according to multiple sources who spoke to Bethesda Beat about the political jockeying happening in the county. Manno has served in eastern Silver Spring’s District 19 since 2007, first as a delegate and then as a state senator starting in 2011.

Total Wine & More founder David Trone is also considering a run for Delaney’s seat if the congressman decides to run for governor—although Trone may choose to run for Montgomery County Executive instead. In either race, he would be a financial force with the potential to spend millions of dollars on his campaign—he spent $13 million of his own money on his failed primary bid for the District 8 congressional seat last year.

In many ways, Trone is similar to Delaney, a successful businessman who ran on his private sector experience to win in 2012. Trone, if elected, would be one of the wealthiest members of Congress—he reported on financial disclosure forms during the 2016 campaign that he holds at least $17 million in assets and earned between $13.7 million and $27.4 million in 2015, according to The Baltimore Sun.

All four of the Democratic candidates from Montgomery County would also have to generate support in western Maryland’s Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, which overwhelmingly supported Hogan in the 2014 election.

 

The Race for Montgomery County Executive

Because of term limits, County Executive Ike Leggett must step down next year. So far, at-large County Council members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich have announced they’re running for the county’s top leadership post. Meanwhile, County Council District 1 Representative Roger Berliner is considering a run and plans to announce his intentions next month.

The race has the potential to create awkward situations over the next year as the elected officials push for their priorities on a council in which their political opponents are also their colleagues.

Already, there have been some snippy exchanges among council members. Last week, Leventhal criticized Berliner’s council leadership before a vote on a resolution concerning the divestment of county pension funds from fossil fuel businesses.

“Sometimes things get testy, each of us carry our own personalities into these conversations,” Berliner said Monday during his regular weekly press conference. “I remain committed to working with my colleagues on the issues that are important to them and keeping our council collegial and as united as possible.”

District council member Craig Rice is also considering whether to enter the county executive race. Rice said Monday he formed an exploratory committee at the beginning of the year and hopes to make a decision in a couple of weeks. He said that if he doesn’t run, he plans to run for re-election in District 2, where if he wins, he would have one four-year term left before he must step down because of term limits.

Del. Ben Kramer (D-District 19) is also considering a run for county executive. Kramer has championed public safety issues such as anti-drunken driving legislation in Annapolis and is the son of former County Executive Sid Kramer, who served from 1986-1990.

On the Republican side, defense attorney and longtime political gadfly Robin Ficker of Boyds, fresh off leading the campaign for the term-limits ballot initiative that county voters overwhelmingly approved in November, announced he is running for the county’s top leadership post.

Former County Executive Doug Duncan, who served from 1994 to 2006, handicapped the upcoming executive race for the state political website Maryland Matters. He said the winner will have to address growing concerns about increasing enrollment in the county’s school system and a tax base that’s relying more heavily on residential taxpayers. He described Elrich as “the NIMBY standard-bearer” poised to attract anti-development voters, while he lumped Berliner, Kramer, Rice and Leventhal together as “part of the Leggett legacy” of elected officials who represent the status quo in the county. He said Trone earned a significant amount of name recognition from his congressional campaign, but noted that county voters aren’t likely to be attracted to the “change” message of his previous campaign in the county executive race.

 

The County Council Race

Montgomery County Council district map: there are five district seats as well as four at-large seats.

On the council front, Elrich, Berliner and Leventhal, along with at-large member Nancy Floreen, cannot run for re-election next year because of term limits. At least two state delegates are interested in running for council seats—Charles Barkley (D-District 39) and Al Carr (D-District 18).

Barkley plans to formally announce his plans in June, but has told Bethesda Beat he will run for the council. Barkley has chaired the alcohol subcommittee in the House of Delegates since 2011 and had a campaign war chest of just over $205,000 as of January.

Carr said he’s weighing his options and may run for the District 1 seat being vacated by Berliner. He said that knowledge in land use and transportation issues he gained while serving as a Town of Kensington Council member from 2002 to 2007 would prove useful if he was elected to the County Council.

The shift from a state to local elected position may seem backward in terms of career options, but the full-time council post pays about $135,000 annually compared to the $43,500 paid to a delegate in the part-time General Assembly. Part of the appeal may also lie in the satisfaction that local officials can derive from seeing the impact of their decisions—such as funding a new road or approving a land use master plan—while the state legislators tend to work on more broad-based policies.

Two Board of Education members—Jill Ortman-Fouse and Rebecca Smondrowski—are also considering runs for the council, sources told Bethesda Beat, although neither have formally announced whether they will run.

Sources have also told Bethesda Beat that current District 5 council member Tom Hucker is considering running at-large in 2018 to help raise his profile countywide—potentially leaving his Silver Spring-based seat open. Hucker disputed that Wednesday, saying he’s happy in his district seat.

In Bethesda-based District 1—where Berliner must give up his seat—candidates include former tax attorney Reggie Oldak, former Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman and local activist Bill Cook. Andrew Friedson, a senior adviser for state Comptroller Peter Franchot, is also considering a run for the District 1 council seat.

In District 2, which includes Germantown, Gaithersburg and Clarksburg, Republicans Edward Amatetti and Tom Ferleman have filed documents with the state to run for the council seat as well.

District 3 council member Sidney Katz, who represents Gaithersburg and Rockville, is facing an opponent from his own party—Ben Shnider, a 28-year-old progressive challenger who works at the Jewish affairs group J Street. Shnider announced plans in April to challenge the incumbent Democrat.

As for the at-large council race, there could be dozens of candidates vying to fill the positions being vacated by Floreen, Leventhal and Elrich. Early candidates include Rockville resident Richard Gottfried, Chevy Chase resident Chris Wilhelm and Ukiah Busch of Silver Spring, who have filed documents with the state about their intentions to use public financing to run at-large in 2018. Former attorney Bill Conway of Potomac announced his plans to run for an at-large seat on the council in April and also plans to use public financing. Kensington’s Tim Willard is seeking to run at-large for council on the Green Party ticket. Marilyn Balcombe, the president of the Germantown Gaithersburg Chamber of Commerce said in February she plans to run for an at-large seat. Another potential candidate is Evan Glass, who narrowly lost to Hucker in 2014, and is considering a run for council in 2018. Glass is the executive director of Silver Spring-based Gandhi Brigade Youth Media, which offers after-school and summer programs that provide students with training in broadcast and digital media.

 

Maneuvering in the State Legislature

State legislative districts in Montgomery County. Via Maryland General Assembly website.

Turning back to state politics, state Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-Kensington) is pursuing a run for governor. The District 18 legislator is a long shot, sources said, but may be able to generate support by citing his years-long fight for gay marriage rights in the state and his progressive experience. Madaleno first entered the state house as a delegate in 2002. While Madaleno says he’s committed to the campaign, he has until the state’s Feb. 27 filing deadline to formally decide whether he’ll pursue the state’s top political job or run for another term in the state Senate. Sources have said his decision may rest on his ability to fundraise for a race that will likely cost millions of dollars to effectively compete with Hogan.

If Madaleno does follow through with his plans to run for governor, it could set up a three-way race for his Senate seat among the sitting delegates in Kensington-based District 18—Carr, Ana Sol Gutierrez, and Jeffrey Waldstreicher. Sources have told Bethesda Beat all three are looking at moving to the Senate.

“Rich’s state senate seat will need to be filled by someone who can build upon his progressive legacy,” Waldstreicher said Monday in an email. “I’m taking a hard look at it, but my decision isn’t imminent.”

Carr said he’s looking at the state Senate seat in his district as well, but noted “it’s still early.”

As for the county’s House of Delegates seats, political observers say they expect six of the eight legislative districts to have at least one open delegate seat as candidates seek higher office, or in the case of Del. Sheila Hixson in District 20, possibly retire. Hixson is 84 and this year stepped down as chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. The only districts in the county where all three House incumbents are expected run for re-election are District 14 represented by Dels. Anne Kaiser, Eric Luedtke and Pam Queen as well as District 17 represented by Dels. Kumar Barve, James Gilchrist and Andrew Platt.

Dozens of new candidates are also expected to emerge after the dust settles from incumbents pursuing new positions.

Del. Kirill Reznik (D-District 39) says the political mood in the county is starting to feel like 2006 when Republican George W. Bush held the presidency and Republican Bob Ehrlich was governor. That year, Democrat Martin O’Malley beat Ehrlich and Democrats gained 31 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We had a lot of energy then,” Reznik said.

Del. Shane Robinson, the county’s House delegation chair, said he believes the increasing political energy in the county, state and elsewhere is tied to what is happening at the White House.

“There are a lot of people that are very concerned about the Trump administration and are more concerned now as we see, on a daily basis, that there’s another scandal,” said Robinson (D-District 39). “People think they need to do something and they want to become more engaged civically and if you want to be engaged, one way to do it is run for public office.”