A new candidate has filed to run against incumbent Tom Hucker in the Democratic primary for the County Council District 5 seat, just five days before the state’s filing deadline.
Kevin Harris, a nonprofit consultant and Silver Spring resident, said Friday he is running because he believes the County Council has enabled too much development to occur while failing to deal with pressing infrastructure issues such as school overcrowding and traffic congestion.
Hucker was running unopposed in the race before Harris filed with the Board of Elections Thursday.
“I think the voters of Montgomery County spoke clearly in the last election that they were looking for new leadership,” Harris, 53, said. “I’m ready to be a servant leader who will truly listen to residents and create a more transparent and accountable local government.”
He said the primary issue he’ll focus on during his campaign is land use and development decisions.
“There has been a tremendous amount of both favoritism shown to developers that I think has had a real negative impact on a number of aspects of life here in Montgomery County including the traffic congestion situation,” Harris said.
He added that he’d like to force developers in the area to pay more in impact taxes when they build their projects to help fund road and school construction projects.
“I don’t believe in giving developers tax breaks when it comes to our schools,” Harris said.
Prior to his consulting work, Harris said he worked at the Baltimore technology startup Social Solutions and ran a catering company in downtown Silver Spring.
He filed to use the county’s new public financing system, in which candidates must commit to only accepting donations of $150 or less. Contributions from county residents are matched with multiples of funds from the county government if a District council candidate raises at least $10,000 in donations of $150 or less.
“One of the things that separates me from Tom is my campaign is publicly financed and he has a war chest filled with thousands of dollars of donations from developers,” Harris said. “Voters need to take a clear look to understand the difference between what candidates say, how they vote and who they receive money from.”
Montgomery County Council District 5 includes downtown Silver Spring, Takoma Park and Burtonsville
Hucker, who reported in state campaign finance filings about $129,000 in campaign cash in January, said in response Friday that he has not been able to participate in the public financing system because the law requires a candidate to have a challenger to receive public funds from the system.
He noted that he previously supported publicly financed campaigns during his time leading Progressive Maryland in the early and mid-2000s and supported legislation that allowed the county to set up the system while serving as a District 20 delegate. He served as a delegate from 2007 until 2014 when he won the District 5 Council seat.
This is the first year candidates can choose to use the county’s publicly financed campaign system.
When asked whether he’ll opt to use the system now that he has a challenger, Hucker said, “I’d have to look at it. I just found out yesterday that [Harris] filed. I’ve been a huge supporter of public financing … of course I’m going to consider using it, but this is all news to me.”
According to state campaign finance records, Hucker has received contributions from developers in the past year, including $3,000 from members of the Abramson family, which own The Tower Cos.; $6,000 from Francis Day and Francis O. Day Inc., a road developer that has worked on several projects in the county; and $4,000 from O’Connell & Lawrence Inc., an Olney construction consulting company that worked on construction of the Silver Spring Library. He’s also received smaller contributions from other area developers and land use attorneys as well as numerous contributions from local unions and dozens of contributions from area residents that were less than $100 each.
Hucker said his challenger is “very new to civic activism.”
“The only thing he’s showed up to in my recollection is opposing better bus service in east county and White Oak,” Hucker said. “He’s very much opposed to [bus rapid transit]. He’s made that clear.”
Harris said he opposes the county’s plan to add bus rapid transit (BRT) on Route 29 and instead supports express bus service on the road. He serves as a board member on the Route 29 Corridor Advisory Committee.
“It’s a classic tale of misuse of taxpayer funds,” Harris said. “At a time when we’re facing a $120 million shortfall, we need to be looking to the most cost-effective solutions that we can to solve transportation problems.”
Earlier this month, Harris accused the council of trying to approve $425,000 to fund a study to examine putting BRT in the median of Route 29 without the proper public hearing process. Harris declared during his testimony he would challenge Hucker for the District 5 seat. After his testimony, the council scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for next week.
Harris said he’s also opposed to “corporate welfare,” such as the county’s $22 million grant to Marriott International to keep the company’s headquarters in Bethesda and efforts to woo Amazon to the county with tax subsidies. The company is considering the county among 20 locations on its shortlist for a second headquarters.
“We should not be paying for a gold path to Jeff Bezos’ office,” Harris said of the head of Amazon. “What we should be asking for instead is community betterment projects from Amazon, they can afford it.”
The Democratic primary is June 26; currently no Republicans have filed to run for the seat. The filing deadline in the state is Feb. 27.
Clarification – Feb. 26 – This article was updated to indicate that in order to receive public funds from the campaign finance system, a candidate must have a challenger. Initially, it said a candidate could not use the system unless he or she has a challenger. The candidate can enroll in the system, but not receive public funds unless he or she has a challenger.