Looking Ahead in 2018: Three Political Questions

Looking Ahead in 2018: Three Political Questions

Money taking on a different role in local races

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Democratic candidates for Montgomery County executive gathered Monday for a forum hosted by the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors. From left: Roger Berliner, David Blair, Marc Elrich, Bill Frick, Rose Krasnow and George Leventhal.

FILe PHOTO BY BETHANY RODGERS

This story was updated at 2:20 p.m. Jan. 14 to correct a reference to public financing for Montgomery County Council candidates. Hoan Dang already has received public funds; Evan Glass has not.

1. Who will be Montgomery County’s next executive?

The race is on to replace County Executive Ike Leggett. Six Democratic candidates are pursuing the county’s top elected office—County Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal; Potomac businessman David Blair; Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda); and former planning department deputy director Rose Krasnow. Republican Robin Ficker is also running for the seat.

There’s no clear frontrunner in the Democratic primary. This month, the first state campaign finance reports will become public, providing insight into how much money the candidates have raised.

Elrich, Leventhal and Krasnow are using the new public campaign finance system, which limits them to spending a maximum of $750,000 in public funds. Blair, a multi-millionaire former health company CEO, might be capable of outspending other candidates in the race if he taps his personal fortune.

The candidates are taking different tacks in the early stage of the race, with the June 26 primary six months out. Berliner, Blair and Frick are trying to woo the business community. The current elected officials, as well as Krasnow, a former Rockville mayor, are highlighting their government experience.

Elrich is casting himself as the leading progressive by publicizing his efforts to raise the county’s minimum wage and other initiatives. He has differentiated himself from his council colleagues by voting against several area master plans—such as the Bethesda, Long Branch and Chevy Chase Lake plans.

However, he voted along with the other eight council members for the controversial Westbard Sector Plan in the Bethesda neighborhood. The master plans guide long-term development in the communities they cover.

Frick and Krasnow have used the 2016 term limits vote, which was approved by about 70 percent, to state their belief that county voters are interested in new leadership. Both candidates have tried to lump the three council members together as unpopular representatives by pointing to the term limits vote.

For example, Krasnow told supporters at her kickoff last month, “What that vote said is people really do want a new voice.” The three council members have had to consistently defend their votes for a nearly 9 percent property tax increase in 2016, which many political observers have said contributed to the overwhelming term limits vote.

Leggett, Berliner, Elrich and Leventhal must step down from their seats due to term limits.

The major issues continuing to percolate in the race include improving the business climate and school system, reducing traffic congestion, pacing development, dealing with new federal policies and managing the budget amidst revenue fluctuations.     

Whoever gets elected, it will be a significant change for the county, which has been under Leggett’s leadership since 2006.

2. Who will emerge as the top contenders in the field of 29 at-large County Council candidates?

Democratic primary voters will have a challenge in front of them when they enter the voting booth on June 26—a list of more than two dozen candidates vying for four at-large County Council seats. Thirty candidates have filed or announced plans to run for the four seats. One has withdrawn, leaving the field at 29 with more than six weeks left until the filing deadline.

Only one incumbent, Hans Riemer, is seeking re-election. The other incumbents, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal and Marc Elrich, all must step down due to term limits.

One consideration is which at-large candidates qualify for public financing. So far, only three candidates—Riemer; community organizer and federal contractor Hoan Dang; and Potomac attorney Bill Conway—have reached the qualifying threshold to receive public funds. At-large candidates using public financing must raise at least $20,000 in individual contributions of $150 or less to qualify. And they must do it 45 days before the primary election.

More than a dozen at-large candidates have filed paperwork with the state Board of Elections to use the public financing system.

The at-large field includes several candidates with government experience such as Del. Charles Barkley (D-Germantown); Gabriel Albornoz, the county’s recreation director; Neil Greenberger, the former council spokesman; Cherri Branson, the county’s procurement director and a former interim council member; and former state delegate John Hurson.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski left the race this week to run for state delegate instead.

Riemer, Barkley, and former Takoma Park City Council member Seth Grimes are the only at-large council candidates to have been elected to public office previously.

First-time candidates pursuing the seat include Chris Wilhelm, a teacher at Northwood High School; Marilyn Balcombe, the president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce; and political organizer Ashwani Jain.

Candidate Danielle Meitiv, a Silver Spring science consultant, generated headlines in 2015 over her dispute with Child Protective Services regarding her free-range parenting style.

One question looming over the race: How do you hold a debate with 29 candidates?

3. Can Miller, Manno or Hoeber beat Trone in the District 6 Congressional race? Or will someone else win Delaney’s seat?

Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone spent a record $13 million of his own running for Congress in an unsuccessful 2016 bid and it appears he’s prepared to spend big on himself in his second attempt.

This time, the Potomac businessman is facing off in the June Democratic primary against Del. Aruna Miller (D-Darnestown) and state Sen. Roger Manno (D-Silver Spring)—his best-known rivals in a field of six Democrats. Miller, who reported having $525,000 in her campaign account at the end of September, and Manno, who reported $171,000, will have to try to fend off Trone, who has donated more than $700,000 to his campaign.

Manno has been collecting the endorsement of several unions, while Miller has received the endorsement of Emily’s List, which financially backs female candidates, as well as Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch.

Democratic Rep. John Delaney is running for president instead of re-election.

District 6 stretches north from Potomac and includes parts of Frederick County, as well as the entire western Maryland panhandle. The district leans Democratic. Voters supported both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the past two presidential elections by more than 10 points.

However, Republicans are hoping they can take the district back. It was held by Republican Roscoe Bartlett for 10 years before Delaney beat him in 2012. However, Bartlett won the seat before the district was redrawn from a heavily Republican district into a Democratic-leaning district following the 2010 census.

Republican Amie Hoeber, a former under secretary of the Army, who lost to Delaney by 16 points in 2016, is running again for the seat. Other Republican in the race include Lisa Lloyd, a nurse practitioner from Potomac and Bradley Stephen Rohrs, a Germantown real estate professional.

Former state Delegate Matt Mossburg pulled out of the race on Friday to focus on working on the opioid epidemic through state legislation.

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