fbpx

Montgomery County Executive

| Published: |
0

Note: Bethesda Beat asked the Democratic Montgomery County executive candidates a separate set of questions. Their responses are posted under their profiles.

REPUBLICAN

Robin Ficker

• Where you live: Boyds

• Date of birth: April 5, 1943

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Attorney and owner of Robin Ficker Law Offices, 1982-present. Maryland real estate broker and owner of Robin Realty, 2008-present. Farmer and owner of Farm Boyds Maryland.

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): State delegate in District 15, 1979-83. Other runs for public office include:

  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (1972)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (1974)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (1976)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (1980)
  • State delegate in District 15 (1982)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 6 (1984)
  • State Senate in District 15 (1986)
  • Montgomery County Board of Education (1988)
  • State delegate in District 15 (1994)
  • U.S. Senate in Maryland (2000)
  • State Senate in District 39 (2002)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 8 (2004)
  • Montgomery County executive (2006)
  • Montgomery County Council in District 4 (2009)
  • Montgomery County Council in District 2 (2010)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 6 (2012)
  • State Senate in District 15 (2014)
  • U.S. House of Representatives in District 6 (2016)

Collected the signatures and placed the following charter amendments on Montgomery County ballot:

• 1974: require voter approval of capital improvement bonds issued by county (did not pass)

• 1976: require voter approval of increases in property-tax rate (did not pass); allow recall of local officials (did not pass); require voter approval of capital improvement bonds issued by county for projects costing more than $1 million (did not pass)

• 1978: forbid county from operating or constructing garbage dumps in residential zones (passed by voters)

• 1980: forbid county from trenching sewage sludge in residential zones (passed by voters)

• 1982: forbid county to contract with C&P telephone if C&P charges upper-county residents long-distance rates to call Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia (passed by voters); forbid the county to sell alcoholic beverages (Court of Appeals bars amendment from ballot one hour before ballot printing deadline)

• 1984: require County Council to run in single-member districts (did not pass)

• 1985: In Ficker v. Montgomery County Board of Elections, federal court overturns newly passed state law that forbade paying signature collectors. State pays $30,000 in attorney fees.

• 1990: limit Montgomery County property-tax rate to 1988 level (did not pass); forbid Montgomery County from spending funds to build projects that state law requires the state to build (did not pass); limit to property taxes goes on ballot when Maryland Court of Appeals rules in Ficker v. Denny that petition circulators who collected voters’ signatures must turn them in to Board of Elections (did not pass)

• 1992: piggyback tax revenues more than a certain level must be offset by decrease in county property-tax revenues (did not pass)

• 1994: piggyback tax revenues more than a certain level must be offset by decrease in county property-tax revenues (did not pass)

• 1996: property-tax revenues more than a certain level must be offset by decrease in county property-tax revenues (did not pass)

• 1998: property-tax revenues more than a certain level must be offset by decrease in county property-tax revenues (did not pass); any Montgomery County tax increase or new tax must be approved by voters (struck from ballot by Circuit Court shortly before ballot printing deadline)

• 2000: limit county executive and County Council to two four-year terms in office (did not pass)

• 2004: limit county executive and County Council to three four-year terms in office (did not pass)

• 2006: limit property-tax-revenue increases to rate of inflation (did not pass)

• 2008: limit property-tax-revenue increases to rate of inflation unless unanimous County Council votes otherwise (passed by voters)

• 2010: limit the county executive and County Council to three consecutive terms in office (struck from ballot by Circuit Court for technical violations)

• 2016: limit county executive and County Council to three consecutive terms in office (passed by voters)

• Campaign information:

1 – Why are you running for this office? (75 words max)

300,000 voters, 70% county-wide, majorities of 253 of 257 precincts voted for my 2016 Term Limits Charter Amendment because they wanted change! 200,000 voters approved my 2008 Charter Amendment requiring unanimous council for property tax increases larger than inflation. It’s saved average home owner >$10,000 since! Our opponents for County Executive opposed these amendments. We delivered for the voters. I’m financed by public financing, not special interests. Please go to Robindeliversforyou.com to learn more!

2 – What is the most important issue in this race and what specific plans do you have to address it? (100 words max)

Fiscal responsibility. No tax increases for the next 4 years. I opposed the recent 9% property tax hike, 30% real estate transfer tax hike, 156% residential energy tax hike, 30% council pay hike, non school zone speed camera taxes, paper bag taxes and consecutive 11%-11%-14% one year increases in county budget, contrary to our opponents. County debt increased at 5 times inflation rate last 8 years and is now 2nd largest item in budget.

We’ll reverse trend. $4,000,000,000 county pension fund and $1,000,000,000 county reserve fund returns are underperforming. Reverse trend. Be thrifty. Eliminate waste. Protect voters’ pocketbooks.

3 – What is one major issue the current county executive has handled poorly and what would you have done differently? (100 words max)

Transportation Gridlock. Improve I-270 and Cabin John Bridge immediately. Nothing has happened for 12 years. Eliminate Grosvenor Turnback. Insist on adequate roads and schools for new development or master plan revision. Westbard and Bethesda plans are examples development without adequate roads and schools requirements. Plan to keep cars out of Bethesda by tripling parking rates — bad idea.

I alone among County Executive candidates have had law office on Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda for 34 years. I uniquely know the problems firsthand.

Ike has done good job with Amazon HQ2 & Crescent Trail. I’ve loved regular office-to-Georgetown bike round trips.

4 – What experience (work, political or other) has prepared you to hold this office? (100 words max)

• Only County Executive candidate with any Maryland Court experience — 35,000+ cases. I’ll keep Bethesda residents crime-safe.

• Honorable Discharge U.S. Armed Services.

• Elected Maryland House of Delegates.

Completed ~25 petition drives of 18,000 signatures each to place Charter Amendments on County ballot receiving >2,500,000 votes, 1974-2016.

• Had Childrens’ Hospital physician wife. 2 Whitman graduate kids: One professional triathlete world travel partner. Another PAC 10 wrestler. 2 grandkids.

• My Rhodes Scholar, Library of Congress, father gave me 6 books/week. Mother, teacher and RN.

• Lifelong County resident, Montgomery Blair graduate.

• Have never met a Montgomery County resident I didn’t like!

DEMOCRAT

Roger Berliner

• Where you live: North Bethesda

• Date of birth: Feb. 12, 1951

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Montgomery County Council member. Previously: president, Berliner Law PLLC; legislative director, U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): District 1 council member since 2006 (council president in 2012 and 2017). Lost in special election for District 1 council member in 2000.

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 67 (born Feb. 12, 1951, Cincinnati, Ohio)

Home: North Bethesda; married, two children

Education: bachelor’s degree, Dartmouth College, 1973; law degree, McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, 1983

Professional background: congressional aide (U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California); policy adviser (California State Assembly); attorney; legal counsel (County of Los Angeles); small-business owner (energy consulting firm)

Political experience: member, Montgomery County Council, 2006-present (president, 2012, 2017)

Q: What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?

A: [I] started as a small businessman … grew a small business and actually was in business more than I’ve been in public life. That experience, [along with] having worked on Capitol Hill, having worked for the California State Legislature, and having represented the largest county in the country, Los Angeles County—all before my service [in Montgomery County]—is, I think, a unique and strong background for this work.

I believe [my] record stands apart, particularly when it comes to knowing the county. It’s a big county; it took me two years on the council before I was able to have a good understanding of the breadth of county government. So I do think it matters that the leader we pick is someone who is conversant with and has been involved with the county.

Q: Even some of those who support you feel that you can be slow to make a decision, perhaps owing to an abundance of caution. Are they on target?

A: I actually take some pride in that I approach my work thoughtfully. I try to make sure I understand the arguments from both sides, if it is a controversial issue, before I make a decision. And I actually think that is the best way to go about our work. But it does not prevent me from moving forward, and of advancing legislation that, quite frankly, has been groundbreaking. I work really hard to reconcile competing truths. That’s how I go about my business. That’s what some people might accuse of being “cautious.” For me, it is trying to strike the right balance. I am progressive and pragmatic. That is my brand, and I stand by it.

I do think that temperament matters. … If you bring a positive spirit to bear, if you’re thoughtful and reasonable, if you bring people together and find common ground, that matters. I feel that is my reputation.

Q: Over the next decade, what do you think are major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: I think the greatest challenge is creating greater shared prosperity. It does mean our county needs to be more competitive economically, it needs to be able to attract as well as retain businesses. And it also needs to make progress addressing what I think is the overarching national issue, which is income inequality and growing poverty in our county. We need to [address] both. If we are competitive economically and grow our tax base, it will give us the revenue we need to make progress on the other. To me, the future is pretty clear. It is an innovation economy. And our county needs to be positioned as a county that itself is innovative, and encourages entrepreneurs and an innovative economy.

Take a look at who are the leaders in the economy today. It isn’t your grandfather’s economy. It is Google, it is Facebook, it is the Amazons of the world, it is STEM [Science Technology Engineering Math]-related. That would be my priority—to create a more dynamic county, a more innovative county, a county that is no longer dependent on the federal government.

Our county is getting poorer. It is shocking. I got involved in creating a hunger plan because our county had never formally said, “We need to reduce hunger.”  And I said, “We’re just giving dollars to nonprofits, and we don’t have a plan?” And now we need [a plan] on poverty, too. That means also that our education system needs to adjust. … Institutions as large as county government, as large as the school system, are, by definition, slow to adjust. So my hope is to be a spur to overcome sort of the natural stasis that sets in and see if we can’t spur a little more innovation across the board. IBM has partnered with communities around the country and created programs that allow particularly lower-income teenagers to find jobs in which they are absolutely prospering. That’s the kind of future that I want to bring about.

Q: Notwithstanding several steps taken in recent years, such as the creation of a small-business navigator, which you sponsored, there continue to be complaints that the county is not business friendly. What additional moves are needed?

A: We do need to change the perception of our county, and I think there are enough things we don’t do particularly well to justify a perception. I just had a meeting where someone was sharing with me his experience of building a 10-foot-by-10-foot shed in his backyard. It took 14 pages [of paperwork] and a plat—and two inspectors. And he’s a land-use expert. He said to me, “I don’t know how somebody who isn’t a land-use expert could possibly have done this; they would have needed to hire a lawyer.”

[If elected], I’m going to have to really dig down in departments like the Department of Permitting Services. Why does it take this long, why do our residents have to go through this kind of process? Aren’t there ways we can make it easier for … them to interact with county government?

Q: There have been frequent complaints that, as the county has grown, public infrastructure has not kept up with private development. What needs to be done going forward to address this?

A: With respect to schools, we have development moratoriums. It used to be that if a cluster [of schools] was over 120 percent [of capacity], you could not develop there—unless there was a plan approved by the County Council that showed we were going to address the overcrowding in the school system. In the last go-round, it was clear that the cluster approach doesn’t work—because there were individual schools that were 140 percent [of capacity]. But if you had a school that was 90 percent, then the cluster didn’t reach the 120 percent [threshold]. So I made the motion to change the test to the individual school. For example, in downtown Bethesda, if Bethesda Elementary School is over 120 percent, we either have to have a solution—or development stops.

We do want development to take place in Bethesda, and we do want our schools not to be overcrowded. In some ways, [this] forces the school system to catch up, and recognize the county has made a decision that it is in the public interest to grow here—so, by God, provide the resources and prioritize to make sure we can do that and not have overcrowding in those schools. It is something that I take very, very seriously, and would be committed to making sure that we do what we need to do.

Q: County Executive Ike Leggett recently suggested altering school boundaries as a way of dealing with capacity issues in crowded districts. Do you agree with this approach?

A: There are certain responsibilities that are not county government’s. [Boundaries are] a Board of Education decision. Do I think the Board of Education needs to seriously examine that? Absolutely. There’s no question that is one of the things that must be on the table. I do believe the county executive needs to be a partner with our school system. We are being asked to write checks of over $2.5 billion [annually]. If I am proposing a budget of $2.5 billion, I want to make sure there’s alignment broadly of how those dollars will be spent and what we hope to achieve—and to have a real understanding with respect to that.

Q: You were part of a unanimous County Council vote in 2016 for a property tax increase that averaged about 9 percent. Leggett urged a lower increase, and there is a widespread view that the hike was a major factor in term limits being approved by voters that year. Any second thoughts?

A: No. It was all about the school system. The county executive proposed exceeding the charter limit [which restricts the growth of property taxes to the rate of inflation without a unanimous council vote]. The difference in the county executive’s proposal and what the County Council ultimately passed was really so on the margin at that moment in time. Everybody understood in county government that given the challenges that our school system faced, that it required $90 million above the maintenance of effort [level required by the state]. We could not do that without raising taxes. The school system in my judgment is one of the pillars of our community. We can ill afford for that reputation to be tarnished.

And now we need to grow our economy instead of raising taxes. It is not my intention [if elected] to be proposing any further tax increases. Do I fully appreciate that our residents have tax fatigue? Absolutely. I feel like we’ve hit the wall on tax increases, which is why I think the focus must be in this race on: “Who do you have confidence in who can grow our economy, who can grow our tax base? Who has the vision that will allow us to prosper without raising taxes?”

Q: In 2017, you opposed a bill, vetoed by the county executive, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. You later supported the revised $15 minimum wage increase legislation that he signed. Are you concerned this law could affect the county’s competitiveness?

A: [Councilmember] Sidney Katz and I worked very closely together to make sure we negotiated a deal that we felt stretched it out in a way that was least damaging to our small-business community. Am I concerned about it? I am, but in terms of the overall equities, it is also true that people work too hard for too little in our county.

Q: Gov. Hogan has proposed to widen I-270 and I-495 and put in toll lanes, similar to those used in Virginia. Is that a concept you support, and what are your transportation priorities?

A: I am a [mass] transit guy, but that doesn’t mean you don’t attend to I-270 and the American Legion Bridge. It is intolerable for people who drive I-270 every day. Now, there are important differences [with Hogan’s proposal to widen I-270 and I-495]. Our council has been on record for years supporting the adding of two reversible lanes to I-270. Anybody who looks at I-270 sees it is a totally peak-driven system. So I don’t get where we need four lanes … and, hopefully, it would be less expensive and therefore the tolls would be less. And what you can do on the Beltway is somewhat of a mystery, because any of us who have driven it see how tight the Beltway is.

If we fix Metro, have the [light-rail] Purple Line, and have bus rapid transit, you have the bones of a state-of-the-art system. And then you can focus on one of the more perplexing problems, which is the first mile/last mile problem: How do you get people out of their homes to the transit? Other communities are now partnering with Lyft and Uber to do that, and I sent a letter to our Department of Transportation saying, “Excuse me, why aren’t we doing this?” Those are the kinds of things I would seek to do as county executive.

Q: One perennial idea to relieve traffic has been to build a second Potomac River crossing in addition to the American Legion Bridge. Is this worth considering?

A: I led the fight against it. It is the antithesis of what we’re trying to create in Montgomery County, which is smart growth, not sprawl. It diverts attention from the American Legion Bridge and fixing I-270. Focus on our existing infrastructure, and make it more efficient. I started a petition drive on the American Legion Bridge. Fix the bridge! It is a national embarrassment, and Maryland owns the bridge.

[As for] the people who would use the second crossing—most of the people who today go across the American Legion Bridge, they’re not going out to Loudoun County. [Their destination] is Tysons, it is inside the Beltway. So it wasn’t ever really serving the greatest needs, and it would just create incredibly more sprawl.

Q: You’re one of several candidates who has spoken about how the county government needs to improve its attitude toward business. Has it also become overly regulatory in terms of the rank-and-file citizen?

A: The short answer is yes: We went further than we had to [to] address serious issues. Look at the bag tax, for example. We are the only jurisdiction in the country that applies the bag tax to department stores. So early on, I said this overshoots the mark and breeds resentment that undermines the legitimate objective of making sure we are taking care of the grocery stores of the world. Those [are the source] of 90 percent of the bags that end up in our streams. So, I sought to pare it back to just the offenders, and there was resistance.

[Regarding the ban on cosmetic lawn pesticides], we were advised by the attorney general’s office that it was likely to be preempted. I also felt that this was a realm in which … we were going from zero to 100 miles per hour in a nanosecond. I felt like we needed to lead our community to understand more fully the dangers. So I proposed an alternative that would have been the strongest pesticide law in the country, short of a ban … and do that for several years and see if it didn’t reduce our use of pesticides by 50 percent.

That, to me, is good government: You lead people to the result you want to take them to without breeding resentment and pushback. Now, there are some situations where you can’t afford to do that, and there are those who argued this was one of them—that lives are at stake. I understand that, too. So I again tried to reconcile what I thought were competing truths.

Q: You’re the one member of the current County Council who had advocated major change to the county’s current public system of distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. How would you propose to make up the $30 million in net annual revenue the county now gets from the operations of the Department of Liquor Control (DLC)?

A: I’ve never proposed privatizing DLC; I’ve proposed ending their monopoly. One of the reasons that is important is that the retail establishments could continue, and other counties that have done similar efforts have found that the county stores still do very well. So this isn’t about $25 million to $30 million; this is about a much smaller dollar amount. The analysis that people have done suggests this is closer to $5 million to $10 million.

I’d phase it in, so it doesn’t have a significant impact … . And then you would have to work a deal with the state. The state is the one that would derive the net economic benefits from it, because the [sales] taxes don’t come to us. So you have to have a share-the-benefits arrangement with the state, which I believe could be negotiated. You work with the state to say, “Isn’t this in your benefit, too?” This creates greater state revenues. Why wouldn’t the state say [to the county]: “OK, in order to get there, we’ll hold you harmless for X number of years?”

My reason for doing this is several-fold. One is for consumers, but [another] is for our restaurant industry. I dare you to have a conversation with any restaurant owner, and ask, “‘Would you prefer to have DLC or not?” It is not a plus for our county.

Q: In 2016, your campaign committee contributed to the campaign against term limits and you’ve indicated you personally voted against it. If elected county executive, would you seek to advocate for its repeal?

A: No. I think the voters have spoken. I respect our voters’ decisions. My experience was in California, where they had term limits—and how quickly that changed the dynamic there. I don’t think it’s been helpful. I do think if you’re going to have term limits, three terms is the best of what I think is fundamentally a bad situation. Twelve years is a significant amount of time.

What we’ve seen in California is that it makes people more ambitious for the next run. It also creates greater room for lobbyists, because [elected officials] are not as familiar [with policy issues]. So the power shifted to staff and to lobbyists, and created more ambitiousness: “OK, what am I going to do next? Where do I go?” And I think [during] your last term of being term limited … you have no accountability. None of that do I find to be particularly appealing.  I defeated an incumbent [when first elected in 2006.] It’s not like incumbency always rules.

Q: You’ve run at the district level. You’ve cited the fact that this is your first countywide campaign—and the need for greater financial resources—in opting not to use the new public campaign finance system. In a time of budgetary challenges, should the county be spending $11 million on this system?

A: There are other ways this could have been done—a checkoff system, which is what’s done in many jurisdictions, so that people voluntarily say, “We consider this to be a priority.” There are other places where this was subject to a referendum. And it was suggested: “How was it that the council acted on something that was clearly going to be something that the council could benefit from, was that in itself a mistake?”

Yes, there are other ways we could have done it that perhaps would have resulted in less public dollars being spent on it—and more individual contributions. Has it produced at least a certain level of the results that many of us sought? I was a supporter of public financing; I like the fact that you have all these new people running, who feel like they have a shot, who feel like there’s a path forward for them to secure the financing necessary to run a decent campaign.

David Blair

• Where you live: Potomac

• Date of birth: Aug. 20, 1969

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Former executive chairman, Accountable Health Inc.; former CEO, Catalyst Health Solutions Inc.

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): N/A

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 48 (born Aug. 20, 1969, Silver Spring)

Home: Potomac; married, six children

Education: bachelor’s degree, Clemson University, 1991

Professional background: health care industry (executive chairman, Accountable Health Inc., 2013-2017; CEO, Catalyst Health Solutions Inc., 1999-2012), minority partner, Monumental Sports and Entertainment, parent company of Washington Capitals and Wizards (2013-present), co-owner, Badlands Playspace (2017-present)

Political experience: none

Q: You’re the one candidate in the Democratic primary field who has not previously held elected office. What else do you feel distinguishes you from the other contenders?

A: I have spent my entire professional life as an executive running a billion-dollar corporation. I have developed unique skills around creating jobs, [exercising] fiduciary responsibility when we have someone else’s money, accurately forecasting revenues, adhering to a budget, stamping out redundancies [and] looking at … how we get more done with less. I ran a company that touched millions of lives, and so you focus on things like first-class customer service.

As a business leader, you’re always coming up with big ideas, you’re challenging the status quo, you’re pulling together groups in a collaborative manner. And then you’re executing—getting things done. I think that’s what this county needs.

Q: After a career in business, what prompted you to decide to seek elected office? And how steep a learning curve do you feel you would face moving from the private to the public sector?

A: I live here. And I don’t need a job—I need good schools, I need roads that aren’t gridlocked. And so I don’t want to leave, and neither am I going to sit home and complain. I believe I’m qualified, I have some big ideas of where this county ought to be, and I think I can lead us there. I am a lifelong Montgomery County resident; I certainly have a keen understanding of the county.

I think it’s easier for an executive to transition into government than a legislator into an executive role. Part of being an executive is setting big goals, and then leading a group of individuals to achieve those. …You are surrounded by the best and the brightest in their respective fields, and we have many of them right here in Montgomery County. So, while I haven’t held an elected office position, I have been an executive, and I know what it takes to recruit the best and the brightest to lead. I think as a leader, you quickly recognize that you’re not the smartest guy in the room and you can’t be—and you need to surround yourself with those individuals.

Q: Over the next decade, what do you feel are major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: I think the biggest priority is creating jobs, because we need to expand the revenue base. Over the past year and a half, as I’ve met with government officials and community leaders, there’s one thing that’s consistent—and that is everyone needs more resources. And I believe that in Montgomery County, we should have the best schools and the best social services. But to do that requires money, and continually raising the property tax and other taxes is not sustainable. If we want to be the best county, we need to pay for that … and [we] can get that through a growing economy.

Q: What specifically do you think must be done to expand the tax base and create jobs?

A: I have a vision that we can be the startup capital of the East Coast. We have the best schools, we have a talented workforce. We have access to some of the best research and development in the country—in the world for that matter—as well as the federal government. I want to set a culture of innovation that starts at the top. So I think about things like reprioritizing our marketing expense. Right now, we spend less than one-tenth of 1 percent of our annual budget on economic development. That’s got to change. Today, it’s about $5 million, and I think it needs to be at least $15 million. As a CEO, when I was around the country, other Fortune 500 CEOs didn’t know what a great place Montgomery County was.

[With regard to] procurement—right now, the county is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on significant projects. I think we need to do a better job steering that money back into our local economy, so that we are doing everything we can to make sure that the home team wins. Incubators are a great way to spur new business. We’re not doing enough of that. I would have silos of incubators around things like hospitality, cybersecurity, health care technology, health care services, green industries as well as expanding what we do in the biohealth side.

Q: Several candidates in this race have cited complaints that the county is not business-friendly. As someone who has done business here, what’s your perspective?

A: That’s one of the reasons I’m running. Having run a business here for close to 20 years … not once did someone knock on my door—from the city of Rockville or from the county or from the state. At first, I thought that’s just how business was, because I was [already] here. But then, as we opened offices in 30 other states, I realized that was not the norm. The other states and jurisdictions took a much different approach to economic development.

While it’s getting better, it is still not a business-friendly environment. When we opened up Badlands Playspace in Rockville, we were told by one inspector: “The lighting looks great. We’ll sign off on it next week. You’re ready to go.” And then the next week, an inspector came in and said: “That wiring will never work. You’ll need to redo that.” We were fortunate that we could afford to get the lighting redone. But it’s just a crime to think there are many folks out there who are maxing out their credit cards and borrowing money from family and friends, [and when] they’re about to open up their small business, they’re told: “The inspector missed it.” To me, what business-friendly means is that if the inspector misses it, we’re going to pay for it—we being the county.

Q: There have been frequent complaints that, as the county has grown, public infrastructure has not kept up with private development. What would you do to address this problem?

A: One of my biggest frustrations with the county is we develop these master plans that include everything from schools to roadways to mass transit. And then we only implement a portion—10 to 15 percent of that plan gets implemented. And then we’re surprised when the residential units go up, and all of a sudden there’s bad traffic, or when the schools are overcrowded.

So for projects like M-83 [an extension of the Midcounty Highway envisioned to run between Clarksburg and Derwood], where the developments were built based on the expectation that those roads were going to be put in place—either we need to build those roads, or we need to find a viable alternative for those residents. But we can’t leave them hanging out there. The residents who have built those homes have counted on that infrastructure.

One of the things I would propose is that not only do we need master plans, we need an implementation plan—so that we’re building the infrastructure while the developers are building residential units. The pace of the development needs to be thoughtful, so that one doesn’t outpace the other. I think we often find ourselves behind the eight-ball where parts of the plan have been implemented that create a strain on our infrastructure. So we need to start investing more in the infrastructure first before approving more developments.

Q: County Executive Ike Leggett recently suggested altering school boundaries as a way of dealing with capacity issues in crowded districts. Do you agree with this approach?

A: I think we have to look at all options, for sure. The tradeoff obviously is that many residents have moved into specific communities for those specific schools, and so we have to be thoughtful about that. But we haven’t been able to fully fund the school budget, we haven’t been able to satisfy their requests for numerous years—and so one way, perhaps, to provide the school system more money would be taking a hard look at school boundaries.

Q: Had you been on the County Council in 2016, would you have been part of the unanimous majority that voted to raise property taxes by an average of almost 9 percent?

A: No. In the position the [council] found themselves in, I think what would have been appropriate would have been to follow [County Executive Ike] Leggett’s recommendation, which I think was roughly a 6.2 percent increase. The council put themselves in a very difficult position, because for 15 years, we haven’t created jobs. We created 3,900 private sector jobs while the population has grown by 150,000. It’s roughly one job for every 38 residents. What that has done is to put a tremendous strain on everything—our roadways, the schools, the tax base.

Q: So, if elected county executive, you would not foresee yourself asking the council to increase property tax revenues by more than the charter rate of inflation—a move that would require another unanimous council vote?

A: No, I would not propose that.

Q: You have indicated that you would not have supported the recordation tax increase approved by the council in 2016 to fund the school system’s capital budget. Would you seek to roll back this hike?

A: My first approach would have been to find those monies elsewhere—to look at the $5.5 billion budget and our … other areas of spending. Would I look to repeal it? Yes, [after identifying revenues to replace it.]

Q: After vetoing an earlier version, Leggett last year signed a bill to make the county the only one in Maryland with a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Would you have signed that legislation?

A: My strong preference would have been to see this measure at a more regional level. You can drive 20 minutes in any direction and be outside our county, and the concern about losing jobs is a real one. And [raising the minimum wage is] at best a partial solution several years down the road. By any study that you see … the cost of living here is significantly higher than $15. In fact, someone would have to work 100 hours a week at $15 an hour to make ends meet. Right now, there are something like 40,000 jobs available in Montgomery County. I would like to invest in programs that train those individuals to fill those jobs. The plan that I am proposing is not how do we get folks to $15 an hour, but how do we get them to $30, $40, $50 an hour—so they can live and work in Montgomery County.

Q: Are you supportive of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to widen I-270 and I-495 and include toll lanes? What are your transportation priorities?

A: I divide [transportation] up into short-term solutions and long-term solutions. What can we do right now for our residents? First, fix Metro. Second, we’ve done a nice job with the east-to-west traffic—the Intercounty Connector and the Purple Line—and we’ve got to start thinking about the north-south. With regard to the governor’s specific plan, it’s easy to be critical, but at least he’s put forth a plan for us to consider. I think we have to have reversible lanes on I-270.

I would make the Ride On buses free. Right now, we’re subsidizing [fares] at about 80 percent. If you look at the utilization of our Ride Ons, you see six people, 10 people in a bus that costs over $500,000. So, we need to fill up the buses, which would get cars off the road and make this county more livable. But if we make it free and people still aren’t going to use the buses, we need to rethink our transportation plan, because there are 12- to 15-passenger vehicles that cost $70,000 that we could be utilizing.

I like the idea of bus rapid transit, but it requires a dedicated lane. I would like to see us make some traction on getting folks out of their cars and onto the buses before we started building new roadways. Transportation is changing rapidly with driverless vehicles, and I would caution us from spending billions of dollars on new roadways while these new technologies are being adopted.

Q: One perennial idea to relieve traffic has been a second Potomac River crossing in addition to the American Legion Bridge. Is this worth considering?

A: We don’t need a second crossing into Virginia. We need to start creating jobs in Montgomery County. I mean, 200,000 people are getting in their cars every morning and leaving this county. We’ve got to stem that tide.

My joke is, “Should we make I-270 24 lanes wide—and put three bridges in so that everybody can get from Montgomery County to Virginia in 15 minutes?” Is that what we’re trying to do? I think alternately, if we’re going to relieve traffic congestion, we’ve got to start creating jobs upcounty.

Q: In addition to improving its attitude toward business, do you feel the county has become overly regulatory in terms of rank-and-file citizens?

A: Yes. In many instances we’ve overstepped, and the law of unintended consequences has played out. I think the bag tax is a good example. We haven’t seen the actual usage of bags decline; the revenue from the tax has been pretty consistent for the last three years. The other unintended consequence is the administrative burden on small businesses. If you’re a grocery store, you get into the routine of issuing these bags. But if you’re running a beauty parlor, and maybe you’re only issuing three or four bags a day, you’ve got to track that and pay it. So you might be spending more money on the [postage] stamp than on the actual tax.

It hasn’t had the desired impact we were hoping it would. I would propose that we ban plastic bags. I have been to our up-county incinerator in Dickerson: 18 percent of what we were burning up there was plastics that could be recycled. As a county, there’s a level of pride that we’re the best and the most environmentally conscious. But yet, there are some things we are not leading the country on, and we need to step it up.

Q: Speaking of regulation, Montgomery County is virtually alone nationwide in its public system for the sale and distribution of liquor. Should this be changed?

A: I think there are bigger priorities in the county right now. It’s pretty clear that if we had a blank slate, this is not how we would draw it up. [But] we find ourselves in a difficult spot because we have these laws that date back almost 100 years … and we’ve securitized the revenues. We’ve used that money to pay for [infrastructure projects] and we’ve also hired county workers. We have almost 300 county workers who are working there [at the Department of Liquor Control].

At my company [Catalyst Health Solutions], one of the commitments we made early on is that we weren’t going to lay people off. Because early in my career, I was at a company that had acquired another company, and there were redundancies. It was my job to lay off a half-dozen folks. Those were workers who had done an outstanding job; they presumably had mortgages, car payments, kids. When I think about the position we’re in in the liquor business, we have 300 individuals with families who are counting on that. So with the solution we come up with, that’s probably the most important thing: What are we going to do with those 300 individuals, and how are we going to make sure they have secure jobs going forward? And then we need to think about how we could replace those revenues.

Q: In 2016, voters imposed term limits on the executive and County Council by more than a 2-1 margin. Was this a good idea, and did you vote for it?

I did. I’m in favor of term limits. There’s such an advantage to being an incumbent. The benefits [of term limits] are new perspectives, new visions and diversity. At my company, when we had new people coming in from different sectors, they had new ideas and brought a new way of thinking that moved us forward. And if one department kept the same group of people for 10 to 15 years, they all patted each other on the back and they said, “We’re doing a great job,” and they weren’t pushing themselves—versus somebody coming in from the outside, bringing new ideas.

Q: You’re among three candidates in the county executive race who have opted not to utilize the county’s new public campaign finance system. Philosophically, is the latter a good idea—and does a candidate such as yourself, who has the ability to self-fund, have an advantage over candidates using public financing?

A: I do think [public financing] is a good idea. I love the idea that we can have so many candidates running. Look at [the primary for] council at-large seats; we have 30 candidates. I think that’s great. The more people we have running, the better ideas we’ll have. When I’m at a forum or a debate, and I hear one of our other candidates, I’m like, “Oh, that’s a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that.” And I imagine that I may say something, and another candidate might say, “Ah, I hadn’t thought of that either.” So ultimately, public financing has given us a bigger field of talent, and I think whoever ultimately is elected will benefit from this.

My preference would have been to put it to the voters to decide whether they wanted to fund it. It seems like this is a voter question [rather than one for] the council. But philosophically, I think it’s appropriate. I think public financing levels the playing field. Right here in our own community, we’ve seen you can’t buy an election by spending a ton of money—that the voters will ultimately decide based on the message and the vision the candidate is putting forward.

Q: You’re presumably referring to David Trone and his $13.4 million self-funded bid for Congress in 2016. This year, word in political circles is that you’re prepared to spend upward of $4 million from your own pocket in the county executive race.

A: We don’t have a precise budget. I think it will be a good balance between my wife and I contributing and collecting money from the community. Right now, we have a grassroots effort to get out there and knock on as many doors, go to as many town halls and be at as many Metro stops as we possibly can. And obviously, we’ll supplement that with some television and some mailings. … I think television and mail play a much smaller role than perhaps in a congressional race.

I do not want to buy anybody’s vote. I want to earn votes one at a time. This is a local election, and, to me, a local election is about getting into the communities and the groups—and earning their votes.

Marc Elrich

• Where you live: Takoma Park

• Date of birth: Nov. 2, 1949

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Montgomery County Council member. Previously: teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park for 17 years; founder and one of the original managers at the Takoma Park food co-op

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): Takoma Park City Council member, 1987-2006. Candidate for Montgomery County Council, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002. Montgomery County Council member, 2006-present.

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 68 (born Nov. 2, 1949, Washington, D.C.)

Home: Takoma Park; divorced, four children

Education: bachelor’s degree, University of Maryland, College Park, 1975; master’s degree (teaching), Johns Hopkins University, 1993

Professional background: teacher (Rolling Terrace Elementary School, Takoma Park, 1990-2006); retail store manager (Montgomery Ward, Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op)

Political experience: member, Montgomery County Council, 2006-present; member, Takoma Park City Council, 1987-2006

Q: What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?

A: I think I probably have the broadest range of experience. I’ve done everything from worked in a small business to, oddly enough, a real estate development [in Howard County]. I was a school teacher in the county. I worked in local government as a [Takoma Park] council member. The legislation I’ve passed has probably been some of the most difficult to get through the County Council. I’m willing to take on hard issues, and I’m consistent: If you ask me a question, you’re going to get the same answer. You’re not going to discover that when you’re talking to somebody, that they’ll say, ‘Well, hey, he told me something different.” So I think I offer a kind of … trustworthiness that people really need.

Q: You caused a controversy in this campaign with a remark about “ethnic cleansing” perceived as aimed at the light-rail Purple Line, with several of your opponents citing it to question whether you have the temperament to be county executive. What is your perspective on this?

A: The ethnic cleansing thing was taken way out of context. When we were doing the Long Branch [Sector] Plan, we all knew the Purple Line was coming through. I thought the [Montgomery County] Planning Board did one of the most unconscionable things that I’ve ever seen a planning board do: It actually went to the property owners of the low-rise apartment buildings and basically wanted to incentivize them to tear down the buildings. I never said that the Purple Line would bring ethnic cleansing. It was what the Planning Board did with this rezoning plan [for the Long Branch area].

I asked at a council meeting, “Couldn’t we just once let the low-income people who live in a community that we’re revitalizing stay there after we revitalize it?” And I got no positive reception. So I [later] said to the planning director, “What you’re doing is ethnic cleansing. And ethnic cleansing doesn’t mean you kill people; it just means that you dislocate them.” Within a week, the planning board withdrew its proposal to rezone all that. So, yeah, I upped the temperature a little bit. … When I said it the nicer way—“Shouldn’t these people be allowed to stay here?”—I got no support. … I have been really troubled by a planning department that has targeted large apartment complexes that are occupied by minorities for replacement, knowing that it would radically change the mix of people there and that we don’t have anywhere else for them to go.

Q: Another criticism often aimed at you: Unlike your two County Council colleagues in this race, you were never chosen to be president or vice president of the council. That, along with your being on the losing end of a number of 8-1 votes, has caused some to question whether you have the collaborative skills to be county executive. 

A: I never really pushed to be [council] president. The president doesn’t have any magical powers; the president has no veto power. The one time I was interested, I discovered there was an expectation that I would trade things … to be president. And I wasn’t willing to say, “I’ll do this for you,” in exchange for a vote. … Working with people and reaching compromises—I’m happy to do. Voting for something wrong—that’s not something I will do. More broadly, I’ve always been uncomfortable—particularly on the land use stuff—being expected to defend the council. I think we have made some fundamentally wrong and irresponsible land use decisions. … So I value my independence.

After the vote on the White Flint [Sector Plan], I raised concerns that it was not working out as planned. And the moment I said that on the dais, two of my colleagues said, “You voted for it.” So there’s a dilemma: If I vote for something that I still think has issues, I’m not allowed to raise the issues—because I voted for it. If I don’t vote for it, then it’s: “You vote against everything, Marc. You don’t support anything. Why should we give you anything?” It’s like forcing people to conform and be silent.

Q: Over the next decade, what do you feel are the major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: I absolutely think this county has to do something about the achievement gap and the poverty gap. We pretty much have the same achievement gap that we had when schools were integrated over 50 years ago. Part of it is because we have almost solely emphasized the schools and haven’t looked at the broader social context. If you don’t deal with poverty, there is no curriculum in the world that undoes the damage coming from a home destabilized by economic problems.

I think we have an obligation to try to redress some of that. Into that, I’d put early childhood education. When I was [younger] and put my kids in the day care program [at] Montgomery College, I did not have to make horrible economic choices, and I wasn’t being paid a whole lot of money. But the cost wasn’t simply just out of control. Today, people are routinely talking about $15,000 to $20,000 to put a kid in child care, and that’s just not a problem for working people; it’s a problem for middle class people.

Q: What are the steps that must be taken to help pay for the needs you have described?

A: If you grow, it’s going to take care of some of that. We should grow jobs in lots of different sectors. I do support doing what we can do without giving away the store. We do incubators; our own study says our incubator programs are weak. I think they need to be more broadly focused—and not just on tech companies, but on craft-working and light industrial uses. But there is no way we’re growing faster than the needs are growing. It hasn’t happened anywhere, and there’s no reason to believe that it’s going to happen here, that you’re going to generate that much tax revenue.

I could give you 20 things in the social sphere that we ought to do. But the truth is we don’t have any money. We can’t even address the needs we have today. What I really believe we have to do is reshape the county government in a fundamental way. We’ve got to look at how we do business. … The employees who work in county government can tell you tales of things that they don’t feel are well done or efficient. And I don’t think we’ve gone to our employees and the unions and said, “Look, we’re both in this together. If I run out of money, you run out of salaries.” They’re as vested in this county becoming sustainable as we are.

I think I can bring the unions to the table. The one thing they’ve said is, “If we’re going to go through restructuring, we want everybody’s job on the line”—not this stuff where “I’ve got a budget crisis, I’m cutting 2 percent, and the easiest thing is to just lay off people.” That’s not restructuring; you’re just chopping whatever gets you to 2 percent. You’re not saying, “How can I run this better, how can I accomplish what I set out to do with fewer resources?”… I’m interested in engaging people in how do we go about making this place more efficient, so that I can pivot people and dollars to some of the stuff that we’re not able to do.

Q: One barrier often cited in attracting new jobs and increasing the tax base is what many feel is an unfriendly business climate. How big a problem is this?

A: I had a meeting in Fairfax County with their planning agency. I said, “I wanted to come over and talk to you, because developers in Montgomery County tell us you’re nirvana and we’re hell—and I wanted to kind of understand what’s the difference between what we do and what you do.” And they looked at me and laughed. They said, “When [the developers] come over here, they tell us that Montgomery County’s heaven and we’re hell.” So I think we’re less unfriendly than the dialogue says. But there are things we do, in what’s required in permitting, in stuff in the building code, where some of the [complaints] to me seem legitimate.

I’ve had a conversation for years with the chambers of commerce, saying, “Set up a meeting with me. Let’s talk about what are the regulations you think are impediments.” The number of times they’ve come into my office? Zero. One of the things I would convene—since as county executive I’m sure they would then come to the table—is [an examination] of what things we require that maybe we don’t need to do.

Q: Speaking of the chambers of commerce not coming to the table, there is a perception among some in the business community that you’re a philosophical socialist in a capitalist society. In fact, the Democratic Socialists of America have endorsed your candidacy. Do you regard yourself as a socialist?

A: I don’t know what it means. I always tell people: “You tell me what you mean, and I’ll tell you if that’s what I am.” I can say I’m a democratic socialist, and the emphasis is on socialist. You could just as easily say that I believe in a democratized economy, and what would you emphasize if I told you that? If you looked at the answer I gave to the Democratic Socialists of America, I actually think that you need a mixed economy—there’s no way the government should run everything—and I’m not sure the government needs to do more than regulate in most spheres. So I’m not into the state-managed and the state-directed economy.

The things that they associated with socialism in the [19]20s and [19]30s? Social Security. A 40-hour work week. Health care. We’ve adopted a whole bunch of things that were once considered socialist. I think the really big challenges for America going forward are dealing with wages, dealing with health care, dealing with the educational challenges and dealing with the legacy of racism. If that’s a socialist agenda, we’re in trouble: That ought to be everybody’s agenda.

Q: There have been complaints that, as the county has grown, public infrastructure has not kept up with private development. Does more of the cost of that infrastructure need to be put on developers?

A: Hell yes. The [Montgomery County] Planning Board got a recommendation from its own staff that they should look at the Virginia system. Because in Virginia … if [a developer] wants new density, it’s “the street is this wide, the sidewalk is this wide, there’s a mid-block crossing—this is what you’re giving us in exchange for the density”… . The planning board rejected that.

We owe it to people to stop calling them NIMBYs when they’re worried about overcrowded schools and [traffic congestion]. One of my colleagues is fond of saying, “Well, you don’t want to be in the place that doesn’t have congestion. Nobody wants to be there.” That’s not an excuse for being irresponsible. I said, “You can have growth, and you can manage it.” If we’re not putting in the infrastructure, it’s not a sign of our success; it’s a sign of our mismanagement.

I think the planning board in its recommendations and the council in many of its votes are just flat out mismanaging. They have the ability to solve this problem. Some of the solutions are not even massively expensive. And time after time, they refuse to do it. … I voted against the Bethesda [Downtown Plan] because we could have staged it. And we refused to stage it knowing it wouldn’t come in balance for 15 to 20 years.

Q: Regarding overcrowded schools, County Executive Ike Leggett recently suggested altering school boundaries as a possible solution to capacity issues. Do you agree?

A: This is a really difficult issue, and it’s made difficult by the geography of Montgomery County. It would be easier if you had this nice clean line, with school systems of one type on one side of the line, and school systems of another type on the other side of the line, and you could just say “I’m going to balance.” But it’s not like that.

Some of our entrenched low-income schools are a long way away from schools that aren’t. And then, you’re not just talking about readjusting boundaries; you’re really talking about large busing programs across the county. I think if you can achieve [student redistribution] in a natural way, that would be the very best thing you could do. But it’s very hard to do, and I think that much busing is going to get resistance. While I do think you should look … to see whether boundary changes can help you, after you do the easy ones you’re still going to be stuck with this conundrum that, when you get east of Georgia Avenue, there aren’t two school districts next to each other where there’s an easy swap between boundaries.

Q: You were part of a unanimous council vote in 2016 for a property tax increase that averaged about 9 percent. The county executive urged a smaller increase, and there is a widespread view that the hike was a major factor in term limits being approved by voters that year. Any second thoughts?

A: I don’t have any regrets. We have struggled to deal with issues in the schools. A large portion of the money is going to the schools, but not all of it. I felt that we have to bring back the libraries, to bring services back to a level that people expected of us. We’ve got the problem that we were never able to recover from the recession; in some parts of our budget we’re funding roughly where we were 12 years ago.

And what people don’t understand is that we were facing [requirements] where [bond underwriters] want you to have reserves at a certain level. We have put tens upon hundreds of millions of dollars into reserves that we weren’t doing before the recession. We could have done a gazillion things with that money if it weren’t sitting in reserve accounts for future retirement benefits—and that’s what people don’t understand. I think we communicated that really poorly. That has taken money away that would have solved all these problems without any tax increases.

Q: As county executive, could you foresee yourself proposing a property tax  increase above the charter limit of the rate of inflation, requiring another unanimous council vote?

A: I would seriously hope not. I feel that before you go talk about a tax increase, I would have to demonstrate to people that I’ve done everything I can do to lean out the county, to make sure we’re as efficient as possible, that I’ve taken people and been able to repurpose them, rather than just going to taxes first. I think the days of going to taxes first are over.

Q: As the sponsor of the 2017 minimum wage increase, does the $15-per-hour rate put the county at a competitive disadvantage?

A: Not for the kind of businesses we’re trying to attract. Businesses which are what we say we want—which pay decent wages—are not minimum wage businesses. Most businesses [in the county] pay more than minimum wage, so it doesn’t even affect most businesses. The businesses that don’t pay more aren’t really geographically flexible. If you’re a McDonald’s owner, I’m sorry, you’re not going to leave here and go to Virginia. None of your customers are driving across the river to go to McDonald’s.

My minimum wage push was as much about schools and school kids as it was about anything. My goal is to try to stabilize the lives of low-income people, so that [they don’t face] issues like “Where am I going to live next month?,” “Do I have to choose between food and medicine?” and “Am I going to leave my 4-year-old at home with my 8-year-old because I can’t afford child care?” All those things become problems for kids. I don’t think children should be dealing with adult problems.

Q: Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed to widen I-270 and I-495 and put in toll lanes, similar to those used in Virginia. Is that a concept of which you support and what are your transportation priorities?

A: I-270 is easy: Go ahead with reversible lanes. There is no need to run two lanes north to Frederick in the morning. And I don’t need two extra lanes going south in the evening. The Beltway is really problematic because … you can’t mess with Rock Creek Park. So unless they’re going to deck the Beltway, which I actually heard is one thought, I don’t see how you do it.

I’d like to build out bus rapid transit. This is critical, because people tell us transportation in the county is one of the major impediments to economic development. And you’re not going to solve it with roads; I think everyone agrees that you’re not building another road into Bethesda or Silver Spring or Wheaton or Rockville. If you’re not building roads, you’ve got to get a transportation system. I’ll say that if we land the Amazon deal, I will be 100 percent vindicated on this, because the means of getting people to Amazon is going to be a bus rapid transit route.

Q: You’ve indicated you support the continuation of the county’s current public system of liquor control. Can you discuss your reasons, and whether you feel any changes are needed in that structure?

A: I think they’ve begun making the changes. [The county] hired two actual professionals—one to run the warehouse, one to run the system—which is what you’re supposed to be doing if you’re running a business … . [The current system yields] real dollars that come into the county government that would have to be replaced. And there is no replacement source. The governor is not going to take the equivalent of their tax and hand me $30 million. That’s not going to happen, because every other jurisdiction would then say, “Well, we want our share of the liquor tax.” And when you’re done, the state has no liquor tax. So I think that [proposal] is—stupid is not too strong a word. You can’t just make up solutions to a problem.

And then I get this argument that you’re going to get rid of the monopoly from people who know the whole state system is a monopoly. There are something like seven or eight major distributors. They sell at the same price in every jurisdiction in the state, they do not carry the same lines or compete against each other, so you have no less of a monopoly if the county is gone. So people have been fed this line that you’re going to get competition, you’re going to get lower prices. It’s bogus.

Q: During the 2016 campaign, you contributed funds to an unsuccessful effort to defeat the referendum imposing a three-term limit on county elected officials. If elected county executive, could you see yourself seeking to reopen this issue at some point?

A: I wouldn’t do it myself. I’d do it if there was wide support for it. [Term limits are] a philosophical bridge too far for me. That’s why you have elections. If you don’t like people, don’t vote for them. And I thought if they could mobilize people at the scale they did—supposedly to vote for term limits—they could have just as easily gotten rid of the people they don’t like. … So I’d prefer more democracy and more debate rather than just forcing people to leave after 12 years. If it had been five terms, I might not have objected to it. That’s 20 years; it’s like a generation—and then it passes. That’s less of an issue to me.

I do think public financing kind of addresses some of this, because it’s hard to break somebody if you have a system where you can get unlimited amounts of money from one particular industry—and then drown out everybody else.  But if you have a system where you have public funding and candidates can become viable, it’s more likely that incumbents can be challenged. If you can show you’re getting a modicum of support in the community, you can get enough money to challenge incumbents and run real races.

Q: You’re one of three candidates in the Democratic primary who has chosen to use the county’s new system of public campaign finance system. What’s your response to one of your rivals for the nomination who has questioned spending $11 million for public funding of campaigns at a time when a revenue shortfall recently prompted more than $50 million in cuts.

A: I don’t think it’s going to get to $11 million; people are struggling to qualify. And I think democracy is worth the price. Having this county controlled by large contributors from one industry is wrong—and there’s no way to break the power of that industry without having the ability of people to raise money and campaign.

Bill Frick

• Where you live: Bethesda

• Date of birth: Dec. 30, 1974

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: State delegate. Attorney with Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP.

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): District 16 state delegate, 2007-present

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 43 (born Dec. 30, 1974, Silver Spring)

Home: Bethesda; married, two children

Education: bachelor’s degree, Northwestern University, 1997; law degree, Harvard Law School, 2000

Professional background: attorney (Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, 2000-present)

Political experience: member, Maryland House of Delegates (2007-present); House majority leader (2017-present)

Q: What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?

A: I think I hit the ideal sweet spot in terms of experience. With the overwhelming vote in favor of term limits, the voters sent a clear message they’re ready for a new set of leaders in county government … which really, I think, rules out the existing [County] Council members. Getting around the county, you hear time and time again frustration, and an interest in moving forward beyond these council members.

Yet I also know this county well. I know we like to give promotions to people who have proven themselves. With 10 years under my belt in Annapolis, having moved up from a freshman appointee to House majority leader … I think I really am ideally suited to be a change agent, but also someone with a proven track record.

Q: When Gov. Larry Hogan recently floated the idea of term limits for state legislators, you told The Washington Post: “I’m a much better legislator now than I was in year one.  With too much turnover and people constantly learning, you’re not going to have as effective a legislature.” In general, do you think term limits is a good idea?

A: I think in this instance, we did need a change. There’s a reason Montgomery County voters didn’t enact term limits the times it appeared on the ballot previously. But this time … voters tell me again and again that they don’t feel these council members listen to them. There is a sense that my opponents have been there so long and were insulated from the actual voters that sent them there. So it’s not normally something that I would embrace, but I do think there’s a reason 70 percent of voters felt it was time … . I voted for it. I felt like a lot of my neighbors that we needed some new blood, and this was the way to get it.

If you have very short term limits … sure, there are problems with gaining institutional knowledge. There are benefits to having spent some time in government: it’s like any job, something you can get better with over time.  [But] this is a three-term limit. Twelve years is not a short amount of time. I’m leaving the Legislature after 10 years, and I think it’s healthy. I think it’s great our district gets to elect someone new with a new set of ideas and energy.

Q: You’re one of two people in this race who have not previously held a county office, and your background is in a legislative rather than executive capacity. There are some who suggest this would put you at a disadvantage in stepping into the role of county executive.

A: Many of the most important issues facing the county in the next term will actually be state issues. Education is the No. 1 priority for many of our citizens, and the most important thing in education over the next four years is going to be the Kirwan Commission, and the funding decisions that come out of Annapolis. (Editor’s note: The commission, chaired by former University of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan, was created in 2016 and is working on proposed revisions in the allocation of state aid for education.) And I think I showed in state government that I could flatten learning curves pretty quickly. I got there without any particular expertise in taxes, and I was the chair of the tax subcommittee within three years.

When it comes to executive leadership, I think temperament is a pretty important piece of this. We’re going to need an executive who can chart a clear vision for the county and be a strong leader, but also be a diplomat and represent the entire county. You can say bombastic things when you’re one of nine council members. You can accuse people of ethnic cleansing and, in the case of the council, there are eight other voices … to disagree with you. When you’re chief executive and you have both administrative authority and sort of symbolic importance, it’s not appropriate. (Editor’s note: Frick was alluding to a comment made late last year by Council Member Marc Elrich, a rival candidate for county executive, who accused the Montgomery County Planning Board of “ethnic cleansing” in its 2013 sector plan for the Long Branch community adjacent to the route of the future Purple Line.)

Q: Over the next decade, what do you feel are major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: The most important is growing our tax base. We are 20th out of 24 local jurisdictions [in Maryland] in job growth. Coming out of the recession, our per-capita income [growth] was negative 1.7 percent. D.C.’s was plus 6 percent. [In Virginia], Tysons 10 years ago was a mall. Tysons today is the economic center of a city. Meanwhile, you can’t point to much in Montgomery County that has that same kind of excitement and transformation.

There’s certainly no question that the number of people in need in our community has grown. People still think of Montgomery County as this affluent community, and in some ways we are. You can drive around Potomac and you see that. People might not believe that 41 percent of the kids in our elementary schools are on free and reduced meals. We as a community want to welcome those kids and guarantee they’ve got a bright future. But we’re going to have to have a robust tax base to afford that.

Q: Given that increasing the tax base is your major priority, what specifically must be done to accomplish that?

A: The first thing starts with A—and that’s attitude. We have got to show we are welcoming to businesses large and small. Too often, our businesses feel like local government is their biggest opponent, not their biggest ally. I walk into small businesses around this county, and when you tell them you’re an elected official and you want to help, they stare at you in disbelief because their experience has been one of obstacles, delays, permitting challenges and so on. So we’ve got to show them we’re on their side, and that’s more than just throwing big packages at corporate opportunities every few years.

Too frequently, I hear comments from council members that make it seem like the private sector is the enemy, [that it’s] responsible for holding down workers. As [former Lockheed Martin CEO] Norman Augustine says, you can’t be for jobs and against employers. So that attitude has to shift. We’ve got to be more consistent. I don’t think you need to be a low-tax jurisdiction. You don’t even necessarily have to be an ultra-low regulatory jurisdiction. But if you want folks to make investments in your community, they need to know the rules aren’t going to change on them in midstream. I think we have done ourselves a disservice by constantly going back to rewrite our tax formulas.

Right now, millennials don’t want to live in Montgomery County. We are not presenting a particularly attractive option for them. They are much more interested in the urban walkable communities in D.C., and some of the communities they have built in Virginia. They want to be able to walk to vibrant nightlife, and a lot of them never want to own cars. So you’re going to have to have walkable communities, and you’re going to have to have an effective transit system.

Q: Besides expanding the tax base, are there other steps that should be taken to help find revenues to meet some of the needs you’ve previously cited?

A: We haven’t seen terribly significant institutional reform in the county. It feels like this is still the county government of 1968. And our challenges are a lot more complicated and a lot more complex. … I don’t think we’ve been questioning why or how we do certain things. I think it has been easier to raise taxes to pay for new programs than it has been to question whether every program needs to be funded. I’m familiar with that from Annapolis: When I’ve tried to get rid of tax credits, even tax credits we know don’t pass a cost-benefit analysis, the beneficiaries come out in droves and it makes it very hard to [achieve] reform. But it’s got to be done.

I look around at county government and I see things that don’t make sense in 2018. Why are we still running our own public access cable networks in an era of YouTube and Facebook Live? I can get more viewers by flipping a button on my cellphone than we get from millions of dollars a year running our own private media empire. Frankly, we still do it in part because it benefits the council members. It’s a broadcast outlet for their careers. … We spend millions of dollars a year with dozens of 311 operators in an era in which the last thing you want to do with your cellphone is actually make a phone call. You can report some of the same information using an app, and that information can go directly to the actual agency that provides the service. Ask yourself—are you more likely to report a pothole through 311, or through Waze [the traffic navigation app]?

So there are ways we can be using technology to deliver services faster, more efficiently and more cheaply. We can’t just keep doing things the same way we always have because that’s what we’re used to or because there’s personnel associated with it.

Q:You’ve been advocating an end to county control of the sale and distribution of liquor. A major sticking point has been that it now produces up to $30 million annually in net revenue to the county. How would you go about replacing that money?

A: I don’t think that really has been the sticking point. There’s an underlying political dynamic—I think the pressure from [UFCW Local 1994] MCGEO [which represents about 350 employees at the county Department of Liquor Control] is the real issue behind it, and the revenue is the ostensible reason.

I have proposed a way to [deal with] this, which is to share increases in the sales tax. That’s the cleanest and most obvious way, because we know that sales are leaving Montgomery County and going to Northern Virginia and to D.C. If we get out of the [current] system, we’re going to see a lot of those sales come back. It’s just that the sales tax revenue flows to the state. So, if we’re able to get the state to share some of those revenues, over time that could be a much bigger source of county revenue than even the DLC [Department of Liquor Control] is.

Q: Given the financial demands facing the state government, do you believe the Maryland General Assembly would be willing to alter the sales tax revenue formula to benefit Montgomery County?

A: The bill that I pitched would have shared it with all the counties—knowing full well that, if there’s a benefit out there, it’s not going to be able to flow just to us. It would require getting some buy-in from the governor and some other fiscal leaders, and I think we can get that.

In the grand scheme of things, this is eminently solvable. This [change] is supported by what, 70 percent of the public? They’re tired of excuses. This isn’t just some parochial issue that only affects a handful of oenophiles. This is an economic development problem. What we’ve seen in D.C. is that food culture, and beer and wine and cocktails culture, are a great economic driver. We don’t see much of that in our county right now, and the DLC is a big part of that. [I’m told] the reason that [chef] Bryan Voltaggio opened his second restaurant across the line in Friendship Heights in D.C. is because that put him 100 feet outside the reach of the DLC.

Q: Had you been on the County Council in 2016, would you have been part of the unanimous majority that was required under the county charter to raise property taxes by an average of almost 9 percent?

A: No, I would have done what County Executive [Ike] Leggett recommended. If you remember the history, the [state] Legislature was able to get some relief on payments related to the Wynne tax decision [which mandated refunds to county residents who paid local income taxes elsewhere]. [Leggett] urged [the council] not to increase [taxes] as much as they did. Ike has made it very clear that the additional revenue never went to the school system. And that’s what I hear when I’m talking to folks around the county: “We don’t mind paying taxes if it’s for schools and roads and cops. We get frustrated because it feels like the taxes have gone up, and then gone into pet projects for the council members.”

[Editor’s note: At issue is about $18 million the council approved for fiscal 2017 above what Leggett had proposed—money that went to programs outside the schools. This included a $4.5 million contribution to the county’s new public campaign finance system and $2.7 million to restore staff reductions at a couple of local fire stations; the largest portion, $7.7 million, was to cover increased costs in programs funded by the county Department of Health and Human Services. The council also reduced Leggett’s request for nonschool programs by $5 million, for a net increase of $13 million over the executive’s proposed budget.]

Q: If, during your tenure as county executive, the council again wanted to raise taxes by more than the rate of inflation, would you support it?

A: Absent unusual circumstances, no. It’s time for us to live within our means and to fund the priorities of our voters, not just the priorities of the politicians. Our priorities need to be … schools, roads, public safety. If it’s not in those three categories, we need to step back and ask whether that should be the priority.

Q: You have pledged to move to repeal the recordation tax increase enacted in 2016, and suggested that, had you been in office, you would have instead sought more school construction aid from the state. How viable is this, given that the county in recent years has received less in school construction funds than it has requested?

A: The recordation tax experience was a really frustrating one, particularly for the Realtor community, because they didn’t feel like they had a voice in the process. They felt like it was sort of railroaded on them. And then many of them felt they were accused of being against the schools—which is preposterous, since Realtors making a living off having healthy, successful neighborhoods, and that depends on schools.

We have effectively doubled the state school construction money to Montgomery, because that was the county’s priority and we made it our priority as a delegation. We have made good progress. We need to be doing more like that. We need to work Annapolis as a united front, and the county executive plays a big role in that. In my career, I’ve seen Prince George’s [County] be much more effective at being opportunistic for funding opportunities. And sometimes, Montgomery County’s delegation is so ideological, we have a hard time putting opportunism and parochialism first. I do think one of our challenges as a delegation has been trying to make folks from other jurisdictions understand that their perception of us as a highly affluent county misses a lot of what’s been happening—that we have growing poverty and real needs.

Q: One complaint heard in recent years is that, as the county has developed, public infrastructure has not kept up. Is there a case to be made that private interests should be asked to contribute more toward this as they profit from development?

A: I don’t think we have been going easy when it comes to taxes on developers—or homeowners. Sometimes it’s a matter of getting the council to say yes to projects. It’s easy to say no to projects, and there are vocal organizations—whether it’s communities or interest groups—that oppose various projects for various reasons. We’re going to have to say yes to some things.

We’ve got to say yes to something to solve the problem of I-270. Who would have believed 12 years ago, when these folks took office, it would not have gotten any better? And I think that’s part of where you get the frustration you saw on term limits. Taxes go up; the quality of life has not.

Q: Are you supportive of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to widen I-270 and I-495 and include toll lanes? What are your transportation priorities?

A: [The governor] deserves credit for at least proposing something on the scale that we need, [but] I think a lot of us are particularly skeptical about the Beltway widening, if only for physical constraint reasons. I’m not sure financially how an entirely public/private partnership will work for I-270, but, by God, we’ve got to do something. I-270 has been a mess long enough.

I think we should be fundamentally revisiting how we do busing. One of the things I’m pushing in this campaign is embracing technology to deliver services. Why are we still running buses in the 1925 model of a set schedule with set routes in 2018? In the era of Uber and Lyft, you don’t need to stand outside next to a metal sign for almost 45 minutes hoping the bus will pick you up. You can press a button on your phone and there will be a minivan there in five minutes. I don’t want to have, on a Saturday night, a fleet of buses driving around empty. It makes no sense financially or environmentally—and it’s not good service.

Q: One perennial idea to relieve traffic has been a second Potomac River crossing in addition to the American Legion Bridge. Is this worth considering?

A: I think it was awfully foolish for the council to vote not to even study another crossing without some alternative identified. I understand the skepticism, but, by God, we’ve got to do something. [The American Legion Bridge] is a bottleneck seven days a week, and you’re not going to solve the regional transportation challenges without some improvement to that bottleneck. I don’t know that I would endorse a second crossing, but I sure take issue with the idea that we shouldn’t even look at it.

Q: After vetoing an earlier version, Leggett last year signed a bill to make the county the only one in Maryland with a $15-per-hour minimum wage. Would you have signed that legislation?

A: I would have worked all along for that to be an issue taken up by our state legislators rather than our County Council. I share the basic notion that if you’re working full time, you shouldn’t be living in poverty, and I have supported minimum wage increases. [But] employment regulation doesn’t make a lot of sense at the county level. We don’t even have an appropriate department to enforce those rules.

Q: Are there other areas of regulation that you feel are an overreach at the county level?

A: I don’t think we need our council to be a tiny Congress or a tiny United Nations—and sometimes it feels like the breadth of their ambitions jeopardizes our ability to succeed on the core functions. I thought it was a little sad in the days leading up to Discovery’s departure [from Silver Spring], the big priority for our council was whether to include kangaroos in a circus animal ban. There was an old joke that went around that the council could deal with transgender and trans fats, but couldn’t deal with transportation. And sadly, there’s some truth to it. That’s not to say we disagree with how they feel about transgender or trans fats. But it’s a sense that we need the focus to be on the quality-of-life issues that local government is there to work on.

Q: You chose not to participate in the county’s new system of public campaign funding. Why?

A: Like a lot of folks, I have no objection to public financing in the abstract. But when you look at the fact that this is funded with $11 million out of the general fund in a time when other priorities are having to take hits, it didn’t feel appropriate. If there were another source of funds for public financing, if it was more of a voluntary system, great. The state and the federal [public campaign finance] systems are more voluntary.

The $11 million can put over 100 teachers in the classroom. It can put 75 cops on the street. I don’t know that I would rather have hundreds of thousands of dollars of [council member and rival candidate] George Leventhal signs than teachers in the classroom. I think our priority ought to be raising taxes for serving the public, not for serving the politicians.

Rose Krasnow

• Where you live: Rockville

• Date of birth: June 18, 1951

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Deputy director of Montgomery Planning Department, part of M-NCPPC, retired at the end of 2017. Smart Growth policy analyst, National Governors Association. Government bond trader, Oppenheimer and Co. Inc.

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): Mayor of Rockville, three terms, 1995-2001. Rockville City Council member, two terms, 1991-95.

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 66 (born June 18, 1951, Memphis, Tennessee)

Home: Rockville; married, two children

Education: bachelor’s degree, Washington University in St. Louis, 1973; master’s degree (Urban and Regional Planning), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1975

Professional background: Montgomery County Planning Department, 2004-2017 (acting director, 2012-2013; deputy director, 2013-2017)

Political experience: Rockville mayor (1995-2001); member, Rockville City Council (1991-1995)

Q: What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?

A: I’m the only candidate who has both executive experience and a tremendous knowledge of the county. I also have a proven track record in terms of the things that I got accomplished when I was mayor of Rockville and at the Planning Department. The Planning Department, to me, is the perfect complement to being mayor: I got to work with all the different neighborhoods in the county.

Q: One of your opponents, Del. Bill Frick, recently took a swipe at your planning background, saying, “I don’t think when you get around the county there’s a sense that this is a particular area of excellence and citizen satisfaction.”

A: He is right about one thing: A lot of people don’t like development. And so, yes, if he said, “Do you think it’s good that Rose is from the Planning Department,” people would probably say, “Oh, they’ve approved way too much development.” It’s something I’m very proud of because if the county doesn’t grow, it stagnates, and if we want to have money to do all the wonderful things that we do, we better continue to grow, or what the residents will find is their taxes continuing to go up. … I think the fact that I am so unabashedly saying I would like to encourage more economic development is something that sets me apart from several of my opponents.

Q: The Planning Department is sometimes criticized by citizen groups as insensitive to their concerns. As a potential county executive, does this need to be addressed?

A: Yes and no. People hate change. What I think is great is that planners have the courage—and I do mean that—to realize things aren’t going to stay the same, that we have a growing population and need to provide places for them to live. They can put up with the tremendous resistance [they] get … and actually make sure that the county is able to grow and thrive.

Now here’s where I’m on the side [of the critics]. We always bragged at the Planning Department that our plans were in balance, that we don’t allow any more growth than what we have infrastructure for. But the development moves forward, and the infrastructure promised in the plan does not get funded. It’s not the Planning Department’s job to fund it; that’s the county’s. And I would try very hard to get some of that provided. So I do think there’s a reason that people feel they’ve been sold a bill of goods.

Q: Over the next decade, what do you feel are major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: One of the reasons I got into this race is that I really felt that the demographics of this county have changed so tremendously and that we talk a good game, but we don’t live it. We say that we welcome the changing Montgomery County, but the fact of the matter is that we continue to perhaps favor certain ZIP codes with some of our policies. As a result, I don’t think the quality of life [in some communities] is the same as others, and I would really like to put in programs that would make it more equal.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. It was not a well-to-do city, and it was a very segregated city. I worked very hard to make sure that the African-American community in Memphis was able to get the same education, the same services as others were. That really shaped a lot of who I am, and I see some of the same problems in 2018 that I saw in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

I’m all too well aware that we have schools with really high FARMS [free and reduced-price meals] rates, really shockingly high. So I’m a big believer in trying to do more with community schools [utilizing] wraparound services. … I would like to see us expand our pre-K education. It’s expensive, but I still think it saves you dollars in the long run if you can get these young children ready to learn. We know that a lot of them are not getting a lot of support at home, and we need to try to step in and make sure they’re ready for school.

Q: Notwithstanding your experience, are there areas where you feel you’ll face a learning curve if elected?

A: One of the things I hadn’t quite realized until I got on the campaign trail is that while the school budget is such a large part of the county budget, [and] because there is an elected school board, the county executive does not really get to decide how that money is spent. For me, it’s really figuring out [if there are] programs that we currently support in the schools that either aren’t producing what they should be for what they cost, or are there ways to re-prioritize? And I think if we reach out [to the superintendent and school board] and really sit down and talk, maybe there are some things we can change.

I’m certainly hoping that, at the state level in 2019, they’re going to look at some of the [education] funding formulas. We definitely get shafted because we’re better off than some other counties, but we’re where the needs are. We’re the ones who have this incredibly high minority population in our schools, and we should not be getting penalized because our average income is higher. Another response to Mr. Frick is, “Where are all the dollars he should be bringing back from Annapolis?,” because we have not gotten our fair share.

Q: What needs to be done to grow the county’s tax base to fund the needs you’ve cited?

A: One of the first things is to simply make the business community feel like they’re appreciated here. I’ve talked to several well-known developers and consulting firms and others who really say they’re ready to throw in the towel. It was obviously great to be on the short list for Amazon, because it does point out that we really have a lot of things going for us. So why are we viewed so negatively? I do think that the business community would like to feel a little better appreciated.

We have made some real improvement in the [permitting] process. Things that used to take a year and a half are now being done in 90 to 150 days. … But I do think that we go out of our way to add layers that we may not need to. [At the Planning Department], because I started in development review, people were used to coming to me to help them get projects through the maze, so to speak. What was always interesting to me is that there seemed to be a certain [attitude]—not by everybody, by any means—where instead of saying, “This is a great project, let’s see how we can get it done,” it was more “Ah, this is a big project. Let’s see what we can find that might hold it up.”

I never really understood that. It shouldn’t be adversarial; we’re all trying to benefit the county. And hopefully we can all work in that direction.

Q: You earlier brought up the problem of public infrastructure—particularly roads and schools—not keeping pace with private development. How would you remedy that, while finding the needed funds?

A: The county really has some financial problems right now. And I felt the County Council’s pain last year when they were deciding to increase impact and recordation taxes, because the school system is growing at 2,400 students a year. But the school system owns a lot of property that they just don’t seem to want to use to build new schools. We used to get land for free through the development process. You’re not going to get land for free any more, when it’s multimillion dollars per acre. So we need to [ask], “Well, this is how we were doing things—how can we change it?” At the Planning Department, we kept encouraging the schools to build up, not out—[while] looking at ways to co-locate schools and parks or other facilities to try and save money.

I agree that [County Executive] Ike Leggett was very smart to keep building through the recession, because costs came down significantly. Now, these projects are 30 to 40 percent more expensive. But I do also think that we overbuilt some things in the county, and I think we have to be more frugal.

If you look at some of the libraries they built for example, they are very expensive buildings because of fancy architecture, very high ceilings. I’m not sure it’s actually the most practical layout—and I say that about the Rockville Library, which I worked very hard to get. What’s wrong with a somewhat smaller, cozier library? Do you get the same level of service? I think you do. So maybe we shouldn’t quite be spending as much money.

Q: Speaking of Ike Leggett, at a recent budget forum, he suggested looking at school district boundaries as a way of dealing with capacity issues in the system. Is that something you would entertain as county executive?

A: We do already make boundary changes: We do them as rarely as possible because they are always so controversial. And yet … there is a limit at which schools can really be productive in terms of turning out good students if you just keep making them bigger.

So, absolutely, school redistricting would have to be on the table. … If we can take property we already own and build a new school, although I know people would be unhappy that their children might be getting transferred from one school to the other, once the [children] are actually there, I think it would be fine. But, like I say, people don’t take to change easily.

Q: Had you been on the County Council in 2016, would you have been part of the unanimous vote that was required under the county charter to raise property taxes by an average of almost 9 percent?

A: I don’t think we had to have that big a tax increase. And I think I would have been very hesitant to approve the increase. Ike [Leggett] originally proposed a bigger tax increase based on the Wynne decision [which mandated refunds to county residents who paid local income taxes elsewhere]. And then, when he was able to push it further out, he told the council that he didn’t need that big a tax increase. … I’ve been a politician before, and I know the pressure they were under to please various constituencies. … I do feel their pain. And that’s why we have to expand the tax base or we are going to feel more pain going forward.

Q: As county executive, could you foresee yourself proposing or supporting a property tax increase above the charter limit of the rate of inflation, requiring another unanimous council vote?

A: Probably not, to be very honest. As we’ve learned, there are just limits to how much you can tax people. You have to look at the effect: If it’s driving people out of the county, then it’s not achieving its aim.

Q: The council in 2016 also enacted a significant increase in the recordation tax on home sales. A couple of candidates in this race have advocated moving to roll back this increase. Did you agree with the council’s move?

A: I’m not sure I would have supported that big an increase, but I thought we should increase the recordation tax. A lot of the huge increase in the population of our schools is not due to new development; it’s due to turnover of homes to families with young children. And if we’re going to put these huge impact taxes on our developers to help pay for the schools, then why shouldn’t we also put some additional tax on young families buying homes?

It’s hard: The developer just passes it right on to our residents, and it’s already very expensive to live in this county. But I have to say I thought that [the recordation tax increase] was fair.

Q: You’re on record as backing Ike Leggett’s decision last year to veto the first version of the $15 minimum wage. Would you have signed the second version of the bill, as he did?

A: I probably would have. It did spread it out over a longer period of time, [and] given the number of people who really felt this was something that would help them, it would have been very hard to look them in the eye and say no. I don’t know how anybody lives in this county on minimum wage. it’s not that I don’t feel their pain. But if it’s going to make McDonald’s go to robotic flippers, that doesn’t help anyone have a higher standard of life. It just takes away jobs.

Q: What are your thoughts on Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed widening of I-270, and what other steps need to be considered to deal with traffic congestion?

A: I’ve seen I-270 when they put in the local lanes—I saw traffic really drop significantly, and then I saw traffic build up again. But I-270 is too congested, our citizens are too frustrated, and we’re not going to be able to attract business and keep our residents if we don’t address some of these issues.

I would love to do more to extend some mass transit options outside of the county line, and all the way up to Frederick. … I have said publicly, and it’s certainly not where the Planning Department is, that I’m not sure we shouldn’t build M-83, the continuation of the Midcounty Highway, because we based our growth on it, and we haven’t provided it. (Editor’s note: The proposed highway would run for 8.7 miles between Clarksburg and Derwood; so far, only a 3-mile segment has been constructed.)

I do think transportation is changing fairly dramatically and I don’t think we quite know what direction it’s going to take. … I’m not sure [bus rapid transit] is the way we should be going right now. Maybe on Route 29, where we’ve got the pilot project, because there’s so little transportation there and we’re getting so much traffic. If we’re really going to be going to more of a vehicle-on-demand sort of system, the problem with [bus rapid transit] is that you have to get to it. I live a mile and a half from the Rockville Metro station, and it’s still difficult for me to get there. But if I could just have a little vehicle that could come pick me up at my door, that’s a whole different thing.

Q: One perennial idea to relieve traffic has been a second Potomac River crossing in addition to the American Legion Bridge. Is this worth considering?

A: There are probably ways to build it that would not be nearly as detrimental to the agricultural reserve as people say. But no, I don’t think there’s any political will to build a second river crossing—not for me, and probably not for many of my opponents.

Q: Should the county be in the business of distributing and selling liquor and other alcoholic beverages?

A: I would like to slowly work toward getting liquor out of government, but there are too many other things that need addressing right now. And, given our tight budget, this is not going to be a first priority for me. [The $25 million to $30 million in revenue that the county receives] is a chunk of change.

I’ve talked to Mr. [Robert] Dorfman, who’s now head of the Liquor Control Department, and he’s made improvements. It’s interesting. Other jurisdictions actually come to Montgomery County to look at our liquor system, because it turns out we have fewer DWIs than others do. If you take it out of the hands of the county, you will get some of the big box-type liquor establishments, and you will put some of the small beer and wine stores out of business. I really do see both sides of this issue, and it’s not all in favor of privatizing.

Q: Did you vote in favor of the 2016 term limits referendum?

A: I voted for it because I did indeed feel this county is going in the wrong direction. I used to be adamantly opposed to term limits … but I have to say as a woman, when it’s so hard for women to get elected in general, we need to open up the process. I am surprised that three term-limited council members are running for this job. To me, what they were basically being told is: “You have tried hard, but you haven’t gotten the job done that needed to get done.” One of the reasons I got into this race was that it said to me that people are looking for a new way of doing things.

Q: You got into the race late, and there was arguably a strategic advantage to your raising money privately in larger donations. What made you decide to participate in the new public campaign finance system?

A: A lot of people have told me that people don’t really care where your money comes from. But I like to think that I’m appealing to everybody in this county. I don’t like to be in anyone’s pocket. I don’t like to be in developers’ pockets. I don’t like to be in the unions’ pocket. And while I would say that $6,000 [the maximum that an individual or a business entity can give to a state or county candidate] is not going to buy my vote, ever, it’s a hard statement to make if you’re raising $1 million, $2 million, $3 million based on big contributions from a lot of developers, unions, etc.

I love the thought of running a grassroots campaign. I love the idea of getting $5 contributions—and I’ve gotten $5 contributions. I may not be able to win because I’m doing it. But [if I didn’t], I thought it would be very easy for my opponents to say, “Well, she was a developer’s friend. She’s touting economic development. She’s going to do whatever they want.”

George L. Leventhal

• Where you live: Takoma Park

• Date of birth: Nov. 19, 1962

• Current occupation and employer (may also list up to two other jobs you’ve held); if retired, list your last job and employer: Montgomery County Council member, at-large, 2002-present. Senior federal relations officer, Association of American Universities, 1995-2002. Legislative director and legislative assistant, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, 1990-95.

• Political experience (public offices held and when, as well as unsuccessful campaigns for office and which years): Montgomery County Council member, at-large, 2002-present. Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee chairman, 1996-2001.

• Campaign information:

Responses to Bethesda Beat questionnaire:

Age: 55 (born Nov. 19, 1962, Boston, Massachusetts)

Home: Takoma Park; married, two children

Education: bachelor’s degree, University of California, Berkeley, 1984; master’s degree (Public Administration), Johns Hopkins University, 1987; doctorate (Public Policy), University of Maryland, College Park, 2017

Professional background: congressional aide (Senate Finance Committee, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland), lobbyist (Association of American Universities)

Political experience: member, Montgomery County Council, 2002-present (president, 2006, 2015); chair, Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (1996-2001)

Q: What distinguishes you from the other Democratic contenders for county executive?

A: Immigration has immeasurably benefited Montgomery County, and it has immeasurably benefited my family. My wife came here as an adult, and we’ve raised our two sons in a multicultural, multilingual household. We all speak English, Spanish and Portuguese. My wife’s immigrant experience has highlighted for me the experiences that many of my constituents live with, and … it’s very, very important that the next county executive have a deep understanding of the day-to-day immigrant experience. I sincerely feel I have the greatest depth in terms of understanding the changing demographics of this county and the broadest set of relationships with community leaders.

I have the most extensive experience in county government. I’m not running as an outsider. … The job of county executive is a complicated [one], and I think it is important that [its occupant] has years of service to the county and understands the relationships between the executive, the County Council, the state legislature, [the county] planning [board], the school system. I think I was a really good council member about three years in. I fully understand the job of county executive; I’m ready to get started on day one. I think anyone who comes in as a pure outsider with no background and no history who’s very bright will learn how to do the job after a couple of years. And I don’t think the county can wait a couple of years for someone to learn the job.

Q: During your four terms on the council, you have acquired a reputation for flashes of temper, causing some to wonder how well you would work collaboratively in a highly visible, high-pressure role. Are these concerns merited?

A: My colleagues elected me council president twice, and 2015 [second term as president] was a particularly cooperative year in which council members got along very, very well. I view my role as county executive as the coach of the team. Every member of the team has got to be given credit for his or her accomplishments. I understand how to do that, and I did that as council president. I recognized and praised my colleagues, and worked very well with them.

Now, I am passionate about having government provide housing for the homeless, I am passionate about reducing educational and economic inequity. It’s because I’m passionate about things that [the] Purple Line Now [organization] maintained its advocacy for the Purple Line in good times and in bad. You have to have passion to accomplish big things, and that’s been my record. I’m not running as an outsider. I like interacting with other elected officials. I understand where they’re coming from, I understand what their needs are. So I’m entirely comfortable I will play well in the schoolyard with others.

Q: Over the next decade, what do you feel are major challenges facing Montgomery County?

A: The single largest challenge is inequality of educational opportunity. The largest demographic group in the public schools today is Latino, and we are not serving our Latino students as well as we are serving other demographic groups. And we are not serving African-American students as well. But those are the workers of the future, and the future of our school system and what it means for our economy is much too important for the next county executive to play a hands-off role.

I’m not proposing structural changes. I am proposing an assembling of data [and] outside review and audit. … I would make sure that the school system is accountable for results, and I would detail staff to assess whether we are achieving measurable reductions in the achievement and opportunity gap. And I would speak to issues of [allocating] resources, making the most rigorous curriculum available to every student regardless of ZIP code, and providing more choices and more options for students.

Affordable housing is [also an] enormous challenge. We have a disconnect between the needs of employers and the capability of workers to get to the job and to afford to live here. I would like to see a doubling of money in the Housing Initiative Fund. [Editor’s note: The Housing Initiative Fund received about $47 million in county funds in fiscal year 2017.] And we need to leverage the county’s investment smartly, and work with … housing providers to be innovative. So, [it is] using the Housing Initiative Fund, using zoning, and being aggressive about opportunities to acquire land—making better use of public land. We’ve already done a lot, we’re in the forefront of many jurisdictions in the United States. But that’s a very high priority.

Q: What are some of the key steps you feel are needed to grow the county’s tax base and generate revenue needed to address the challenges you’ve discussed?

A: In a transition away from a Department of Economic Development to an Economic Development Corp., one of the key functions that has been lost is the community development function. The best example is when County Executive [Doug] Duncan assembled property owners and used some eminent domain to make sure Silver Spring became the thriving urban center that it is now.

I don’t envision another large-scale urban redevelopment project like that, but there are many communities around this county that need to be attended to, and need active involvement from county government, including Burtonsville, Glenmont, White Oak, Wheaton—where the community development function has fallen away. County government can play a role to assemble property owners and seek investment. And that will lead to thriving communities and more satisfied constituents who will be able to shop locally and work locally and not have to travel such long distances.

We need to continue to invest in marketing this county. We’ve got a great story to tell; we’ve got to market ourselves better. Clearly, the fact that we have advanced to the second round on Amazon’s [search for a location for a second headquarters] speaks well of the county. We have an extremely skilled workforce, who speak every language. … We are uniquely positioned, given the very large number of our residents who come from other countries to engage in business on a global scale.  The things that made us attractive to Amazon should make us attractive for investment around the globe.

Q: There continue to be complaints that the county is not business friendly. What needs to be done to address this?

A: The county executive has to spend his or her time getting to know employers and understanding their needs. An important employer in this county, [Mayorga Organics President] Martin Mayorga, is a good friend, and last year, I went to visit [him] and said, “So, Martin, what can county government do for you?” He said, “You know, you are the only elected official who has sat at my conference table and asked me that question.” So that kind of relationship building is something that the next county executive has to prioritize—both in the county and traveling to identify opportunities with people who might want to move to the county.

We need to let employers know that we care about them, that we’re responsive to them, and that we have a culture of customer service. I think we need to learn from the retail sector and institute a culture of customer service in county government. Businesses are accustomed to treating their own clients and customers with courtesy and dignity. It’s frustrating—and I’m sorry—when I hear that businesses don’t feel they are treated with that same courtesy and dignity when they interact with county government. Sometimes, county personnel get a little comfortable, they sort of forget the imperative of customer service. In partnership with the work force, I want to re-instill that culture of customer service.

Q: There have been complaints that, as the county has grown, public infrastructure has not kept up with private development. On one aspect of this, County Executive Ike Leggett recently suggested altering school boundaries as a possible solution to capacity issues. Do you agree?

A: I was so glad to read that quote from Mr. Leggett. It would have been great if he had been advocating for that all along. We do have schools that are under capacity, and we have schools that are over capacity. And it is not practical for us to be falling so far short while rigidly maintaining precisely the same assignment of students forever and ever and ever. We have to have a countywide look at where capacity exists and how we can more efficiently allocate resources. That should not take away from the more fortunate school districts. I think that the answer is greater choice and greater opportunity for students to pursue curriculum choices in locations that specialize.

So there should be more academies, more IB [International Baccalaureate] programs, more language immersion and more math and science programs, more of the most rigorous curriculum in different parts of the county. That will [result in] less rigid assignment of students in the cluster in which they happen to live, and more flexibility [for] where students will pursue the curriculum that they desire that fits with their career choices. As I said earlier, I would like to play an active role in assessing that, assigning staff to understanding it, and encouraging the school system in a positive way to develop a more equitable allocation of resources. But it just isn’t practical to say that the boundaries that exist today will always be in place forever and ever.

Q: You were part of a unanimous County Council vote in 2016 for a property tax increase that averaged about 9 percent. Leggett urged a lower increase, and there is a widespread view that the hike was a major factor in term limits being approved by voters that year. Any second thoughts?

A: We made the decision to make a major investment to keep pace with rising student population. Public education is the most important function of local government, we were falling behind, and it was necessary. Some of it [also] went to road resurfacing, some of it went to police protection, some of it to libraries. These are core functions of county government that constituents expect. Everyone wants great services, and nobody wants a tax increase—and that’s the reality of being an elected official.

I would not anticipate a property tax increase during my term as county executive. I think we have to prioritize and we have to seek efficiency. I think our economic prospects are bright, and we have every reason to look ahead to a prosperous future.

Q: In 2017, you supported two versions of the bill to raise the local minimum wage to $15 per hour—the first one vetoed by the county executive, the second one signed into law. Are you concerned this move could affect the county’s competitiveness?

A: The jobs that we’re seeking to attract, including Amazon but not only Amazon, are not minimum-wage jobs. Employers benefit when workers can afford to live here, and when workers feel they’re being treated decently and that they want to stick around in a job. I’ve read a lot of the economic literature on this. I think the multiplier effects of having more cash in the pockets [of those] at the low end of the income scale will be of significant benefit to the very merchants and retail establishments who are complaining about the minimum wage. I think we made the right decision. We built in an escape clause if we have two quarters of negative growth. So if there’s a recession, there would be a delay in the implementation of the minimum wage.

Q: Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed to widen I-270 and I-495 and put in toll lanes similar to those used in Virginia. Is that a concept you support, and what are your transportation priorities?

A: I was pleased that Gov. Hogan identified I-270 and the American Legion Bridge as a priority. I would like to see a [mass] transit component in the plan. I’d love to see rail all the way to Frederick, but I think that’s a long-term goal. Short of that, if we had a dedicated busway, people will take public transportation if it’s rapid and it’s reliable. And I think they would take it on I-270, not just in Montgomery County, but from Frederick all the way down.

East of the I-270 spur, widening becomes very problematic. There is residential and commercial construction right up to the edge of the Beltway. … Tolls are not popular, but everything has to be paid for. I think Virginia has moved more successfully and more rapidly than we have on I-495. Virginia is having difficulty on I-66; the tolls are out of reach of ordinary commuters. Somewhere in there, there’s got to be a sweet spot where the tolls are reasonable enough that people use the lanes and the revenue is enough to pay for the improvements.

I would hope that if I serve two terms as county executive, we would have bus rapid transit up and running on Route 29, on Viers Mill Road, and on Route 355. That would be a lot to bite off. If Amazon comes here, bus rapid transit on Route 355 will need to be substantially accelerated. Connecting Rockville to Wheaton with rapid transit is brilliant. That would connect job centers in a very desirable way. I would use it myself. I live in Takoma Park. We only own one car, and when my son takes the car, I take Metro to Wheaton and then I take the Q2 to Rockville. If that bus were more rapid and more reliable, I would use it more often.

Q: One perennial idea to relieve traffic has been a second Potomac River crossing in addition to the American Legion Bridge. Is this worth considering?

A: I think that would lead to expansion of jobs in Northern Virginia. I don’t see how Maryland benefits from that. I know there are real estate interests who own a lot of property in northern Virginia who would like to facilitate Montgomery County being a bedroom community and Northern Virginia being an employment hub. But I don’t see how that’s in Montgomery County’s best interests. We’ve made decades of land-use decisions to protect our Agriculture Reserve, which would be endangered by a new super highway barreling through Darnestown and Potomac and other areas that weren’t intended [for] a super highway.

Q: Amid complaints about the county being business unfriendly, there are complaints about overregulation by some rank-and-file citizens as well, be it a tax on shopping bags or regulation of how one treats crab grass. As a leading advocate of barring use of lawn chemicals on private property, what’s your view?

A: I think it’s appropriate that the government act in the interest of public health … and to protect the environment. The data show that we are the healthiest county in Maryland. That is in large part due to our affluence and our high education level, but I think public policy has also made a difference.

We’re not the only jurisdiction to have a bag tax; the District of Columbia has one.  When [Council Member] Roger Berliner proposed to roll the bag tax back for retail establishments other than food, there was huge pushback from lots of constituents saying: “No, this is a good thing. We want this in the interest of a healthy environment.” The ban on lawn chemicals is being revisited because [Montgomery Circuit Court] Judge [Terrence] McGann overturned it and now it’s on appeal. There was vastly more support than there was opposition. There is almost nothing government will do that is going to have 100 percent approval, but the reasons these things were enacted was that the public wanted them, and we heard from thousands of constituents in favor of them.

Q: What, if anything, should be done to change the county’s current public liquor control structure?

A: Let’s be clear that the sale of alcoholic beverages is heavily regulated everywhere. There is nowhere where it is a pure free market. Does the county have a monopoly on the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages? Yes. But if you turned that over to a single large distributor, then that distributor would have a monopoly. There are private monopolies on the sale of alcohol throughout Maryland.

I am open to negotiation if a seriously interested party is willing to put real money on the table. I do not believe it is in the public interest just to give [the county liquor franchise] away for free. I do think it would be a useful exercise to calculate the present value of a permanent revenue stream of $30 million to $40 million a year guaranteed forever; that would likely come to hundreds of millions of dollars. We have outstanding bonded debt that was used to build the Montrose Parkway and make other transportation improvements, amounting to more than $100 million. If we were just to refinance those bonds out of our own general obligation bonds, it would take a lot of resources away from other transportation projects and school construction.

When I was council president [in 2015], we put together a task force, and we proposed the partial privatization of special-order beer and wine sales. I’m still very open to that. I think that would be a de minimis reduction in our revenue, and it would address the complaints I’ve heard from the restaurant sector. And I think we could have made progress on that except a handful of legislators decided to grandstand on the issue and say: “It’s not good enough. We want to go all the way and just give it away for free.” I’m hearing fewer complaints from restaurants since Mr. [Robert] Dorfman took over the [Department of Liquor Control]. And so I’m hoping some of that tension will diminish, but I’m also open to a serious negotiation about selling the franchise.

Q: During the 2016 campaign, you called the effort to impose a three-term limit on county elected officials a “dumb, unnecessary protest gesture,” and contributed funds to an unsuccessful effort to defeat it. If elected county executive, could you see yourself seeking to reopen this issue at some point?

A: No. The voters have spoken. … It was never my intention to run for a fifth term on the County Council. Had term limits not passed, had [Ike] Leggett decided to run for a fourth term, I would not have run for council under any circumstances. I’m very proud of what I accomplished, but for me, four terms on the council is enough for one lifetime.

Having said that, I worked closely with County Executive [Doug] Duncan and County Executive Leggett. I think they were both superb leaders for our county, but I don’t think either of them shone the brightest in their third terms. So if I’m fortunate enough to be our next county executive, I would hope to serve two terms only, regardless of what limits the voters have imposed.

Q: You’re one of three candidates in the Democratic primary who has chosen to use the new public campaign finance system. Why did you opt for that route?  And what’s your response to one of your rivals for the nomination who has questioned spending $11 million for public funding of campaigns at a time when a revenue shortfall recently prompted more than $50 million in cuts to the county budget?

A: Well, the gentleman [Del. Bill Frick] who raised that complaint voted to authorize the system as a member of the state legislature. If he was so disturbed at the idea that public funds would be devoted to campaigns, he shouldn’t have voted to allow [the county] to do it. There’s a bit of a disconnect between his voting record and his current rhetoric now that he’s a candidate for executive. We are seeing an enormous amount of participation in this election. Candidates from many different backgrounds are making themselves available for public office. I do think the public finance system is one of the reasons why we have such a broad and diverse talent pool.

Having voted to undergo this experiment in democracy, I felt that principle and consistency dictated that I adhere to the rules that I voted to impose. It’s been great. More than 900 people have contributed to my campaign. It’s vastly more than contributed to my countywide campaigns in the past. I respect very successful people, but I must tell you, the amount of time I spent soliciting large checks from very rich people, I’m not sorry not to be spending that time. I much prefer the interaction with ordinary Montgomery County residents who might give me 50 bucks or 20 bucks—because I think that the views they share with me in the course of that interaction are more broadly representative of all the folks whom I work for.

Back to Bethesda Beat >>

Newsletters

Leading Professionals »

Dining Guide