Last week, County Executive Marc Elrich said in a candidate forum that he voluntarily stepped aside to let other candidates run in both the 2002 and 2006 County Council District 5 races. In 2002, it was to former council member and current gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez; in 2006 it was to Valerie Ervin, a former member of the Board of Education and the County Council.
Elrich’s assertions have sparked debate in local political circles this week about the circumstances surrounding the 2006 council races. Some took umbrage with the idea that Elrich appeared to be taking credit for stepping aside to make room for a minority candidate — including Ervin, who said this week that she had planned to run for the District 5 seat no matter what Elrich decided to do.
According to a Bethesda Beat review of election records and interviews with those involved, here’s what happened.
Election records show that Ervin — who served on the Board of Education from 2004 to 2006 — defeated Hans Riemer in the primary election in the 2006 District 5 race, garnering nearly 62% of the vote. She went on to win in the general election. District 5, at that time, included Takoma Park, much of Silver Spring and the eastern part of the county.
Riemer is currently an at-large council member and a candidate for county executive.
Elrich won election to an at-large seat in 2006. In the primary, he finished second in a 13-person field with 14.2% of the vote, roughly 1.4 points behind former Council Member George Leventhal.
Jon Gerson, who was then director of community affairs for the Montgomery County Education Association, confirmed in an interview that Elrich decided to drop out of the District 5 race after he and Elrich spoke in 2006, which was after they and others learned that Ervin was running.
Ervin said in an interview that she believes she would have secured MCEA’s highly sought endorsement if both she and Elrich had run for the District 5 seat in 2006. Elrich said that after his conversation with Gerson, he also believed that the MCEA was probably going to endorse Ervin if they both ran for the seat.
Gerson said trying to determine now who would have received MCEA’s endorsement in 2006 would be “hypothesizing,” given that the MCEA had still needed to work through its selection process.
Ultimately, Elrich says, he decided after his conversation with Gerson to drop out of the District 5 race and run in the at-large contest. He added that he had thought he had a decent chance to win the District 5 seat before Ervin entered, given his career as an elementary school teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School and his service on the Takoma Park City Council.
He chose to run at-large, even though he knew it would be more difficult, citing the different challenges of campaigning in a district race versus an at-large race — whether it is raising money or canvassing.
“You can knock [on many doors in] a district, you can’t knock across the county. At least not effectively, in my opinion,” said Elrich, who was elected to an at-large council seat.
Ervin and Elrich both were eventually endorsed by MCEA — Ervin in the District 5 race, and Elrich in the at-large race. Elrich went on to win the at-large council seat.
Elrich declined to speculate who would have won if he and Ervin had both run for the District 5 seat. The two had very different bases, he said; Elrich had ties to community organizations and local unions and Ervin had the support of local education advocates.
Ervin was upset that Elrich seemed to indicate during the candidate forum last week that he had voluntarily stepped aside in that 2006 election. She said she had planned to run in District 5 even if Elrich stayed in the race.
She added that after she entered the race, several other candidates who also were running chose to drop out before the primary election.
She said she believes she would have won even if Elrich ran. Ervin said Perez, who had held the District 5 seat, endorsed her in the 2006 race; a spokesman for the Perez gubernatorial campaign confirmed by text message that he had.
Also, as a Black woman, she had the most support of minority residents and unions in the greater Silver Spring area — which she believes would have dwarfed the support that Elrich had from his Takoma Park base, Ervin says.
She added that she had knocked on thousands of doors in the district, and pointed to her election result in the Board of Education District 4 primary race in 2004. Results show that she earned the most votes of the four candidates running, with 46.2%. The runner-up was Sheldon Fishman, who finished just under 13 points behind.
“I had the biggest, broadest coalition in District 5,” Ervin said of her successful 2006 campaign, and why she would beat Elrich head-to-head.
After the 2006 election, Elrich and Ervin’s political careers continued. Ervin was re-elected to District 5 in 2010, serving until January 2014. Last year, she served on the county’s redistricting commission, helping to draw the county’s new seven-district County Council map.
Elrich won re-election to the council in 2010 and 2014 and won the county executive race in 2018. He is running for re-election this year.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org