Elrich, Floreen Argue About Development During Debate
Montgomery County executive candidates bring up past County Council votes to illustrate their differing approaches
Montgomery County executive candidates from left Nancy Floreen, Robin Ficker and Marc Elrich
Montgomery County executive candidates Marc Elrich and Nancy Floreen repeatedly clashed over their views on transportation and economic development during Monday night’s debate held at Montgomery Community Media’s Rockville studio.
The televised debate between Elrich and Floreen, both County Council members, and Republican Robin Ficker was moderated by WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood of The Politics Hour and focused mainly on issues central to the business community. Asked if the candidates would raise taxes in the wake of another recession, Elrich, the Democratic nominee, said he would not, vowing instead to reform the county’s business procurement practices.
“I agree with your conjecture that there may be a recession and my goal is to lean [reduce time and eliminate waste] out the county enough so that if there is another recession that we have space,” he told Sherwood.
Floreen, who is running as an independent, recalled her time as council president in 2010 when the effects of the Great Recession were still lingering, and said the only solution was to expand the county’s tax base.
“We had to cut back services and library hours. I think we had to borrow money from the school system. I’m very sensitive to that issue,” she said. “I am worried about the future. Are we going to have the economic growth that’s going to support the jobs we need and that our kids need?”
Ficker answered that he would amend the county’s 5-cent carryout bag fee so that it no longer applies to paper bags. The fee, designed to reduce the use of the bags, is charged to customers who ask for bags at stores in the county.
At one point in the debate, the moderators allowed Floreen and Elrich, both leaving office this year due to term limits, to question each other. Elrich began by asking Floreen why she characterizes his ideas as “radical.”
“Well, Marc, we’ve spent a lot of time together, haven’t we?” Floreen said. “We haven’t changed. Marc has consistently found reasons to oppose things. At the end of the day, the county executive has to lead, has to cut deals and has to lead us forward. That’s why I’m in this race.”
Floreen then asked Elrich why he has opposed the construction of new roads, such as the Intercounty Connector, to ease traffic congestion, to which he replied that most of the roads needed in the county had already been built, and that “most people generally recognize that to knock down global warming or make space on these roads” requires investment in public transit. Elrich is a proponent of bus rapid transit as one solution to the area’s traffic woes.
Ficker said he didn’t see the value in investing in bus rapid transit.
“You folks listening out there don’t want to get on a bus. You want to get in your car,” he said.
Elrich asserted that he wasn’t anti-development when asked what he thought of The Washington Post’s weekend endorsement of Floreen that cast him as opposed to business development. Elrich noted that there were very few times that he and Floreen voted differently on issues affecting development. He said his opposition comes when developers propose new buildings come without committing to providing needed infrastructure. He pointed to his opposition of the Bethesda Downtown Sector Plan, approved by the council in 2017 after years in the making.
“My issue was … being told it would be 15 to 20 years before the transportation was in balance, people were promised parks and there was no solution to schools … . I’m not against bringing development to the county, but it’s got to come with infrastructure to support it,” he said.
Floreen said she appreciated the Post’s endorsement, saying it was “a really nice birthday present.” She accused Elrich of being closed-minded on some projects during their time together on the council.
“If Marc had had his way, we wouldn’t have the ICC. If Marc had had his way we wouldn’t have had the famous Fillmore or the famous development in Silver Spring that he railed against for many years,” she said. “We can tell each other what we’re going to argue about. We know each other well.”
The Fillmore, a music venue in downtown Silver Spring, came up again when the candidates were asked whether they disagreed with any decisions made by current County Executive Ike Leggett. Elrich said he would have improved some of the deals made with developers in a way that better served the public interest, such as using a bidding process in the case of the Fillmore.
“One of the other entrepreneurs stepped forward and said ‘I would have built this on my own dime and not spent $8 million from the county.’ I think we should have explored if he was serious,” he said.
Ficker said if elected, he will be more committed to putting reversible lanes on I-270 than Leggett has been. Ficker said unlike Leggett, he was willing to complete the project as opposed to just talk about it.
Throughout the debate, Ficker continued to attack his opponents as being part of the “Takoma Park trapezoid,” and said they should not be promoted after “staying on the council too long.” Elrich lives in Takoma Park while Floreen lives in Garrett Park and Ficker lives in Boyds.
When asked if he regretted referring to Floreen as “nasty” in a previous debate, Ficker said she had been “unpleasant” and said that if he was elected, he would make sure that women made up half of his cabinet to ensure a “kinder, gentler, smarter county.”
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org