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Elrich Wins County Executive Race

Three-term County Council member will be the seventh county executive

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Marc Elrich will be the next Montgomery County executive.

Elrich, 69, defeated his two opponents, independent Nancy Floreen and Republican Robin Ficker, in Tuesday’s general election. At 11:30 p.m., Elrich had 65 percent of the vote to Floreen’s 19 percent and Ficker’s 15 percent with 253 of 255 precincts reporting.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters at the Silver Spring Civic Center, Elrich thanked his supporters and joked that his margin of victory was bigger than his “77-vote landslide victory,” against Potomac businessman David Blair in the primary.

“I have worked with some of the smartest, most committed people,” he said. “It’s meant a lot to me to do what I want to do and stay true to what I do. And without your support that would have been a really difficult path.”

Elrich reiterated several of his campaign pledges throughout the speech, including building more bus rapid transit and reorganizing government. He said one of his key priorities would be championing environmentally friendly policies.

“If the climate situation in this country isn’t a frickin’ emergency, I don’t know what is,” he said.

Elrich also vowed to expand early childhood education in Montgomery County by a few hundred students each year.

“Seventy-five percent of our students aren’t ready for kindergarten… we are going to move on early childhood education … It’s as much of an emergency as climate change,” he said.

But Elrich also said the campaign “wasn’t fun,” particularly when he received “mailer after mailer” from Empower Montgomery.

“In this election they pledged a candidate $1 million,” he said, referring subtly to Floreen. “They thought they could distort my record and paint me as an enemy of business, which I am not.”

In an interview with Bethesda Beat, Elrich said his margin of victory was larger than he expected. He said the amount of money spent against him by Blair in the primary and Floreen in the general election, combined with attacks from both candidates, made his campaign difficult.

“I’ve endured almost a year of negative campaigning and I still came out on top with a victory,” he said. “I think 65 percent is a pretty broad agreement on where I’d like to go.”

Asked how he would get along with his critics who have accused him of being bad for business in the county, Elrich said the attack was “mostly nonsense.”

“They say it’s hard to do business here, your processes are too long, you require more than other people do. Those aren’t Marc things. Those are county things … . I’m going to continue to deal with legitimate issues the business community is facing and try to fix them,” he said.

Elrich said he wasn’t worried about not getting along with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who was re-elected to a second term Tuesday night.

“Look, I’ve worked with his administration already. I brought them two housing programs with the state housing program. I had [housing] Secretary [Kenneth] Holt meet with [County Executive] Ike [Leggett]. I’ve had good relations with the state highway administration. I think they’ve done a reasonably good job. I’m gonna work across county lines, because the people of Montgomery County need a government that’s effective. They don’t need me going to war with the governor,” he said.

Elrich, a Takoma Park resident, began his career in politics as a member of the Takoma Park City Council, on which he served from 1987 to 2006. Elrich was also a teacher at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park for 17 years, before being elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2006.

Elrich, who was not allowed to seek re-election to the council due to term limits, launched his county executive campaign 19 months ago. He faced a crowded field of Democrats in the primary that included fellow term-limited council members George Leventhal and Roger Berliner, state Del. Bill Frick, former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow and Potomac businessman David Blair. He defeated Blair by 77 votes in the June 26 primary, although he was not declared the winner until a week and a half later, once all of the absentee and provisional ballots were counted.

Following Elrich’s victory in the primary, fellow council member Floreen, who is also term- limited, began weighing a possible general election run. She officially launched her campaign Aug. 22 after garnering more than the 7,243 signatures from county residents required to get on the November ballot. The four-term council member also changed her party affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated in the process, which was a requirement for her to run in the general election.

In a speech to supporters in Rockville earlier in the evening, Floreen praised her campaign staff of over 700 volunteers.

“This campaign has taken 120 days. In that 120 days do you know we collected over 20,000 signatures. We have raised about $930,000. We have had an outpouring of support from every corner of Montgomery County. I am so humbled. We’ll see how the numbers turn out tonight but just know that we have made history,” she said.

Ficker wrote in an email Wednesday morning that he had conceded the race but wished Elrich well.

“I like Marc.  He is a very friendly person who treats everyone with dignity and respect.  But he needs some lessons in fiscal responsibility. I hope to help him be fiscally responsible by placing a charter amendment further limiting property tax increases on the ballot in 2020,” he wrote.

Ficker, a Boyds attorney and former member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1978 to 1982, was running in his 18th election in Maryland, all but one of which he has lost. Throughout the campaign, Ficker, seen as a political gadfly by many, touted his 2016 ballot initiative to limit the county executive and county council members to three consecutive four-year terms, which voters passed in the general election.

This year’s county executive race proved to be more competitive than expected due to Floreen’s entrance into the race. She frequently criticized Elrich and Ficker as “too extreme” to be county executive both in ads and during candidate forums. Floreen had endorsed Krasnow during the primary, but said she would have endorsed the Democratic nominee if it had been anyone other than Elrich.

Floreen said during several debates that Elrich would negatively impact the county with policies that would slow the pace of economic development and imperil business growth. She has also criticized Elrich for constantly opposing road projects such as the Intercounty Connector and the proposed Mid-County Extension Highway, or M-83, that would connect Clarksburg and Gaithersburg. Elrich has countered those charges by arguing that he is not anti-development, but wants to make sure the county holds developers accountable by requiring them to provide infrastructure in their projects. Elrich has also said that he favors bus rapid transit over building new roads and that adding reversible lanes on I-270 would be better than widening the highway to help alleviate congestion.

Elrich largely won the endorsement war, receiving endorsements from all but a handful of Democrats at the state and county level. He also received endorsements from most of the county’s unions, including the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors — somewhat of a surprise given Floreen’s ties to the business community. Floreen’s main endorsement came from The Washington Post editorial board in late September. Additionally, Krasnow and former County Executive Doug Duncan endorsed her.

Elrich used the county’s new public campaign financing system during the primary and general election, which allows a candidate to receive up to $750,000 per election cycle, provided the candidate doesn’t accept contributions greater than $150 from individuals and doesn’t accept money from political action committees or corporations. Elrich the maximum of $1.5 million between the two elections. Ficker, who was not able to use public campaign financing during the primary because he did not have an opponent, tapped into the system during the general election, and received $255,000. Floreen was not eligible for public campaign financing due to her late entry into the race.

Floreen battled a reputation throughout the general election campaign that she was too close to developers, a view compounded by the fact that many of her contributors were from that industry. As of her last campaign finance report filed with the board of elections, Floreen had raised $468,383 since she began her campaign. Additionally, Bethesda developer Charles K. Nulsen III started the Super PAC County Above Party in support of her campaign. That PAC has raised more than $500,000 since Aug. 29. A post-election campaign finance report is due to the Maryland State Board of Elections by 11:59 p.m. Nov. 20.

Elrich, too, had the benefit of a Super PAC working to support him. Progressive Maryland Liberation Alliance PAC, backed by a number of the same unions that endorsed Elrich, has raised $131,000 since Aug. 21. Additionally, the anti-Floreen PAC Montgomery Neighbors PAC, has raised more than $33,000 since Sept. 18; the PAC, however, must pay back $14,000 by Nov. 29 to another out-of-state PAC that donated money as the result of a complaint Floreen lodged Oct. 26 with the elections board. The complaint charged that Montgomery Neighbors accepted more than the $6,000 limit that PACS in Maryland are allowed to accept from out-of-state PACS.

An elections board complaint was also filed against Floreen on Sept. 15 by Gaithersburg resident Ken Meyers, alleging her campaign accepted more than $6,000 from entities with common ownership, which would be a violation of state law. Although the complaint remains pending, the campaign preemptively returned $18,000 because of concerns that some of the contributors with a common address may have had common ownership.

Elrich will be the seventh county executive since the position was established in 1968. He follows Ike Leggett, who was first elected in 2006 and then reelected in 2010 and 2014. Leggett was not eligible to run for reelection due to term limits. Elrich will be sworn into office Dec. 3.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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