Leggett Answers Criticism About Decision Not To Endorse Jealous Right Away

Leggett Answers Criticism About Decision Not To Endorse Jealous Right Away

County executive says he plans to sit down with the Democratic gubernatorial nominee to find common ground

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County Executive Ike Leggett

Montgomery County Government

County Executive Ike Leggett says he’s mostly gotten supportive comments from fellow Democrats since last week’s news that he’s not quite ready to endorse Ben Jealous, his party’s nominee for governor.

Others had a different response.

State Del. Kirill Reznik, for instance, came out swinging by accusing Leggett—former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party—of hypocrisy for withholding his endorsement from Jealous.

Leggett says he’s hoping to arrive at an understanding with Jealous but first needs resolve questions about some of the candidate’s policy positions. Still, Reznik said a delayed endorsement from one of the state’s most prominent elected Democrats is itself a boost for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan as he pursues re-election.

“If he wants to endorse Larry Hogan, he is welcome to do that. I think he risks his reputation as a Montgomery County executive by doing that, but if that’s what he wants to do … do it,” Reznik said. “Don’t banter around and play coy and say that you need to hash out some of these thoughts or issues.”

Reznik, a Democrat from Germantown, also said it doesn’t make sense that Leggett would voice support for Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich in the county executive race, yet express reservations about backing Jealous.

Leggett, who endorsed longtime ally Rushern Baker for governor in the Democratic primary, told The Washington Post he has questions about Jealous’ progressive platform on education funding and taxes; since his primary responsibility is looking out for Montgomery County residents, he doesn’t feel at ease offering his endorsement without talking through these issues, he said.

At the same time, the county executive has declared his intent to get behind Elrich, another left-leaning candidate whose views aren’t always in step with Leggett’s. Despite their differences, Leggett said Elrich was a friend, and especially given his former leadership of the state Democrats, he planned to endorse the party nominee.

Reznik said if Leggett can get past the moderate versus progressive divide in Elrich’s case, he should do the same for Jealous.

“I’ve got news for [Leggett]. Ben Jealous is not to the left of Marc Elrich,” Reznik said in an interview. “If he supports Marc, then he should have no issues whatsoever with Jealous’ position.”

Leggett asserts the two situations are completely different.

“I don’t take a position because of party loyalty,” Leggett said. “Marc and I have been friends for 25 years.”

Leggett, who is completing his third term as county executive, said he and Elrich have worked together on a range of issues, including the $15 minimum wage increase, and have proven they can sort through their disagreements. Elrich has served as an at-large council member since 2006.

Though Jealous, the former NAACP president, seems to “have many admirable qualities,” Leggett said he doesn’t have a longstanding relationship with him.

In last week’s Washington Post article, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. expressed a similar sentiment, saying that Jealous was “not a known quantity in Maryland.” Miller, however, is supporting Jealous over Hogan.

Reached by phone this week, Elrich said Leggett’s positions on the county executive and gubernatorial races seemed “a little inconsistent” with each other.

“I certainly believe that supporting [Jealous] and supporting the ticket strongly is the best chance of maintaining a veto-proof majority in the legislature, and I don’t think being divisive is helpful,” he said.

The responses highlight the interparty divides over Jealous, whose progressive policies have riled some establishment Democrats. The Post story reports that Miller offered only “tepid” backing for Jealous and mentioned several others who strongly support the Democratic nominee but still disagree with him on major issues.

Leggett has said Jealous’ proposal for a tax increase on the wealthiest 1 percent of state residents would fall most heavily on Montgomery County. Jealous has also called for changing the public schools funding formula, and Leggett said the proposed adjustments would significantly reduce education aid for Montgomery County Public Schools.

“Those are things we need to sit down and discuss and see if we can get some common ground and unity around those things,” he said.

Leggett said he plans to meet with Jealous about these issues “as we move forward toward endorsement.”

A spokesman for the Jealous campaign said Leggett’s desire for a conversation was understandable.

“The County Executive has always been a tireless advocate for his constituents, so it’s not surprising he’d want to discuss ideas for moving the county forward,” Jealous spokesman Bryan Doherty said in a written statement, adding the campaign was “confident he’ll find a better ally in Ben Jealous than Larry Hogan.”

During a Tuesday stop in Montgomery County, Hogan said he and Leggett have collaborated well on their bid to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County and other initiatives. The White Flint area of the county is one of 20 locations in contention for the project.

“Boy, we fought hard together on Amazon. … Keeping Marriott headquartered in Bethesda. He’s been a great partner, couldn’t ask for a better working relationship,” Hogan said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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