Editor’s note: The views expressed in MoCo Politics are the writer’s and do not reflect those of Bethesda Beat staff.
Montgomery County executive candidate Nancy Floreen sent out a mailer over the weekend accusing Democrat Marc Elrich, one of her opponents, of opposing six transportation and development projects. The mailer is shown below. Let’s evaluate the truthfulness of her claims.
Claim No. 1: Elrich opposed the Intercounty Connector.
There is no dispute about this one. Elrich has opposed the Intercounty Connector (ICC) longer than some of his County Council colleagues have been alive. He has long viewed it as wasteful and environmentally destructive. Elrich’s opposition to the ICC helped define his early political career, culminating in the 2002 County Council At-Large race in which he and other anti-ICC candidates were defeated by County Executive Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate.
Judgment: This claim is true.
Claim No. 2: Elrich opposes the Mid-County Highway.
The Mid-County Highway, also known as M-83, is a proposed county highway between Clarksburg and Montgomery Village. It is intended to be a north-south alternative to I-270 and Maryland Route 355. Elrich, along with a majority of the current County Council and the incoming County Council, opposes M-83 because of its cost and its environmental impacts. This is one of his differences with Floreen, who supports the highway.
Judgment: This claim is true.
Claim No. 3: Elrich opposed The Fillmore.
The Fillmore project was the big story in downtown Silver Spring a decade ago. The county’s original plan was to have The Birchmere, a performance venue in Alexandria, occupy a site containing a vacant J.C. Penney store owned by Lee Development Group (LDG) on Colesville Road. When negotiations fell through, the county began negotiating with The Fillmore instead. The ultimate deal had LDG donate the J.C. Penney site to the county in return for land-use concessions on property the developer owned next to it. State and county funds were then invested in the site to prepare it for occupancy by The Fillmore. In 2008, the County Council voted 7-2 to approve a resolution containing the land-use provisions that were part of the deal. Elrich and council member Roger Berliner voted no.
At the time, The Washington Post reported the following:
The dissenters on the council, Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) and Marc Elrich (D-At Large), said the measures would set a bad precedent for land-use decisions and tried unsuccessfully to make last-minute changes. Elrich said the council was under pressure to write legislation for a narrow interest that would result in less public-use space, usually outdoors and free, in exchange for indoor space with an admission fee.
“We’ve been told, ‘Give the Lees everything they want or this project goes someplace else or doesn’t happen at all.’ That’s a problematic way to do business,” he said. “This legislation goes far beyond protecting the Lees and basically gives them a deal we would not give to anyone else.”
That’s not all there is to this story. Seth Hurwitz, a Bethesda resident who owns the 9:30 Club in D.C., wanted a chance to bid on the project. Hurwitz promised to pay double the rent that The Fillmore agreed to pay and claimed he would save money for taxpayers. The Leggett administration declined to negotiate with him and Hurwitz sued the state to block its subsidy, later adding County Executive Ike Leggett and the county as defendants. In August 2010, Elrich submitted an affidavit in support of Hurwitz’s application for a restraining order on the project. County law prohibits county employees from assisting litigants against the county and an ethics complaint was filed against Elrich for doing so. The Leggett administration was furious with Elrich, especially since Leggett had contributed $6,000 to Elrich’s County Council campaign account two months before Elrich’s affidavit appeared in court. Hurwitz’s company contributed $2,500 to Elrich before he submitted his affidavit and Hurwitz gave him another $4,000 the following year. Ultimately, Hurwitz’s lawsuit was dismissed.
Judgment: Votes matter and Elrich voted against the resolution facilitating The Fillmore deal. Furthermore, Elrich assisted a lawsuit that sought to block the project. This claim is true.
Claim No. 4: Elrich opposes development in White Flint.
The County Council has passed two master plans for White Flint during the last decade. The first plan, passed in 2010, covers the area between the site of the former White Flint Mall and Montrose Parkway and includes the Pike & Rose development and the Metro station. The second plan, passed in 2017, covers areas farther from the Metro station to the east and west. Elrich voted for White Flint 1 and voted against White Flint 2.
Elrich commented on his White Flint votes in an interview with Bethesda Magazine’s Louis Peck in May.
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.
Judgment: Once again, votes matter. Elrich voted for one of the White Flint plans and against the other one. This claim is half true and half false.
Claim No. 5: Elrich opposed the White Oak Science Gateway.
The County Council passed the White Oak Science Gateway Master Plan in July 2014. Elrich abstained from voting while the other eight council members voted yes. At the time, he said the following:
I am in complete agreement with the goal of bringing jobs and amenities to the East County, but the amount of residential housing approved in this plan—along with insufficient safeguards to address the longstanding traffic problems that continue to plague the Route 29 corridor—lead me to conclude that the plan is long on promises and short on solutions. I remain concerned about whether this plan has what it takes to create an important employment center that attracts the kind of professional jobs, restaurants and retail that will make it a ‘place.’ Because we failed to spend the time required to get the plan right for a part of the County poorly served by two previous master plans, I could not support the plan as adopted by my colleagues. However, my abstention on the final vote signals my support for its stated goals for the East County. I will hope for the best possible outcome and will support all efforts to get there.
Judgment: Votes matter. (Do you see a trend here, readers?) An abstention does not signify support or opposition. Elrich has never been shy about voting against master plans, but he did not vote against this one. This claim is false.
Claim No. 6: Elrich opposed redevelopment in downtown Silver Spring.
Downtown Silver Spring’s redevelopment was a saga that lasted for many years and had lots of twists and turns. One proposal was to build the “American Dream Mall,” a huge enclosed mall, which then-County Executive Doug Duncan killed in 1996. After the death of the mall, the Duncan administration negotiated a pedestrian plaza surrounded by retail with a developer partnership of Foulger Pratt, Peterson Cos. and Argo Investment. The deal was approved by the County Council in 1998 and became the Downtown Silver Spring development that exists today.
Elrich was at that time a Takoma Park City Council member and had no voting role on the project. Evaluating this claim is challenging because it concerns events happening decades ago and participants in those debates remember them differently. (Predictably, Floreen’s supporters back up her narrative and Elrich’s supporters say she is wrong.) Luckily, documentation is available.
In 1998, Elrich ran against District 5 County Council member Derick Berlage and redevelopment was an election issue. Elrich had opposed the American Dream Mall and criticized Berlage for supporting it. In June 1998, the Gazette reported the following about a debate between Elrich and Berlage: “Standing before south-county civic leaders, both Berlage and Elrich spoke out against the Intercounty Connector and embraced current Silver Spring revitalization plans.” And in July 1998, the Gazette reported, “Elrich said that he generally was pleased with the plans to revitalize Silver Spring with a town center concept. The plans are far closer to what he has advocated for the past 12 years than the American Dream Mall and other failed proposals, he said.”
In other words, Elrich opposed the mall but supported the plan that became the development that exists now.
Judgment: This claim is false. Unless the Floreen campaign possesses documentary evidence that contradicts the Gazette’s contemporaneous accounts, it should retract this claim.
Adam Pagnucco is a writer, researcher and consultant who is a former chief of staff at the County Council. He has worked in the labor movement and has had clients in labor, business and politics.