Q&A with County Executive Candidate Nancy Floreen
This is the third in a series of interviews with the three contenders
Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat political writer Louis Peck sat down with the candidates for Montgomery County executive to discuss the issues and their visions for the county. This week, Bethesda Beat is running each candidate’s Q&A interview, in alphabetical order of the candidates’ names. For more information on the candidates, check out our 2018 General Election Voters’ Guide.
Wednesday: Marc Elrich
Thursday: Robin Ficker
Friday: Nancy Floreen
Age: 67 (born Sept. 29, 1951, Boston, Mass.)
Home: Garrett Park; married, three children
Education: bachelor’s degree, Smith College, Northampton, Mass., 1973; law degree, Rutgers Law School, Newark, New Jersey, 1976
Professional background: attorney (private practice, Hartford, Conn., 1976-1978; U.S. Department of Justice/Civil Division, Washington, D.C., 1978-1982; private practice, Montgomery County, 1982-1998); congressional aide (U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, 1998-2000)
Political experience: Montgomery County Council, 2002-present (president, 2010, 2016); mayor, Garrett Park (2000-2002); Montgomery County Planning Board (1986-1994)
You had made pretty clear that you weren’t planning to run for county executive in 2018. Was that your position until the night of the June 26 primary?
It really was: I am not making this up. I was not planning to run. You can tell that I had not been raising money. I had been working really hard for Rose Krasnow [for county executive] and for Rushern Baker [for governor in the Democratic primary]. This is no behind-the-scenes thing.
So, as the primary results come in, your phone starts ringing?
Off the hook, from people far and wide. I couldn’t believe it. At first, I didn’t answer it, and then I thought, well, OK—[it’s] because I had been on Montgomery Community Media talking about the results. I got home, it was like 11 o’clock, and people said: “Nancy, you’ve got to do this. We are looking at two fringe candidates—Marc Elrich, who’s way out there on one side of the coin, and Robin Ficker on the other.”
And then I thought—and this is absolutely true—that I knew I wasn’t going to be able to vote for county executive, period, given those choices. When the word got out that I was sort of thinking about this, my neighbors said to me, “Nancy, am I going to have somebody to vote for?” And I made the decision to get in.
You’ve referred to the Democratic nominee, Marc Elrich, and the Republican nominee, Robin Ficker, as “fringe candidates” on several occasions.
That’s what people have said to me. And that is the common perception.
Speaking for yourself, do you regard Mr. Elrich as a “fringe” candidate, given that nearly 30 percent of Democratic primary voters opted to nominate him?
It’s so interesting. Historically, I don’t think we’ve ever had a county executive candidate who made it through a primary with a 77-vote lead over a totally opposite kind of opponent. Is that a mandate?… If I wasn’t looking at a primary decided by 77 votes, this might be a different conversation. I don’t think any county executive candidate who’s made it through a primary hasn’t had a resounding number of votes above the opponents.
This is a very different situation … . People will say, “They all split the vote.” But there were five other people, very different from Marc, on that ballot—all of whom did relatively well. Maybe not so much [state Del.] Bill Frick, but the rest of them. [They] represented a far more balanced view of the future of Montgomery County. I would not be here if any of them [had been nominated]. That’s why I waited for the final calculation of the votes. I felt any of the others would be more representative of who we are as a growing county, a diverse county with a variety of needs.
You and Mr. Elrich are both long-time Democrats. A concern expressed by some within the party is that this could split the Democratic vote and provide a boost to Mr. Ficker’s candidacy. Do you share that concern?
I have a couple of things to say about that. The Republican Party has routinely rejected Mr. Ficker’s candidacy over and over and over and over again. I have absolutely no doubt that they will continue in that vein. No. 2, the ones who might [support him] may not be aware of Mr. Ficker’s professional challenges. Perhaps an enterprising reporter would look up the number of times he’s been suspended from the practice of law, and perhaps his most recent reprimand by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Let’s put the heckling in a whole other category. You want to elect the chief heckler in charge? I don’t think so.
And, finally, I think that’s a scare tactic by folks who know that Marc is not reflective of Democratic Party views in large degree.
At one point during the primary, you were quoted as saying Mr. Elrich would be a “disaster” as county executive. Does that remain your sentiment?
I do think that Marc speaks for a portion of the citizenry, all of whom have valid concerns and should be respected. But I don’t think he speaks for the vast majority of Montgomery County, and that is my concern. The county executive is a leader, of a growing, 1.2 million population with very diverse needs. The leadership of Montgomery County needs to respect all views. It needs to encourage participation by all players. [Former County Council member] Phil Andrews [author of the county’s public financing law] had an interesting quote the other day about fundraising—and that when you get to the general, you need to reach out to the other side, not pull back.
I’ve been a mayor: The mayors in Montgomery County are not elected based on political party, they are elected based on issues. And that is frankly the same as county executive, with the county issues. You’re just as upset about that building going up next to you or across the street from you regardless of your Republican or independently registered neighbor. Likewise with traffic, trash and school issues—we’re all the same in this regard. And I think we need to remember that as we move forward in this campaign.
During your 12 years together on the council, it has been noted that you and Mr. Elrich voted the same way much of the time. Where do you see the two of you diverging the most on policy matters?
I think it’s in my view of how we need to move forward, my vision of the future. I spent years working on planning issues, and envisioning how we can grow, taking into account community concerns and the like. And I did it on the Planning Board [and] certainly on the council, where I’ve chaired [the Planning, Housing and Economic Development] Committee for the past eight years.
Marc, as far as I’m concerned … is pretty much arguing the issues of the past. He’s still arguing again, in effect, Silver Spring redevelopment; whether we make a deal with The Fillmore [music venue in Silver Spring]; White Oak [development]—how that moves forward; downtown Bethesda … . We have created some of the most demanding and interesting opportunities for the future here, and we need to be forward thinking. We need to invite investment, not scare it away.