Q&A With County Executive Candidate Robin Ficker
This is the second in a series of interviews with the three contenders
You said you’ve learned in court how to disagree without being disagreeable. Part of your resume includes being a nationally known heckler at professional basketball games—at least until the Washington Wizards moved to downtown D.C. a couple of decades ago, and moved you from a long-time perch behind the opposing bench. Is that a period about which you have second thoughts?
That’s a long time ago, but I’m a sports fan. And I never said anything improper at any game, never drank alcohol at any game, never made any racial or sexual comment. I never said any word that couldn’t be printed on the front page of The Washington Post … . And I never swore at any game, either, because I don’t swear: I mean, when you’re in court, you can’t … . [Pro basketball star forward] Charles Barkley said I was the No. 1 NBA fan. I wrote an article for The New York Times [on] my philosophy about it, getting a vicarious thrill.
Didn’t your activities as a heckler get you expelled from some games?
There were a couple of times. But here you’re really diverting, because you’re going back 20 years ago now. You’re not talking about property taxes, you’re not talking about term limits. You’re not talking about Amazon. And I did something that you haven’t covered; I guess you didn’t think it was newsworthy, but, believe me, I was thinking out of the box. I actually went out to Amazon. I went out to Seattle for four days, and I talked to at least 50 people who work for Amazon. I was at a Seahawks game with some of them, too. And I was at the globes [on the Amazon campus] and I was at about 20 of the buildings there. Why? Because I wanted to see what HQ1 was like if we’re going to have HQ2 here.
Who were you talking with at Amazon? Were any of them in management?
I talked to some of both. I’m not going to give you their names, because they don’t want their names on the internet. They want one thing—they want freedom. They want freedom to think, they want freedom from professional regulators, and—just even more recently—they want freedom from people who want to take their hard-earned gains. Like Seattle wanted to impose a head tax—and has, of $275 a head, and they wanted to impose much more. And I was thinking to myself, “If Seattle wants $275, Marc Elrich is going to want at least $1,000.” You notice they’re making their decision after the election. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
You know, you look at Twitter, and you look at some of the people supporting Elrich, and they hate Amazon. They’re talking about [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos being too rich, they’re talking about they should locate in Virginia, it will bring too much traffic. I sat next to [Elrich] at 20 forums, I never heard him say one single word in favor of bringing Amazon here at any of those forums. They’re not coming here if he’s county executive. If I am, they will. [Editor’s note: Elrich is on record supporting the package of incentives designed to attract Amazon’s second headquarters, a position he reiterated in a recent letter to Bezos].
I have a degree in engineering, I’m the only one in this race that does. I’m used to associating with computer nerds. And those are the kinds of people at Amazon. These are people who are thinking about ways to change the world. And they’re the kind of people who I would like to bring here, and who will boost the economy. But we’re not bringing them here to boost the economy; we’re bringing them here to bring their thirst for freedom here and to have that thirst spread among our people in Montgomery County.
You appear to agree with Mr. Elrich’s complaint that public infrastructure has not kept up with private development. In a recent questionnaire, you wrote: “Insist on adequate roads and schools for new development or master plan revision. Westbard and Bethesda plans are examples of development without adequate schools and roads requirements.” Absent tax increases or major growth in the tax base in the near future, how do you guarantee this?
Marc Elrich says we’re going to put big levies on the developers, which has scared the daylights out of them. I’m not going to load them up with these. I’m going to have a warm and welcoming attitude.
I have a 2009 Ford Escape hybrid … and, in my car, I have lifetime Sirius. So all day long, I’m listening to CNBC. I’m listening to what these business people want. And I know what these business people want is certainty … so that they can make investments in buildings, and they can decide where to locate. I’m going to give them certainty, because I am not going to increase taxes. I’m going to also cut the tax on the paper bags, which are biodegradable.
But how do you ensure that roads and schools keep up with new development?
I’m going to work with the developers, not against them, as Marc is doing. I’ll be sitting down with them and talking to them about it. Keep in mind: All day long, every day, I’m negotiating settlements with people who have viewpoints that oftentimes are the complete opposite of mine.
So I am going to work with these developers and say, “Hey, we’re not going to put thousands of town houses right just above our drinking water supply in Lake Seneca and right where I-270 is only four lanes—and then claim we’ve saved Ten Mile Creek. We’re going to have adequate infrastructure here, and you’re going to go with me down to the governor and down to [Transportation Secretary] Elaine Chao, and we’re going to improve I-270—and then we’re going to build more town houses, and more nice yards and more shopping centers.”
But we’re going to work together, and that hasn’t been done. The [Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Floreen] has been a bunch of couch potatoes.
But didn’t the council, including Mr. Elrich and Ms. Floreen, pass legislation to protect Ten Mile Creek and the water supply in Lake Seneca? In fact, that legislation prompted a lawsuit by one developer who contended its development was unfairly blocked by the council’s action.
They’ve put thousands of town houses right next to the drinking water supply. I have lived on a farm there since 1994, and the amount of runoff during a serious storm has quadrupled. All this runoff from the oil on all these driveways right next to it—the water goes above the guard rails during heavy rains.
I would have said, “You’re not going to build next to the drinking water supply.” It’s that simple. I’m the only candidate who lives in the Ag Reserve. I would say we’re going to have an area to protect our drinking water supply—and they didn’t protect it. They’re claiming that they did that, but they didn’t. They ruined it.
You can’t have a scarecrow in the Ag Reserve put in the Takoma Park trapezoid. It doesn’t work. I look at things differently. I’m not there in the Takoma Park trapezoid; I’m looking at the upper county, which has been a dumping ground, which has just been taken advantage of for a long time.
Moving on to transportation … . You’ve noted that you drive frequently on I-270. Are you supportive of the plan promoted by Gov. Hogan to widen I-270 and I-495 and install toll lanes?
I know that we must do something. I know the Beltway is clogged almost 12 hours a day. I know that I-270 is a parking lot. I’m supporting anything that allows better traffic flow.
I don’t want to be put in the corner by saying, “Oh, he’s in favor of the toll lanes.”
I would rather not have toll lanes. We have these high fees on the Intercounty Connector that I would argue should be lower. During rush hour, I would even maybe make it free—because that will take cars off the Beltway and take cars off I-270, at least as far as Montgomery Village. And believe me, I’m going to improve I-270. I’m going to be down there with [Maryland Transportation Secretary] Pete Rahn Wednesday morning [after the election] in his office saying, “Hey, let’s do it.”
But there’s a big problem I have with his [Hogan’s] study on I-270: The section from Montgomery Village to Clarksburg is in a future study, it’s not in the present study. That’s got to change.