Q&A With County Executive Candidate Marc Elrich
This is the first 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: 68 (born Nov. 2, 1949, Washington, D.C.)
Home: Takoma Park; divorced, four children
Education: bachelor’s degree, University of Maryland, College Park, 1975; master’s degree (teaching), Johns Hopkins University, 1993
Professional background: teacher (Rolling Terrace Elementary School, Takoma Park, 1990-2006); retail store manager (Montgomery Ward, Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op)
Political experience: member, Montgomery County Council, 2006-present; member, Takoma Park City Council, 1987-2006; ran for County Council at-large (1994, 2002), in District 5 (1990, 1998)
What distinguishes you the most from your opponents in this race?
I have the most diverse background. I’ve taught in the schools, I’ve worked for a big business, I’ve worked for a small business, I’ve done community organizing. I’ve had more time in government, in two different governments. I’ve had 31 years of having to figure out how to make budgets balance—and government work.
I think I have a perspective that is more in tune with the county. The biggest issues are not “What do I do to stimulate real estate development?” The biggest issues are “What are we going to do about traffic?” and “How are we going to deal with our overcrowded schools?” And I’m a firm believer that you can actually have development, but you need to have it with the infrastructure. [Republican nominee] Robin [Ficker] has been historically silent on these things, except when it’s convenient, and [independent candidate] Nancy [Floreen] has kind of taken a different approach to development than I do.
It’s been noted that you and Ms. Floreen voted the same way much of the time during your 12 years together on the County Council. Where do you see the major policy differences between the two of you?
When we voted similarly on things, the difference is that I probably led on those things. And Nancy often voted [yes] reluctantly—because, pretending to be a Democrat, it doesn’t do you very good to vote against minimum wage or sick and safe leave or any of this other stuff. But she’s not been an enthusiastic supporter; you don’t find her leading any of the things that relate to ”Are you providing enough schools, are you providing enough transportation in the county?” What I like to point out to people is that if her argument is that I’ve somehow had a bad business agenda, she’s voted for it all.
I know the business community is upset about minimum wage and sick and safe leave. I don’t feel that is anti-business; I feel that, as we’re coming into the 21st century, we have to recognize the value of labor and what it means to have a system where structurally you have a lot of poverty in the community just because of [the level of] wages. And there’s nothing Nancy has proposed that would have been so-called “better for the business community” that I’ve voted against—leaving aside developers, but if you’re talking about the real business community here, the people who provide jobs. I supported the [Economic Development Corp.], her version of it. When it came up again and there was criticism from the council, I said I thought we should give this thing a chance to keep going.
Despite what people tell you, I’ve voted for most of the incentives to the smaller and medium-sized companies that either are expanding or we’re trying to bring to Montgomery County, particularly in the tech areas. So, Nancy’s notion that I represent some kind of threat to the business community … I really do think is a farce. There’s not a single thing I’ve done that she can point to. I think it’s that the developers can’t go out and say, “Marc wants us to pay more, vote for Nancy.” So what they try to do is paint me as anti-business, which I am not.
You’re saying you’re not a threat to them, but the development community clearly feels differently—given where its support and money are going in this race. What’s your explanation for the gulf in perceptions here?
I honestly think this is way overblown. They say it, but I don’t have a record that’s threatening, and I’m going—from their perspective—into a less threatening position. If I’m county executive, I don’t vote on anything, I don’t participate in [Planning, Housing, and Economic Development] Committee meetings. As I’ve tried to explain to people, anything I want to do I’ve got to send over to the council. So if they’re worried about me doing something, what they’re really worrying about is “Is the council going to do this?” I can’t impose fees, I can’t impose new rules, I can’t do anything that the council doesn’t buy into. So the idea that I’m some existential threat? I’m not the dictator of Montgomery County.
I had a meeting with the council, and I told them point blank that I’m not going to send stuff over that people will just react to and vote against. I’m going to make sure that, before I send things to the council, that we’ve talked about it and there’s a sense that this is a direction that we want to go in. I don’t want to be the county executive who picks a fight with the council and tries to drive a wedge between the things I’d like to do and what the council wants to do. I think I take a pretty cooperative view of things.
You recently wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to reiterate your support for the package of incentives designed to attract Amazon’s second headquarters. Were you prompted to do that by recent suggestions—including by Gov. Larry Hogan—that the company might be nervous about locating here if you are elected?
I talked to Hogan’s aide about that. I said, “This really isn’t constructive. You should want Amazon to feel comfortable. You should be telling Amazon that you’ve gotten reassurances from all the county executive candidates that they’re not going to muck with the deal.”
You won’t find any anti-Amazon statements from me through this whole process. I was quiet for a while until I could figure out what was going on. And then, when I got a chance to look at what was actually put on the table … . There’s no way you can’t see the benefit in this. The transportation investment alone [from the state] is staggering: This county’s going to get $2 billion. There’s a lot in there that could really change Montgomery County for the better, and has repercussions far beyond Amazon.
So that’s how I came to making my peace with the Amazon thing. It was just saying, “Frankly, whether I like giveaways or not, this is going to be beneficial.” But then I heard, from somebody who’s political, “You’re going to kill Amazon if you’re elected.” And I heard from others that people in the business community were going around [saying] that I was going to do something to Amazon if I was elected. So I [decided] I was going to tamp this out right now. And the business community ought to know, whether or not they like everything I say, if I say something, I mean it. And I figured that I’d put it down in writing to let Amazon know—because I’m sure they’ve heard these rumors, too, and I don’t want that to be a factor in their decision-making.