2018 | Bethesda Beat

Q&A With County Executive Candidate Marc Elrich

This is the first in a series of interviews with the three contenders

Marc Elrich

PROVIDED PHOTO

Given your advocacy of a bus rapid transit system (BRT) as a solution to getting people around the county, are there major road projects still on the drawing board that you think are worth considering? A couple of your rivals in the primary mentioned M-83, the uncompleted stretch of the Midcounty Highway?

I don’t support M-83. I do support widening [MD] Route 355, particularly coming out of Clarksburg. I would widen it to five-lane road—actually six lanes with BRT and have a reversible BRT lane, but also have a reversible car lane. There’s a bottleneck by [Clarksburg High School] where it goes down to a two-lane road, which is nuts. People are looking for a mega-solution to a problem that is created in part by what happens at this bottleneck.

The advantage of BRT is that you start taking cars off 355 south of Clarksburg, which makes room for the Clarksburg traffic. Part of the purpose of transit is to take enough vehicles off the road that you can absorb new development. If I can move more people by buses and free up space on the roads, this makes it possible for people to develop.

You’ve repeatedly indicated support for the county’s public liquor sales and distribution system. Given recent management changes, do you see further steps that should be taken to improve its operations—and do you believe the $30 million it currently yields annually in general revenues could be increased?

Yes. I’d like to bump it up to $50 million in revenue, because we need the revenue. There are some partnerships that are being kicked around that may involve grocery stores, that may involve a combination of liquor sales and other outlets. The [Department of Liquor Control] has leveled the playing field so that they’re kind of charging everybody the same, including the county liquor stores. The liquor stores have to … become efficient, rather than live off the revenue of the whole system, which I think is good. I’ve talked to some people and am trying to get some meetings set up with the restaurants that have been critical just to say, “OK, what do you need?”

If Montgomery County fell under the state system [of liquor distribution and regulation], you’d still have a series of monopolies: No two warehouses sell the same product—they all have specialized products—so it’s a noncompete system anyway. So, how do I make this system so that the prices are actually as good as we can get them? I raised the question about their markups … so I’ve tried to talk to [the DLC] about rationalizing their pricing better, not just simply saying, “I can do this because I’m a monopoly and I’ll make a boatload of money.” You’re supposed to be customer-driven.

You’ve endorsed Ben Jealous, your party’s gubernatorial nominee. County Executive Ike Leggett has held back from doing so, due to reservations about the potential adverse effects of Mr. Jealous’ tax and school funding proposals on the county—and statements critical of the Amazon legislation. Do any of these issues give you pause about your endorsement?

No. I’ve had long talks with Ben about some of this. I’ve explained to him the importance of Amazon to Montgomery, and that our approach has to be that we recognize the likely problems—but we also know they have solutions. The state has provided the transportation solution. If Rockville has got zoning for massive amounts of housing on Route 355, and if Amazon’s only bringing 3,000 to 5,000 people a year here, we may be able to absorb it. The unprovided thing is money for schools; we’ve got to get some money from the state to support some additional school construction.

And I’ve just been real blunt with Ben: I said, “You’ve got to realize … the things the county is going to get will stimulate economic growth that we won’t get under any other circumstances.”

We talked about [the] Kirwan [Commission]. [Editor’s noteThe commission, headed by former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, is preparing recommendations on changes in the state’s school funding formula.] When [Jealous] says he supports Kirwan, that becomes, “Oh, you must be supporting the crazy economic plan.” The economic plan is no longer on the table. [Editor’s note: The reference is to a 2016 consultant’s report presented to the commission that recommended cuts in state aid to Montgomery County.] I was equally clear that’s a no-go: You’ve got to grow the pie; you cannot take it from an existing jurisdiction. It would be crippling to Montgomery County.

There appears to concern on the part of some Democrats that the entry into the race of a Democrat-turned-independent, Ms. Floreen, could split the Democratic vote and result in the election of the Republican candidate. Do you share that concern?

I think the potential is there. Robin’s going to remind Republicans and independents exactly of what you earlier reminded them of [regarding similarities in voting records]. I’ve already seen a Young Republican ad on Facebook. It basically says, “Don’t be fooled by Floreen, she’s the same as Marc, she voted for this, this, this and this.” And all they’ve got to do is throw in the immigrant stuff for the red meat crowd. And for people who don’t like what we’ve done with immigrants, our votes are the same.