Marc Elrich: The First Year as Mongtomery County Executive

The first year

A political gadfly for most of his career, County Executive Marc Elrich’s transition to being the person in charge has not been easy

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Elrich’s economic development strategy involves an attempt to emulate the successes of neighboring Northern Virginia in attracting Amazon’s second headquarters. Using North Bethesda’s White Flint area as a focal point, he hopes to leverage the county’s information technology and biotechnology sectors to attract additional private investment.

He adds: “The strategy of the previous council and the planning board was to zone the hell out of the [county] and we’ll have economic development. You can see how well that worked.”

Navarro and her council colleagues are clearly impatient with what they see as the slow pace of change.

“Right now, it seems like everybody wants to move on certain things, but there isn’t a strategic direction,” she says of economic development. “I think it’s time for the council to take a little bit more ownership of that. The good news is that I think that the entire council is very eager and interested.”

Ultimately, Elrich’s efforts to find additional funding for new initiatives by holding down the growth of the government workforce may determine his ability to get through his term without seeking a tax increase.

During the campaign, Elrich declared: “My view fundamentally is that we’re not doing any tax increases, there’s no appetite for that.” But he raised eyebrows in his inaugural address by hedging his rhetoric to say he wasn’t planning on raising taxes in the coming year—later telling The Washington Post: “I’m not planning on next year, either. For four whole years, that would be hard—but I’m not assuming you have to.”

Elrich points to the demands of the county’s capital budget—ranging from technologies to meet the county’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2035 to the bus rapid transit system he has advocated since early in his council tenure. “If you don’t do an improvement to the transit system, then you’re dead in the water,” he says. “Everybody’s going to say, ‘This is not a place ever to come.’ ”

He continues: “On the capital side…we are placed between a rock and really, really hard place. What we’re going to try to lay out to folks is: ‘This is the world you’re in, these are the needs we have. Are we going to walk away from these needs, or are we going to figure out how we deal with them?’ ”

As he confronts such future demands and the accompanying political pressures, Elrich brushes aside suggestions from others that the transition from legislator to executive has been a bridge too far. “I knew what I was getting into,” he says.

Privately, however, he is said to have frequently griped to acquaintances about some of the job’s less appealing demands. Publicly, he chuckles when asked about his day-to-day routine and the pressures bearing down on him.

“My meeting schedule is absolutely brutal,” he says. “It’s way different [than being on the county council], and the intensity level is unmatched. I see fewer concerts.” Elrich, a member of a rock band in high school, still plays the guitar to relax. “If I get home early enough, I feel comfortable that I can sit down and play a little bit,” he says.

Regarded by friends and critics alike as a policy wonk, Elrich acknowledges his schedule is in part self-inflicted. “I’ve always taken a lot of meetings because I wanted to make sure people had access to me,” he says. “I pretty much want to understand [issues] in enough detail to be comfortable with what we’re doing—and want to bring some perspective to it that may not always be there….That was always one of my favorite parts of work.”

He will turn 73 in 2022 when his term ends, but Elrich exhibits little interest in giving up the job. “My inclination is to run again,” he says. “Nobody is going to get everything done that they want to get done in four years.”

Louis Peck has covered politics extensively at the local, state and national level for five decades. He can be reached at lou.peck@bethesdamagazine.com.

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