MOCO: Let The 2018 Campaign Begin!

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Bill Turque has a first cut look at what the post-term limits universe might be in Montgomery County. He considers three factors: a business community newly eager to throw its weight around, a number of current county and state elected officials eager to make a move, and the potential for a new crop of candidates, fueled by public financing, to get in on the action. Let’s go in order, starting with the business community.

There are signs that the business sector will be newly aggressive in recruiting and supporting candidates of its own, who might bypass party primaries to run as independents. Private-sector leaders have become increasingly outspoken about their unhappiness with recent increases in property and recordation taxes, a higher minimum wage and what they consider a lackluster county record of attracting and retaining jobs — Marriott International’s decision to remain in Bethesda not withstanding.

“The business community is very concerned that we have not been hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway,” said Charles K. Nulsen III, president of Washington Property Company, which has extensive holdings in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Northern Virginia.
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One executive involved with the group, health-services entrepreneur David T. Blair, is said by political insiders to be considering a run for council or county executive. Blair did not return phone messages last week. Another, more familiar business name in play is David Trone, the wine merchant who spent a record $13.4 million this spring in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to represent Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
Multiple people in county politics, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Trone is considering a run for county executive, among other options. Through a spokesman, Trone said in an email: “The campaign for Congress strengthened my commitment to be in public service. A number of people have suggested opportunities in that regard, and I am in the process of deciding on my next step.”

Couple of comments: one, in a gubernatorial election year, running anywhere other than the Democratic primary is a fool’s errand. Two, Mr. Nulsen, seriously, ditch the golf metaphor, would you? Not helping. Three, if David Trone runs for executive, any other business type folks should just politely find other things to do in 2018. Maybe get a tee time with Charles Nulsen.

I love me some Bill Turque, but overall, this list is very celebrity heavy. In the business context, there are other “businessy” candidates looking to run at the county level – it’s not just wealthy white male business guys looking to throw their money around. One name I hear all the time regarding the Council is Marilyn Balcombe, president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce and a veteran presence in Montgomery County politics. I’m surprised she didn’t make this list.

The problem for candidates tagged “business” in MoCo is that such a brand results for many primary voters in an instant, visceral hatred. Which is too bad and wrong, because even as progressives we need to cooperate with business – where, when, and as appropriate – to bring jobs and resources to a county in need of both. That’s not going to happen if we shun anyone with a business connection as a “corporate whore” or similar epithet. But this opening salvo – rich white guys making golf references while talking blithely about spending gobs of money outside the new campaign finance system – was and is a disaster if that’s how it’s gonna go. Try again, guys. Some of us are willing to work with you, but you have to do better than this.

Next up, the celebrity chase. Back to Turque:

Political chatter in the county is filled with the names of hopefuls who are looking hard at the opportunities — including term-limited council members who appear undeterred by the anti-incumbent sentiment that helped fuel the ballot amendment.

Both Leventhal and Elrich plan to run for county executive, and Floreen and Berliner may, as well. Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), a two-term incumbent, also is weighing a bid, which could make him the only African American candidate in the field.

Leventhal is first out of the gate. His fundraiser in Silver Spring this coming Saturday limits contributions to $150 so he can qualify for matching funds. Elrich is expected to do the same.

The openings on the council and in the executive’s office also have attracted wide interest from many who have run before and lost, and from members of the county’s state legislative delegation. At least two Democrats in Annapolis, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. and Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (Montgomery), whose father, Sid Kramer, was county executive from 1986 to 1990, said they are looking seriously at the executive’s race.

Both would have to relinquish safe seats to make the race, and a state lawmaker who became county executive probably would have to give up any outside employment. Anyone elected as executive or to the council could hold the post for no more than 12 years.

But the incentives are just as strong: a higher profile, no leadership to defer to, and a hefty raise over their current, part-time government salaries of $46,000. (The county executive makes $190,000; council members will make $136,000 by the end of 2017).

“I think probably every state legislator in Montgomery County is going to give it some thought,” said Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-Montgomery), who is thinking about Berliner’s 1st District seat.

Other Democrats considering Berliner’s job are Dels. Ariana B. Kelly (Montgomery) and Marc A. Korman (District 16), as well as Andrew Friedson, a senior aide to Comptroller Peter Franchot and former campaign adviser to Trone. Those weighing at-large bids for council include Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery) — who might also run in Upcounty’s 2nd District if Rice becomes a candidate for county executive — and at least two top county officials, Recreation Department Director (and former county Democratic chair) Gabriel Albornoz and White Oak planning director (and former Kensington mayor) Peter Fosselman, who said he also is considering the 1st District contest.

The problem for the current at-large Councilmembers is two fold: one, term limits just passed, and fairly or not, many see them as at least part of the reason why. Two, there’s four of them; unless one breaks out of the pack, they may to some degree end up cannibalizing the in-crowd, particularly Leventhal, Berliner, and Floreen. Marc Elrich has a more off center (pun intended in all respects) base of support. Craig Rice has the advantage of being the only black candidate, but his name recognition starts out well below the AL crowd.

Ben Kramer has never made a secret over his desire to pursue his dad’s old job. I think this may be the year he pulls the trigger and runs. The Madaleno rumor about county executive is news to me, I have heard repeatedly that he was looking at Council, though. Intriguing.

Throw in Trone and you have three separate factions (incumbents, Annapolis guys moving over, and business guys) fighting for what might turn out to be a very slim plurality of the diminished 2018 primary electorate for County Executive. Yes, I use “guys” deliberately, the County’s never had a woman exec, and only Nancy Floreen even makes the cut for Turque’s list today.

On the Council, it’s a laundry list that starts with a catch all poke at a few of us. “Many who have run before and lost” is apparently lazy shorthand for, among others, former CD8 candidate Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, my neighbor Evan Glass here in Silver Spring, Reggie Oldak of Bethesda (ran for delegate in 2006), and little old me, as I am considering a run for Council among a wide variety of options. Probably others, too. Thanks, Bill, for that “oh by the way” oblique reference. See if I give you any good rumors any time soon. ?

Now to the celebrity gazing. District 1 presents a dizzying array of prospects. Two D16 delegates (Kelly and Korman, who share an office in Annapolis), Andrew Friedson, who’s become a buddy of mine over the past year, D18 delegate Al Carr (not the only one I’ve heard rumors about), plus a former mayor and current County official in Pete Fosselman.

Who can do the best job of distinguishing themselves from the crowd here? That’s probably the most important question.

On the at-large race, sure to ultimately be the most interesting, I think Turque ran out of space and time. Gabe Albornoz is running, yes, but Charlie Barkley is running in District 2, because Craig Rice is almost assuredly running for executive. There are many others (us “former losers” again) eyeing this situation and this discussion is really pretty thin.

The same goes for Turque’s final group, the “new candidates looking to bootstrap public financing” crowd. Only one candidate gets a mention, MCYD President and fellow Philly sports fan Will Roberts. There’s a serious discussion to be had about how this coming tectonic shift is going to play out across all of the areas Turque discusses, and he gets deep into a couple of them, but there’s more, much more, to sift and chew on as these races heat up. He’ll have more, I’m sure, and so will I.

But for now, two words suffice – “game on.” 

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