How much money did each candidate get from developers? From out of state? And does money buy influence?
Candidates for County Council, Howard Denis (R), the incumbent, and Duchy Trachtenberg (D), challenging, traded barbs about campaign contributions, the ICC, the Purple Line and knowledge of Potomac at last Wednesday’s West Montgomery County Citizens Association meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 9.
Rain and news of the ongoing sniper attacks combined to hold down the number of people attending the meeting,
but the rain didn’t dampen the competitive edge in the debate.
“Voters want an end to the flow of developer money that continues to shape policy here in many ways,” said Trachtenberg, adding that according to one accounting, Denis received well over $100,000 in contributions from developers and real estate interests.
Denis challenged the number and said he had not analyzed the sources of all his contributions. He bristled at the implication that contributions had affected his integrity.
“Was I pro-development in the Potomac Master Plan?” Denis asked. He cited votes on several issues counter to desires of developers, including voting for the impact tax and a construction moratorium in other parts of the county.
“I call the shots as I see them,” Denis said. “What has my opponent ever done for Potomac?”
Ninety percent of Trachtenberg’s contributions come from out of state, Denis said.
THE RECENTLY-APPROVED Potomac Master Plan, which will guide all land use in the area for the next 20 years, affirmed that Potomac’s roads should not be widened beyond two lanes, one in each direction in spite of county executive Doug Duncan’s recommendation to widen River, Falls and Piney Meetinghouse to four lanes. One question asked the candidates if this policy was likely to be challenged by a new council that would include new members elected with Duncan’s help and pledging to support Duncan’s Go Montgomery plan.
“The two-lane road policy will be in peril,” said Trachtenberg.
“Certainly I would fight to maintain the two-lane road policy,” Denis said. “I went up against Doug Duncan on that issue [during the consideration of the master plan], and I won.”
BOTH CANDIDATES pledged opposition to a new bridge crossing the Potomac River.
“For some reason there is language in Go Montgomery to put in $400,000 to match Virginia’s $400,000 for a new study. That’s ridiculous,” Denis said. “I was one of those who insisted we put language in the Potomac Master Plan that we’re opposed to the bridge.”
Trachtenberg touted her Sierra Club endorsement and added that interest groups continue to lobby for building of the bridge. “I have very serious concerns of whether or not its going to get built,” she said.
ON OTHER TRANSPORTATION issues, both candidates oppose widening the Beltway through Bethesda to build carpool and bus lanes. Denis supports the ICC and opposes building part of the inner Purple line along side the Capital Crescent Trail as current right of way calls for. Trachtenberg opposes the ICC but says “Bethesda is the right place to have the rail and with the right design it will work with the trail.”
Ongoing disagreement about the alignment of the future Purple Line connecting Bethesda to Silver Spring (and ultimately Tyson’s Corner to New Carrollton) could cost the region funding for the new Metro line.
“We are going to have to be united on the purple line by next year, or it’s going to be a serious problem,” Denis said. “We’re not going to get the money if we are divided.”
THE QUESTION of contributions from development interests came up again after a question about special exceptions. Special exceptions allow some non-residential uses, like private schools or elderly housing, in neighborhoods.
“The special exception process has been influenced by developers,” Trachtenberg said.
But neither candidate addressed the meat of the question: Should the standard for excessive concentration of special exceptions be different in a low-density area like Potomac than it is in more urban parts of the county?
District 1 includes Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Denis lives in Chevy Chase; Trachtenberg in North Bethesda.