County executive candidates Robin Ficker (I), Chuck Floyd (R) and Ike Leggett (D) argued over taxes, social programs and a second bridge across the Potomac on Thursday night in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It was held at the Rockville campus of Montgomery College and moderated by Ken Muir, a retired educator who served for 20 years as director of information for the public school system.
Floyd and Ficker offered similar messages of tax relief and lobbed criticisms at Leggett but largely ignored each other.
During the debate, Floyd was more critical of government social programs than Ficker.
"The problem is Montgomery County is spending stupid," said Floyd. "There are so many programs for special interests that the county should not be involved in. … I have a backbone to stand up to the County Council and say no to the stupid ideas they come up with."
Ficker is a perennial candidate known for his frequent ballot amendments and his heckling of opposing teams at Washington Bullets games in the 1990s. He was part of the Republican Party for 30 years but changed his affiliation to independent prior to running for county executive. Ficker said his top priority is "to get rid of wasteful spending."
"Since 1974, I’ve put 20 questions on the ballot and they’ve received 2 million votes," he said. "I’m going to stick to the charter property tax revenue limit. ... Ike Leggett: property tax increase; Robin Ficker: property tax relief."
Leggett questioned the sincerity of his opponents’ promises to decrease taxes while preserving or increasing social programs.
"I hope you’ve followed this very carefully," Leggett said to the audience mid-way through the debate. "[Ficker and Floyd] said they’re going to provide affordable housing, better services, and significantly reduce taxes. If you believe that, I have some land I want to sell you in the Ninth Ward of Louisiana."
"We can make certain things more cost effective, but we cannot reduce taxes and provide the level of services [they] talk about," he added.
LEGGETT IS favored to win the race. According to the Board of Elections, as of September 2006, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than two to one in Montgomery County. The county has not had a Republican county executive since 1978, and it has never had an independent county executive.
As the debate progressed, tensions mounted between Ficker and Leggett.
Ficker accused his opponent of being beholden to developer interests, and he also read mailings from the Leggett campaign – some from previous election years – that he said proved Leggett’s irresponsibility with tax increases.
Ficker and Leggett also traded barbs after Ficker spoke of his proposal for a one-track reversible trolley between Silver Spring and Bethesda.
"I think you’re confused, Robin," said Leggett. "Current plans call for a dual track and there’s a reason why. [With just one track] it would take 40 minutes for the trolley get from Bethesda to Silver Spring and back."
Ficker responded, "Ike, it doesn’t take 20 minutes to go from Silver Spring to Bethesda – it’s taken you 20 years to get from one place to the other."
FICKER AND FLOYD both support a Techway, and second bridge across the Potomac River into Montgomery County. Currently, the only crossing into Montgomery County is the American Legion Bridge on I-495.
Leggett opposes a Techway, calling it "a bad idea because it would violate our Agricultural Reserve."
Ficker insisted that the six-lane highway would not have a negative environmental impact.
"As the only Montgomery County executive candidate who actually lives in the Ag Reserve and who is an environmentalist, I can tell you that putting a new bridge at Muddy Branch would not impact the Agricultural Reserve," he said.
Floyd said that a second crossing is necessary to attract more businesses.
"We do need another bridge," he said. "We have businesses that will not locate to Montgomery County and are leaving Montgomery County because of traffic. We need another bridge to connect to [Dulles] airport."
ACCORDING TO CENSUS data, 35 percent of Montgomery County residents speak a language other than English in their homes. All three candidates spoke to the value of diversity, and Ficker said that he supports a program to teach English at county schools on Saturdays.
However, Floyd used his rebuttal time to draw a distinction between legal and undocumented immigrants, saying that "in Montgomery County, we have over 50,000 illegal immigrants at a cost of over $1 million of services." Earlier in the debate, he claimed that 60 percent of the people on the county’s affordable housing list "aren’t even Montgomery County citizens," a statistic that Leggett disputed.
Floyd has served as organizer of the Montgomery County chapter of the Minuteman Project, which is a national group of citizens who attempt to monitor and deter illegal passage into the United States by undocumented migrants. He currently works as a self-employed border security consultant.
<b>Robin Ficker (I)</b>
Education: Montgomery Blair High; U.S.M.A. at West Point; B.S. Engineering, Case Institute of Technology; University of Pennsylvania Law School; J.D., Baltimore Law School; M.A., American U.
Experience: As an attorney, completed 20,000 cases in Maryland Courts and overturned three Maryland laws in Federal Court; collected l5,000 signatures for each of 20 petition drives placing Charter amendments on the ballot since l974; chosen by Rosa Parks, Jacqueline Jackson, Hobart Jackson and Aaron Henry to serve as the first Legal Council for the National Caucus on the Black Aged; successfully sued the Office of the Montgomery County Attorney to end discriminatory questioning and ratings of county job applicants as to physique and facial features; successfully sued Montgomery County School Board to stop them from closing East Silver Spring Elementary for racial reasons; successfully sued Metro to compel them to file proper environmental statements for any amendment to the mass transit general plan; sued the Washington Redskins, CBS and the NFL up to the U.S. Supreme Court to compel them to show sold-out home games on television.
Occupation: farmer, defense attorney
Family: Three adult children – Desiree, Robin Jr. and Flynn
Lives in: Boyds
Campaign Finances: campaign finance data unavailable at the Maryland Voter Information Clearinghouse (http://mdelections.umbc.edu)
<b>Charles "Chuck" Floyd (R)</b>
Education: BS, Biology, University of Richmond; MA, Business Administration, Webster University; MS, Logistics, Florida Institute of Technology; Army’s Command and General Staff College
Experience: US Military Officer; US Department of State Diplomat; CEO and Business Owner; Security and Contract Consultant
Occupation: retired military officer and small business owner
Family: Wife Kathryn, children Anna, Charlie, Julia and Laura
Lives in: Kensington
Campaign Finances: $6,590 in contributions and $37,526 in expenditures; reported cash balance of $2,409 as of Sept. 1
<b>Isiah "Ike" Leggett (D)</b>
Education: B.A., Southern University; M.S., Howard University; J.D., Howard University Law School; LLM, George Washington University Law School
Experience: Montgomery County Council Member, 1986-2002, president 3 times; Chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, 2000-2002; Chair of the Human Relations Commission, 1980-86; Board of Directors, Jewish Foundation for Group Homes of Maryland; Board of Directors, Montgomery County Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Board of Directors, African-American Business Council of Montgomery County; Board of Directors, Washington Area Housing Partnership
Endorsements: Montgomery County Chapter Sierra Club, Montgomery County Career Firefighters Association, Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO); the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400; Progressive Maryland; Montgomery College Democrats, Montgomery County Green Democrats, Montgomery County Hispanic Democratic Club, Progressive Neighbors and Neighbors PAC
Occupation: law professor
Family: wife Catherine Leggett, daughter Yaminah Leggett, grandsons Isiah and Zende
Lives in: Burtonsville
Campaign Finances: $720,319 in contributions and $465,125 in expenditures; cash balance of $430,220 as of Sept. 1