Incumbents from the 2002 election’s “End Gridlock Slate” squared off against slow-growth advocates in a hotly contested Democratic primary for the four County Council at large seats. Two members from each camp made it onto the general election ballot: incumbents Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal, and slow-growth challengers Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg. The four Democrats are now piecing together a unified front to face four Republicans in the general election.
“I think that when you go away from the growth issue, we have a lot in common,” said Elrich. “I would not make growth a litmus test – I’m supporting all the Democrats from top to bottom. I think we’ll work very well together on a lot of different issues.”
On the Republican side, Tom Reinheimer, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Party, is running alongside Shelton “Shelly” Skolnick, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2002, and political newcomer Amber Gnemi.
Board of Education member Steve Abrams entered the race in late September after losing the Republican primary for state comptroller. Adol T. Owen-Williams II of North Potomac dropped out of the race to accommodate the last minute change.
As of Sept. 30, there were 273,234 registered Democrats in Montgomery County, compared with 125,534 registered Republicans, meaning that there are more than two Democrats for every one Republican in the county. George Sauer, treasurer of the Republican Central Committee who has lived in the county for over 40 years, said that a Republican has not been elected to an at large County Council seat since the 1960s.
ALL CANDIDATES AGREE that infrastructure has not kept pace with growth. Most Democratic candidates said they would consider reinstituting a revised policy area review – which was removed by the current Council – in order to put more teeth into growth controls. Trachtenberg said that she, Elrich, and Democratic county executive candidate Ike Leggett have discussed salvaging the policy area review, and she is optimistic that there will be a consensus to do so on the new Council.
Elrich and Leventhal said that while growth moratoriums in certain areas of the county are not ideal, they are an alternative that if transportation, schools and other infrastructure are insufficient to accommodate growth.
“You can call that a moratorium, or you can call that a pause until we get the infrastructure,” said Elrich. “I won’t support [development] projects if the infrastructure is not adequate.”
“I voted to keep the policy area review in 2003,” said Leventhal. “If Councilmembers move to bring the policy area review back, I’ll probably vote for it and if that leads to growth moratorium … then I [will support] the results.”
The Republican candidates were less likely than Democrats to consider reinstituting the policy area review and to consider a growth moratorium in areas where infrastructure is inadequate.
“Neither one of those worked very well,” said Reinheimer. “Growth is driven by economic conditions in the county and people wanting to come here. To try to stop that growth is counterproductive. What we’ve got to be able to do is just ensure that there’s more infrastructure.”
Skolnick said he was concerned that slowing growth could have “unintended consequences” such as decreased affordable housing and workers having to live outside Montgomery County and commute in for work. Like Reinheimer, he emphasized transportation projects as key to matching infrastructure to growth.
The Republican candidates prioritized fiscal responsibility and accountability and argued that they would do a better job of trimming fat from the budget than the Democrats.
“We’ve been spending beyond our means, and it comes down to being more fiscally responsible,” said Gnemi. “If we can’t live within $4 billion budget … then we really have a problem. We need to make sure someone’s there who will be responsible for taxpayers’ dollars.”
Skolnick also emphasized “fiscal responsibility.”
“I define that as taxing fairly, spending wisely and verifying with legislative oversight,” he said. He said the current Council authorized of local funds for state highway projects and spent a sizeable budget surplus instead of saving it.
Reinheimer, Gnemi and Skolnick promised not to exceed the charter limit for property taxes.
The Democrats responded angrily to being called the less fiscally responsible party.
“I don’t think [Reinheimer or Abrams] has a record of accomplishments in the county that speaks to specific strengths such as fiscal responsibility,” said Trachtenberg.
“They’re going to eliminate waste?” asked Floreen. “Well, we’ve been working on that for the past four years and will continue. Have they identified what they’re not going to spend money on? Are they going to cut the school budget?”
Leventhal said that the county’s triple-A bond rating is proof of strong management, and he said that a Democratic Council would deliver “the high level of services that Montgomery County residents expect.”
The four Democrats said they are optimistic about staying within the charter limit for property taxes but did not commit to a pledge.
“I won’t pledge it’s not going to exceed the charter limit because I don’t know what the economy holds, but I’m committed to finding other ways of raising money other than property taxes,” said Elrich. “It’s easier to pledge not to exceed the charter limit than to tell people where you’d get money from and what services you’re going to cut.”
The Inter-County Connector, or ICC, is a future toll road that will connect I-370 near Rockville to I-95 near Laurel. The ICC is designed for an easier commute between Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, as well as more business for the Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI).
Studies conducted on the ICC in 1983 and 1997 both determined that the ICC’s effects on the environment outweighed potential benefits in traffic reduction. In 2003, Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) followed through on his campaign promise of resurrecting the plans for the ICC. With support for the project from President George W. Bush and a fast-track environmental review, the ICC was approved by the Federal Highway Administration in May. Completion of the project is expected by 2010.
The project costs about $2.4 million, in addition to a likely $7 toll fee per car.
Most candidates support the ICC except for Gnemi and slow-growth advocates Elrich and Trachtenberg, each of whom expressed concern over the high cost of the project.
“I think we definitely need an east/west passageway to alleviate the congestion problem we have, but I would rather have seen the money go toward the Purple Line instead,” said Gnemi. “We have existing roads from MD-198 to I-370 so we could have done both … but now our money’s drained and we can only do one project.”
Trachtenberg called the ICC a poor investment and said the money should have been spent on mass transit projects like the Purple Line, which would link Bethesda to Silver Spring and College Park by rail, and the Corridor Cities Transitway, which would extend the red metro line out beyond Shady Grove.
“The Inner Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway are both projects that could be completed if we weren’t investing in the ICC, and those projects would help more people,” Trachtenberg said. “Everybody knows the focus needs to be on public transportation and putting more people in mass transit.”
In contrast, Abrams said the ICC is vital in order to connect Montgomery County with BWI Airport, and Reinheimer said the highway “should have been built a long time ago.”
“The sooner it can get done, the better,” he said. “It’s important to have improved mobility from one side of the county to the other.”
Construction of the ICC would fill in a substantial piece of an “Outer Beltway” around I-495, which was first proposed in the 1960s. Some say that construction of the ICC could lend more weight to the movement for a Techway, or second bridge, across the Potomac since the two highways would align well geographically. The Outer Beltway concept fell out of favor in the 1970s because of concern over negative environmental impact.
The Techway is a wedge issue in the County Council at large race, with Republicans tending to favor it and Democrats opposing it.
“We need several of them,” said Reinheimer. “Right now it is a big horseshoe commute from up county down through the American Legion Bridge to get to northern Virginia. We need a western corridor” to take pressure off the American Legion Bridge.
Trachtenberg said she does not support the Techway for environmental reasons and because she believes it would create more sprawl, not less.
“You’re never going to build your way out of traffic,” she said. “If you build a road, it’s going to produce more congestion and encourage more development,” she said. “We’ll solve our traffic problems by getting more people in mass transit.”
Floreen said she opposes the Techway because “it would be damaging to the Agricultural Reserve” and could drain jobs to Virginia. Elrich and Leventhal oppose a Techway into Montgomery County but would support one at Point of Rocks in Frederick County.
STEVE ABRAMS (R) said that the low Democratic turnout and “surprising” results of the Democratic primary for County Council at large motivated him to enter the race late. In particular, he is concerned by the void left by the exit of county executive Doug Duncan (D) and Councilmembers Steve Silverman and Mike Subin (both at large Democrats), who Abrams said worked closely with the Board of Education and superintendent Jerry Weast.
“There’s a need to have some institutional memory about what we’ve been doing on the Board of Education, and I have that from my two-and-a-half terms on the school board,” said Abrams.
His top three priorities are education, improving transportation infrastructure and increased budget oversight.
“If you look at the growth of the budget in Montgomery County, the budget has grown faster than the economy and despite what some people think, schools have not been the primary beneficiary in the increase in the budget,” he said. “The percentage of the county’s budget that goes to public schools has declined while other programs have increased.”
Abrams said that the Council “needs to catch its breath” and conduct more oversight of the budget. He wants older programs that are found inefficient to be consolidated or phased out.
AMBER GNEMI (R), 22, is the youngest candidate running for County Council.
“I’m passionate about getting young people involved in their local government because when they do get involved, they’re getting involved in their future.”
Gnemi’s top three priorities are transportation, education and Homeland Security. As an intelligence analyst for the federal government, she is concerned that Montgomery County is not adequately prepared for a natural disaster or major terrorist incident.
“If elected, the first thing I would do is make sure the county gets an interoperable [communication] system, so first responders [such a police, firemen and medical staff] are able to talk together on the same signal,” she said. “A strong master plan should incorporate evacuation routes so people can get to safety if they need to.”
Gnemi has a proposal for a program in which low-income people could perform community service in exchange for basic health care services. She also suggests a ‘sponsor a family’s basic health care’ philanthropy program. She believes the county should bill the country of origin when illegal immigrants are provided with medical care.
MARC ELRICH (D) is a slow-growth advocate who has worked on affordable housing, transportation and development issues in Montgomery County. His top three goals are “bringing growth into line with infrastructure,” closing the school system’s achievement gap, and better connecting the county through mass transit projects like the Corridor Cities Transitway and the Purple Line.
“We have to be certain that development happens where we have the infrastructure, and that it doesn’t happen where infrastructure doesn’t exist,” said Elrich. “We need to look at the adequacy of other services like fire service as well. Doing that will help deal with some of the budget issues – we need to make sure that development pays its fair share of the infrastructure costs.”
Elrich says that the county’s most recent legislation on workforce housing, which would build 2,500 new units over several decades, is inadequate. Job growth in the public school system alone will far outpace the number of affordable units built. Elrich suggests looking at the affordable housing situation as a “balance sheet,” with the Council aiming to preserve existing affordable housing in addition to creating more.
COUNCILMEMBER NANCY FLOREEN (D) has served on the Council for four years. She previously worked for Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski (D) and served as mayor of Garrett Park.
Floreen said that top achievements during her time on the Council include ensuring more moderately-priced housing units are built alongside market rate units, and meeting the budget charter limit for the last two years. She also cited her work to limit mansionization and her recent neighborhood drainage bill to oversee stormwater concerns during construction.
Floreen said that her top priorities are finding funding sources for education and transportation, restoring faith in the planning process, and creating more affordable housing.
Some slow-growth advocates have criticized the performance of the “End Gridlock Slate” of 2002, but Floreen defended the current Council’s work to increase infrastructure.
“I think this Council prioritized investment in infrastructure and made a really huge step forward on that, while at the same time meeting the charter limit on the property taxes,” she said. “It’s been a very creative Council, and I hope it can continue that kind of thinking.”
COUNCILMEMBER GEORGE LEVENTHAL (D) was interested in politics from an early age, reading the Washington Post as a child in the DC area and working on campaigns while attending school at the University of California at Berkeley. Like Floreen, he worked for Sen. Barbara Mikulski on Capitol Hill. In addition, Leventhal was chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Party from 1996 to 2001.
His top three issues are healthcare, the environment and improving school facilities. Top achievements during his four years on the Council include a program called Montgomery Cares, which created medical clinics for the uninsured and provided free generic medications.
He is also proud of Council legislation mandating that 10 percent of the county’s electricity be from wind power, as well as legislation that provides financial incentives for residents who use clean energy.
“I want Montgomery County to continue to be a national leader in the use of clean renewable energy and in using sustainable technology that reduces greenhouse gases and reduces the spread of global warming,” he said.
TOM REINHEIMER (R) is chair of the Republican Party in Montgomery County, and he has lived in the county for more than 37 years.
Reinheimer said that if elected, he would work toward better management of resources and more accountability in government.
“Too often the government finds it easier to raise taxes than scrutinize spending,” he writes on his website.
Reinheimer’s other top priorities include transportation and education. He actively supports highway projects and proposals and served as an ICC Master Plan advocate. In 1998, he co-founded Marylanders for a Second Crossing, a citizens group that promotes a Techway across the Potomac River. He supports multiple additional bridges connecting Virginia to Maryland.
“The real question is not that we need the crossings but how can we get them and where can we put them,” he said. “Because alignments for those crossings were removed about 25 years ago from Master Plans, the real question is where we can put these crossings that minimize impact to the community and the Agricultural Reserve.”
SHELLY SKOLNICK (R) said his passion for politics began when he ran for president of the student body his junior year of college. He went on to campaign for Democratic and then Republican Congressional candidates, and he ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2002.
Skolnick’s top three priorities are fiscal responsibility, education and transportation. He proposes incentives like reduced Metro fares to motivate residents to travel during “Hush Hours” one hour or one hour after rush hour. He would encourage more public/private partnerships to allow park-and-ride parking at shopping malls on weekdays.
“There are so many things we can do now to make government more efficient, less costly to the public, and to decrease traffic congestion,” he said. “We must address the problems now, not just talk about the ICC and the Purple Line, which are long-term solutions.”
He also believes that transit should be incorporated into major highway projects and proposes a “burgundy line” above-grade light rail in the middle of the ICC and Techway, and a purple line in the middle of the entire I-495 loop.
“I think we need both roads and transit,” he said. “A modified ICC would go a long way to show the benefits of transit and roads working together.”
DUCHY TRACHTENBERG (D) is a slow-growth advocate who became involved in politics in the early 1990s after her son Walter was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She held leadership positions in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and on committees on mental health for the school board and county government. From there, she became president of the Maryland National Organization of Women and decided to run for elected office.
“I think the single most important catalyst in all of it was my son’s illness,” she said. “I had to learn how to become a good advocate for him, and in the process I discovered I could be a good advocate for others as well.”
Trachtenberg’s top priorities are slowing growth, reform of the public health system, and increased health services at schools.
“My primary goal is to get a needs assessment done for the [local] public health system,” which would be free if the county takes advantage of federal grant money, she said.
Trachtenberg also wants to increase health screening in schools.
My goal is to develop with MCPS a range of school-based services for children – screening services around learning disabilities, mental health issues and general health issues,” she said. “I’d like to see a range of services on school sites with an emphasis on early screening and prevention.”
<b>Steve Abrams (R)</b>
EDUCATION: B.S. in Economics, Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania (1968); M.B.A., The American University (1971); J.D., University of Baltimore School of Law (1974)
EXPERIENCE: Council Member, City of Rockville (1980-1989); Montgomery County Board of Education (1992-1996, 1998-2002, 2004-present); General Counsel, Inter-American Foundation; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Food and Consumer Services; Senior Lobbyist, American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); President, Eagle Acquisition Partners, Inc.
OCCUPATION: venture capitalist
FAMILY: Married with two adult daughters
LIVES IN: Rockville
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: cash balance of $65 as of Sept. 1
<b>Marc Elrich (D)</b>
EDUCATION: BA in History from the Univ. of MD; Masters in Teaching from Johns Hopkins
EXPERIENCE: Takoma Park City Council 1987 to present; fifth-grade teacher for Montgomery County Public Schools for 16 years; Past Regional vice president of the Maryland Low-Income Housing Coalition; Past president of Between the Creeks Neighborhood Assoc.; member of the Silver Spring Redevelopment Citizens Advisory Comm.; member the Montgomery County Transportation Policy Review Task Force, member of CURB (the citizen committee formed to fight the County’s Pay and Go developer give-away plan)
ENDORSEMENT HIGHLIGHTS: Sierra Club, Neighbors for a Better Montgomery (NeighborsPac), MCEA (the Teachers’ Union); MCGEO (County employees union); Washington Metro Area Labor Council; OPEIU Local 2
OCCUPATION: public school teacher
FAMILY: Two children, two foster children, three grandchildren
LIVES IN: Takoma Park
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: $64,712 in contributions and $19,915 in expenditures since the last election; cash balance of $43,798 since Sept. 1
<b>Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D)</b>
EDUCATION: A.B. Smith College; J.D. Rutgers Law School
EXPERIENCE: Montgomery County Council 2002-2006; Mayor of Garrett Park 2000-2002; Commissioner, Park and Planning Commission 8; 20 years of community involvement as an advocate and on numerous boards and commissions; private law practice
ENDORSEMENT HIGHLIGHTS: Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors; Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Local 500
FAMILY: married with three adult children
LIVES IN: Garrett Park
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: $305,194 in contributions and $262,195 in expenditures since the last election; cash balance of $51,225 as of Sept. 1
<b>Amber Gnemi (R)</b>
EDUCATION: B.S. in broadcast journalism from Liberty University
EXPERIENCE: worked in a community park and recreation department, worked for a non-profit organization
OCCUPATION: intelligence analyst
LIVES IN: Silver Spring
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: $594 in contributions and $177 in expenditures; cash balance of $140 as of Sept. 1
<b>Councilmember George Leventhal (D)</b>
EDUCATION: Master’s in Public Administration, John Hopkins University; Bachelor of Arts in English, University of California, Berkeley
EXPERIENCE: President, Montgomery County Council, 2005-present; Member At Large, Montgomery County Council 2002-present; served on the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee from 1994 to 2002 and as chairman from 1996 to 2001; life member of the NAACP; member of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase
ENDORSEMENT HIGHLIGHTS: Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors; Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO; Montgomery County Government Employees Organization UFCW Local 1994; Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce; Montgomery County Education Association; SEIU Local 500
OCCUPATION: full-time Councilmember
FAMILY: Wife Soraia; sons Daniel (age 11) and Francisco (age 7)
LIVES IN: Takoma Park
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: $305,911 in contributions and $295,121 in expenditures since the last election; reported cash balance of $23,190 as of Sept. 1
<b>Tom Reinheimer (R)</b>
EDUCATION: A.A. in Business Administration, Montgomery College, Rockville; B.S. in Business Administration, University of Tulsa
EXPERIENCE: Treasurer and board member, Germantown Estates HOA, 2001 – 2003; treasurer and board member, Manchester Farm Swim Team, 2002 – Present; treasurer for two years and chairman for two years, Montgomery County Republican Party, 2002 – present; co-founder, co-chairman Marylanders for a Second Crossing, 1998; member, ICC Master Plan Advocates
ENDORSEMENT HIGHLIGHTS: Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
OCCUPATION: information security analyst
FAMILY: Wife Lilibeth; children Michelle, Michael, Patrick and Matthew; dog Daisy
LIVES IN: Boyds
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: No recent campaign finance data available, but in January 2004, his account balance was $169.
<b>Shelton “Shelly” Skolnick (R)</b>
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Civil Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Bachelor of Laws, Boston University School of Law
EXPERIENCE: Commissioner, Montgomery County Charter Review Commission; Past President, Norbeck Meadows Civic Association; Past Representative, Greater Olney Civic Association; Past Member, Montgomery County Recycling Task Force; Past Director, IBM-WMA Employees Federal Credit Union
LIVES IN: Silver Spring
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: no campaign finance data available at the Maryland Voter Information Clearinghouse (http://mdelections.umbc.edu)
<b>Duchy Trachtenberg (D)</b>
EDUCATION: M.S.W., University of Maryland; B.A., New York University
EXPERIENCE: Social Worker, specialty in Adolescent Addiction; President, Maryland NOW; Past Chair and Governing Councilor, American Public Health Association; Past Vice-Chair, Montgomery County Council’s Mental Health Advisory Committee; Past Chair, Montgomery County Board of Education’s Advisory Committee on Counseling and Guidance
ENDORSEMENT HIGHLIGHTS: Montgomery County Education Association; UFCW, Local 1994 Montgomery County Government Employees Organization; SEIU, Local 500; AFL-CIO; Sierra Club; Retired Teachers Association; Neighbors for a Better Montgomery
OCCUPATION: social worker; currently campaigning full-time
FAMILY: Husband Alan Trachtenberg; children Scarlett and Walter Swerdlow
LIVES IN: North Bethesda
CAMPAIGN FINANCES: $262,850 in contributions and $134,090 in expenditures since the last election; cash balance of $179,278 as of Sept. 1