Montgomery County Council At-Large Candidates Debate

Your photographer failed repeatedly to squeeze all eight candidates into a  photo.

Your photographer failed repeatedly to squeeze all eight candidates into a photo.

The four incumbent Democrats running for re-election to the Montgomery County Council acquitted themselves well in a debate Wednesday night. They all know Montgomery County government and key issues, but they don’t agree on everything.

Meanwhile, both Democratic at-large challengers, Vivian Malloy and Beth Daly, proved they’re able to engage with the incumbents.

The takeaway: Democratic voters face tough choices in the June 24 primary. A few other takeaways:

  • Beth Daly, a graduate of the Democratic Emerge Program, which prepares women to run for office, is a serious candidate. One of the incumbents is likely to be bumped from the Council.
  • Tim Willard, the only Green Party candidate, might be the sleeper candidate of this election. He has no Green Party competition in June. With sufficient funding, he could seriously challenge Democrats in November.
  • Beth Daly and Marc Elrich gave hints of forming a political alliance. Daly agreed with or complimented Elrich four or five times in the debate. I don’t recall her mentioning any of the other candidates by name. When asked after the debate, Elrich acknowledged her remarks without hesitation, and allowed that he and Daly could work well together.
  • Finally, a hunch. Elrich seems like the incumbent most likely to be safe in the Democratic primary.

Development and transportation in Montgomery County were two hot-button issues in the debate. Everyone was concerned about traffic congestion, but no one had surefire solutions.

Vivian Malloy, who lives in Olney, spoke passionately for the poor, advocating more jobs and affordable housing. Beth Daly, who resides in North Montgomery, not far from the Frederick County line, spoke for protection of the Agricultural Preserve and argued that adequate infrastructure needs to be in place ahead or future development.

Incumbents Marc Elrich and George Leventhal seemed most knowledgeable and persuasive of the group. Elrich said every neighborhood is against density, and he advocated preserving existing affordable housing. Leventhal summed up the development conundrum with these words: “We have to prosper while minimizing our footprint.”

Among the participants, incumbent Nancy Floreen appeared to most appreciate the nuances of issues and the complexities of governing. Floreen smiled warmly throughout the debate, took little offense, and was reluctant to promise easy solutions. Leventhal was a bit testy at times, but very well-informed. Hans Reimer, the youngest of the incumbents, is finishing his first term. He spoke well, arguing strongly for improving Ride-On bus service for riders, and  advocating a “more vital, exciting and dynamic Bethesda.”

Most of the eight candidates support building the Purple Line, which will connect Bethesda with Silver Spring and on into Prince George’s County. All six Democratic at-large candidates participated, plus one Green and one Republican.

Elrich also defended Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as more economical than other transit options. Leventhal, Daly and Reimer supported BRT as well.

Candidates views on development varied. The future of single-family housing in Montgomery generated the most heated exchange. Marc Elrich and Beth Daly took the cautious approach to development and density. Vivian Malloy and Robert Dyer advocated attracting big businesses for economic growth. Leventhal, Floreen and Reimer all agreed that single-family housing will remain viable in the county. “What’s really extinct is affordable housing,” Malloy said.

Dyer was the only Republican on hand for the debate, and Willard represented the Green Party. Neither Republicans nor Greens face a contested primary in June, so the spotlight was on the six Democrats.

Out of one million residents in Montgomery County, only a little more than 100 attended the debate. Turnout in June is likely to be light.

Those are my first impressions after the debate. If anyone has different views, please comment. Also see David Lublin’s post, “Verdict On The At-Large Debate” at TheSeventhState.com.

— John Hayden

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Filed under Democracy, Housing, Maryland

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