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by Judith Hruz
The message of the county executive hopefuls has been consistent this election season and no one veered from it during the March 5 debate sponsored by the Greater Olney Civic Association.
Six of the seven candidates for Montgomery’s top seat took part in the forum held on the historic Mainstage of Olney Theatre Center.
An estimated 225 people attended.
More than 80 people attended a Feb. 15 forum at Sandy Spring Museum.
Taking part in the forum were six Democrats, County Councilman Roger Berliner (Dist. 1), businessman David Blair, County Councilman Marc Elrich (At large), former Rockville mayor and former Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission director Rose Krasnow and County Councilman George Leventhal (At large), and attorney and former state delegate Robin Ficker, the lone Republican in the race.
Sate Del. C. William “Bill” Frick (D-Dist. 16) could not attend due to commitments in Annapolis.
Berliner, who has served on the council since 2006, suggested that voters look at the candidates’ experience, record, temperament and vision, adding “records matter.”
Although he has 12 years of service on the council, he said that for the first half of his life he was a small businessman.
He touted some of his accomplishments on the council, ranging from utility improvements, including holding power company Pepco accountable for frequent power outages.
“I kept your lights on,” he said.
His message has included environmental advances, feeding the hungry, workforce development and working on the bid to bring Amazon to the county.
He also called himself “the champion of seniors,” touting his efforts to deferring property taxes for seniors until they sell their homes.
Blair is a lifelong county resident and a business owner, noting his accomplishment of turning his business, Catalyst Health Solutions, from two employees into a Fortune 500 company.
He said he said being a good county executive is about “having a vision.”
One of his visions, he said, is that “100 percent of our kids” are college or career ready.
Blair said he sees Montgomery County “as slipping” and that the county needs to start creating jobs.
He also expressed concerns about transportation — he wants the county’s RideOn bus service to be free — school performance and overcrowding, cost of living and wage inequality.
Blair said he sets “big goals,” works collaboratively and makes those goals happen.
Elrich has served on the council since 2006. Previously, he was on the Takoma Park City Council and worked for the county as an elementary school teacher.
He said he was the top vote-getter in the previous council election and earned “the support of a wide range of people.”
Accomplishments include work on minimum wage laws, tenant rights and the Bus Rapid Transit system.
As county executive, he would work on school overcrowding, pursue an expansion of early childhood education, and partner with the county’s workforce to streamline services and free up resources for needed investments, according to his website.
Elrich said he understands neighborhoods and that the county is “deeply obligated” to meet the expectations of its residents.
Ficker, a perennial candidate, showed the boisterous personality the public has come to know.
Ficker, who stood up to give his closing remarks – unlike the other candidates who remained seated – said he is different from the others.
He is the only one that has served in the U.S. Armed Services, is the only upcounty candidate, running against “the Beltway Boys” and the only candidate with experience in the Maryland Judiciary System.
He talked about his success in referendums resulting in curbed property tax increases and term limits for the county executive and council members.
If elected, he plans to hold an open house each Monday morning for residents to meet with him.
Krasnow, who did not attend the Feb. 15 event in Sandy Spring due to a previous commitment, said that as mayor of Rockville, and before that as a member of the Rockville City Council, she worked extensively and “collaboratively, not abrasively” with the County Council and the Maryland General Assembly, especially on the redevelopment of the city’s downtown.
She said she can bring a “new voice” to the position of county executive.
In addition to her skills as mayor and as a planner, she said she knows how to bring people together. She said she was active in the civil rights movement as a young child growing up in Memphis, Tenn.
“Sometimes we don’t treat citizens with the full respect they deserve,” she said, vowing to change that.
Leventhal, who has been on the council since 2002, said “things are changing rapidly” in Montgomery County and “we need someone with the most experience in county government” to serve in the top spot.
In addition to his record on the council, he said he brings a “deep and broad understanding” of all facets of the community.
He touted his accomplishments in providing basic health care services to uninsured county residents, known as Montgomery Cares, and serving as co-chair of the Healthy Montgomery Steering Committee, among others.
He said he is also proud of his legislation that restricts the use of toxic lawn care chemicals on public and private property, playgrounds and children’s facilities. The law makes Montgomery County the first county and largest jurisdiction in the nation to prohibit the cosmetic use of pesticides, according to his website.
At the Feb. 15 forum in Sandy Spring, Frick had spoken of his accomplishments while in Annapolis, including working on the Dream Act and marriage equality, repealing the death penalty and gun control, and gaining experience from several leadership roles, including House Majority Leader.
He had said his key goals are to build a 21st-century economy where the county is a business advocate, not an obstacle; to build a 21st-century government with education, transportation and public safety as priorities, and to build a 21st-century workforce that is attractive to millennials.
The Primary Election is June 26.
The winner of the Democratic Primary will vie for the county executive seat against Ficker, as the only Republican in the race.
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