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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
In true Quaker style, a candidate forum held at Sandy Spring Museum on Feb. 15 offered a civil way for voters to learn about the candidates vying for Montgomery County executive, and providing that information is what organizers hoped the gathering would accomplish.
“It’s really great that people attended and were educated on the issues and what the candidates stand for,” said Mimi Hassanein, who organized the forum with Jennifer Zucker. “I am a firm believer that educated voters make better choices.”
The event, sponsored by the museum’s advocacy committee, drew a crowd of more than 80 people, organizers said.
Candidates attending were Robin Ficker, the lone Republican, and Democrats Roger Berliner, David Blair, Marc Elrich, C. William “Bill” Frick and George Leventhal.
Rose Krasnow (D) could not attend due to a prior commitment.
The format consisted of a 10-minute period for each candidate to introduce himself and to explain why he is running for the position. An opportunity for guests to mingle and speak informally with each candidate followed.
Debra Street of Colesville said she thought the forum was worthwhile.
“We are trying to become more aware of who is running and it helps to see them in person and in a format that is not polemic,” she said.
Keith Smith of Aspen Hill called the event “very informative.”
As a parent of a young son and a member of the organization Coalition for Equal Representation, he said it was well worth his time.
“As a Democrat, I have my work cut out for me,” he said. “I was impressed with a number of the candidates.”
County Councilman Berliner (D-Dist. 1), who has served on the council since 2006, suggested that voters look at the candidates’ experience, record, temperament and vision.
He touted some of his accomplishments on the council, ranging from utility improvements, environmental advances, feeding the hungry, workforce development and working on the bid to bring Amazon to the county.
Berliner intends to work towards a “more perfect” Montgomery County.
“I think we are a pretty fine county, but not close to our true potential,” he said.
Blair (D) is a lifelong county resident and a business owner.
He expressed concerns about transportation, school performance and overcrowding, cost of living, wage inequality and creating jobs.
He offered solutions, which included embracing new technology, ways to create a more business-friendly environment, investing in early-childhood education and a prescription drug program for seniors.
While Blair believes Montgomery County is one of the most talented and diverse counties in the country, he says it could be better.
“I am going to stand on [County Executive Isiah] Ike Leggett’s shoulders and take us there,” he said.
County Councilman Elrich (D-At large) 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.
Accomplishments include work on minimum wage laws, tenant rights and the Bus Rapid Transit system, he said.
Going forward, he wants to invest in early-childhood education, better prepare high school graduates for careers, and get the Bus Rapid Transit system built.
“I wouldn’t run for county executive if I didn’t think I could make a good thing better,” he said. “It’s easy to promise things, but you have to figure out how to deliver. I have a record of delivery and commitment and look forward to serving you as county executive,” he said.
Perennial candidate Robin Ficker (R), always boisterous, did not disappoint.
He touched on his experience and knowledge of Quaker Friends and said that he observes their virtues and values.
Ficker said he is different and the other candidates are all the same. He is the only one that has served in the U.S. Armed Services, is “the only upcounty guy, running against the Beltway Boys” and the only candidate with experience in the Maryland Judiciary System, he said.
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.
“Montgomery County is going to be number one,” Ficker said.
State Del. Frick (D-Dist. 16) has served in the Maryland legislature since 2007.
He spoke of his accomplishments while in Annapolis, working on the Dream Act and marriage equality, repealing the death penalty and gun control, and experience gained from several leadership roles, including House Majority Leader.
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.
“We have a great future ahead of us and I am ready to be the one leader who can take us there,” he said.
County Councilman Leventhal (D-At large) has been on the council since 2002.
Many of the previous candidates spoke about things that were wrong with the county, but Leventhal had a different perspective, saying, “We have a lot to be proud of.”
He said if it were not for term limits and Leggett (D) were on the ballot, he thinks Leggett would be reelected.
“If this was such a terrible place, why would Amazon have us on their short list?” he asked.
Leventhal said he is proud of his record, stressing public health and social justice.
He also noted that he is using public financing for his campaign.
If elected, Leventhal said he will continue his legacy of treating all residents with courtesy and dignity.
Krasnow, a former mayor and City Council member in Rockville, most recently served as deputy director of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The Primary Election is June 26.
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