The Saturday-afternoon eruption that was felt countywide wasn’t the Piney Meetinghouse Road quarry blasting off in North Potomac.
It was thousands of Marc Elrich supporters collectively melting down in apoplexy – or the sounds of Elrich supporters taking to social media with angry keyboard fingers – over the Washington Post editorial board’s much-anticipated endorsement in the six-person Montgomery County executive race.
The Post endorsed David Blair, the wealthy Potomac businessman who hasn’t served a single day in public office and whose campaign kickoff was notably rocky.
The first three paragraphs of the Post’s endorsement offer insight into how its editorial board arrived at their choice.
THESE SEEM like boom times in Montgomery County, the mainly rich suburb that has absorbed roughly 100,000 new residents since 2010 to a population now approaching 1.1 million. Amazon (whose CEO, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post) has shortlisted the county for its second corporate headquarters; construction cranes tower over Bethesda and Silver Spring; and the public school system, one of the nation’s largest, includes some of the best high schools anywhere.
That’s why it’s easy to overlook some ominous signs of fiscal and economic trouble ahead. A burgeoning population of retirees, immigrants and other less affluent residents has strained local resources and budgets. Those moving into the county tend to be poorer than those leaving. The chasm between economically prosperous pockets (such as the ones dominated by cranes) and stagnant ones is widening. Most worrying, business and job growth are anemic.
That’s the unsettling backdrop for the June 26 Democratic primary, which is likely to determine who will run the county for the next four years. County Executive Isiah Leggett, a deft and capable manager, is retiringafter 12 years in the job (and no Republican has won an election in Montgomery since 2002). The central question is which of the candidates for county executive is most capable of juicing a sluggish commercial environment — the only way to broaden the local tax base so it can sustain the county’s excellent schools and progressive services.
We think the best bet is David Blair, a dynamic political newcomer with business acumen, energy and passion for innovation.
Perhaps the Post’s editorial board sat inconspicuously in the back of the room last month in the magnanimous hall at The Universities at Shady Grove, listening to economist Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, argue the findings of his recent study that show Montgomery County’s fiscal footing is shaky at best.
Basu’s economic study was anything but promising for Maryland’s largest county.
David Blair’s campaign has not minced words over the truth about Montgomery County’s massive traffic problem, bloated bureaucracy, excessive taxes and the surprising number of businesses not setting up shop in what should be Maryland’s number-one economic hub.
That’s not to say that other candidates running for county executive haven’t been hammering the same platform as Blair. Councilman George Leventhal and Roger Berliner are keenly aware that economic issues remain at the forefront of Montgomery County’s long-term sustainability. Both men have made sizeable overtures to the business community and both men understand the intricate policy details that, fairly so, Blair may not.
That’s not to say that Blair hasn’t learned.
Meanwhile, state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda) has positioned himself as a business-friendly advocate and county government outsider, with a decisive plan to dissolve Montgomery County’s liquor monopoly sooner rather than later. And former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow, the only female running amid the five hearty male executive candidates, has an undeniable grasp on planning policy, having spent 13 years in the county’s Planning Department.
The Post’s endorsement of Blair proverbially killed two birds with one stone, so to speak: It encouraged Montgomery Countians to vote for Blair in the June 26 primary, and it named Marc Elrich as the anti-Blair candidate, setting up a battle between the consummate progressive socialist-leaning term-limited Takoma Park insider versus the moderate, business-friendly political newcomer outsider.
Since the Post’s Blair endorsement/Elrich denouncement, enraged Elrich supporters have taken to social media, excoriating Blair, incorrectly, as a “billionaire businessman” who is attempting to buy the election, linking him to familiar names like David Trone, another millionaire businessman running for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, and President Donald J. Trump, a Republican businessman detested by nearly 70% of Marylanders.
It’s true: David Blair, who is not taking public financing, is spending an inordinate amount of his own money to succeed Ike Leggett. It’s also true that Blair, much like Leventhal, Frick, Berliner and Krasnow, are making significant and authentic overtures into the business community, inviting them to have a seat at the table. It’s also true that Blair has released and articulated comprehensive policy positions on nearly every Montgomery County issue ranging from education, pre-K, to job training, the environment and, of course, luring Amazon.
Other Elrich supporters via social media are eviscerating Blair’s credentials as a businessman, and some have even accused the endorsement as nothing shy of cronyism, given Blair’s impassioned support for attracting Amazon’s second headquarters to Montgomery County. (Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post and is the CEO of Amazon.)
What Elrich supporters haven’t been able to do is to dispel the notion that their chosen executive candidate won’t be an enemy to the Montgomery County business community.
While Marc Elrich is a primary supporter of bus rapid-transit lines throughout the county, in what could become a major economic development initiative, he has, so far, been unable to shake the haunting perception that he’s anti-business and anti-growth. And the perception is pervasive and genuine.
Elrich, to his credit, wants Montgomery County to grow – slowly, nonetheless, and smartly. Also to Elrich’s credit, some of his old-school civil libertarian beliefs are encouraging. Elrich, though, still has not placated much of the business community, who could think twice about investing their time and money in Montgomery County should he become the next executive.
The unintended consequences of the Post endorsing Blair is that Marc Elrich and his vibrant army of below-the-beltway supporters want nothing more than to shape the narrative of the executive race into the wealthy and inexperienced businessman versus the experienced county crusader – the champion of the little guy.
A Miner Detail is unsure whether the Post’s endorsement helps narrow the race down to the two male candidates, nor is A Miner Detail sure who the real David is in this seemingly emerging David versus Goliath narrative.
If anything, Elrich can rightly show that his base – impressive and passionate – will carry him to victory in this unusual six-person race. And with the Post’s boost, Blair can reasonably portray himself as the wildcard, the man with a plan to reshape Montgomery County and solidify its economic footing over the next four years.
Whatever happens over the next forty-some days, the scramble to the finish line will be exciting to watch!
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