Most of the seven candidates vying to be the next Montgomery County Executive spoke out for social justice, health care, and immigration during a June 11 candidates’ forum at Beth El Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland.
They disagreed, however, about the future of the liquor control board, whether bringing Amazon headquarters to the county would be a positive development, and the importance of political experience.
Attending the two-hour forum was Roger Berliner, County Council member from District 1; David Blair, businessman; Marc Elrich, County Council member at large; William Frick, Maryland delegate District 16; Rose Krasnow, former Rockville City mayor; and George Leventhal, County Council member at large. Attorney Robin Ficker was the lone Republican.
One of the six men and one woman will replace County Executive Ike Leggett, who is not running for another term.
While the candidates agreed that having Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2) in White Flint would create jobs, many expressed concerns about Amazon’s effect on overcrowded roads, the lack of affordable housing, and the local schools.
Blair said he would rather bring small businesses to the county. Just welcoming Amazon “is not a sustainable strategy” for job growth, he said.
Elrich, who spoke mostly about his “intense passion for social justice,” said he was concerned about the potential effect HQ2 would have on the housing stock and the schools.
“We have no plan to fund this,” he said. “I think we are going to need more state money” if Amazon opens HQ2 here.
Berliner countered that it “would be a blessing.” He estimated Amazon would generate $17 billion a year.
Candidates also discussed Montgomery County’s monopoly on liquor stores and sales, which Frick called “a huge problem,” adding he would work to remove the county from this industry.
Ending the county’s monopoly would bring young people and new restaurants to the area and would stop residents from driving to Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia to purchase alcohol, Frick said.
“We know people leave Montgomery County to get alcohol,” he said.
Some candidates pointed out that the county could lose $30 million in profits if it ended the liquor business, while others seemed more concerned with the $100 million in outstanding revenue bonds that would need to be paid.
Frick countered that the financial loss would not be that bad, as more people would buy alcohol here and the county could continue to operate its liquor stores while allowing individual stores to decide what to stock.
Berliner said ending the liquor monopoly would be a priority for him.
As the forum began, Leventhal tried for the home court advantage, noting he became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth El, and his father and sister are members. He told the packed audience that he traced his strong social justice work to “the Jewish values of chesed [acts of kindness] and tikkun olam [repairing the world] of which I was raised.”
Frick also spoke of his connection to the Jewish community while acknowledging he is a Presbyterian. “Literally almost all my friends growing up here were Jewish. I was totally shocked when I wasn’t bar mitzvahed,” he said.
When it came to social values, the six Democrats shared many of the same values, only differing in which issues they would stress.
Leventhal favored health care and ending homelessness, adding, “I will defend our immigrant community.”
Krasnow also said she would defend the immigrant community, noting that her values stem from her childhood in Tennessee during the civil rights movement.
She spoke of her desire for universal pre-kindergarten along with the need to make the county more business friendly.
Ficker, who is unopposed on the Republican ballot, promised to be accessible and said he would answer questions and solve constituent problems “by the end of the week.”
He vowed never to increase taxes if elected.
Blair was also critical of tax increases. “People are leaving” the county because of high taxes and a lack of affordable housing, he said.
If elected, he would fund area nonprofits, which have a higher success rate at achieving their objectives than analogous government programs do, he said.
By Suzanne Pollak
Suzanne Pollak is the senior writer/editor at Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. She was a reporter at The Courier Post in New Jersey and The Washington Jewish Week, and she now writes for The Montgomery Sentinel.