Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sneak Preview: Montgomery County Executive // 2014's Rumored Candidates!

Gossiping about candidates for office is as much a ritual as eating giant turkey legs at the Renaissance Festival. Since we are so close to the 2014 Democratic Primary (only 1,010 days away), I thought it was about time to roll out a sneak preview of the 2014 race for Montgomery County Executive.

All joking aside, a lot of politicians are currently undergoing serious hand-wringing as they debate whether to run for the County's top spot. In the past, I always appreciated that Maryland Politics Watch's Adam Pagnucco provided a small information-dumping and vetting ground for party operators to find out more about prospective nominees. But now that he is employed in MoCo government, I thought I would take it upon myself to keep the information flow moving. After talking to several area politicos, I've drawn up an informal list of potential Democrats running for Montgomery County Executive in 2014. I lump them into three categories:

(1) signs of life, (2) rumors are circulating, (3) utter speculation

P.S. If you feel I've omitted anyone worth mentioning, please feel free to leave a comment below.

MoCo Executive 2014


Marc Elrich - Several people have mentioned discussion of an Elrich candidacy to me in recent days. Mr. Elrich came in first in the Democratic Primary, which speaks to his relatively broad name ID and his eager outreach to civic associations throughout the County. Nevertheless, the strength of the civics as a political community has waned in recent years (as has the problem of over-development -- his signature issue). As a result, it is unclear if Elrich -- who spent multiple cycles trying to win a Council seat -- will be willing to gamble it all away now. The other question will be whether Mr. Elrich has the capacity to raise the money to defend himself in a race likely to require into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not over $1 million). That being said, he has traditionally won races (even countywide) with less than half that of his competitors. He should not be underestimated if he enters the race, as he is cut from the activist-legislator cloth.

Valerie Ervin - Currently serving as the Council President, Ms. Ervin is usually the first name mentioned in any list of County Executive candidates (ours is alphabetical). At this early stage (and there is a long way to go), she is probably seen by most observers as the candidate to beat. She has tended to legislate pragmatically and from the "strong leader" mold, and she is a popular figure in her Silver Spring-anchored district. She is also prolific in her outreach, and much of the area donor community seems to like her. That being said, taking charge of the Council in a recession has stirred up some trouble with her usual other allies in labor. It is not clear whether the dust-up will be short-lived or not, but remember that we are only in the first year of a four-year Council term. There will be a few more budget cycles worth of Councilmembers to be mad at. (Disclosure: I helped Ms. Ervin in her Council race last year).

George Leventhal - Many have told me that Mr. Leventhal has made no secret of his desire to be County Executive. Perhaps the Council's most outspoken member, he is also the most difficult to pigeonhole. Mr. Leventhal is a vocal advocate for affordable housing, transit, disability rights and other justice issues. At the same time, he rode into office on the 90's Duncan-era slate that was associated with a pro-business and development agenda. Ironically, both of those sets of constituencies do not come with large and easily definable voting constituencies. Nevertheless, Leventhal has achieved victory multiple times now. In the 2010 primary, however, Mr. Leventhal received the fourth and last at-large Council seat, behind his colleagues Marc Elrich, Hans Riemer and Nancy Floreen. That fact should either give him pause about his chances or push him to work that much harder to make up ground around the County. He has 1,010 days to do it (or not).

Steve Silverman - Apparently, the runner-up in 2006 wants another shot at the title. Current Executive Ike Leggett beat him by a significant margin that year, even while Silverman outspent him by thousands. Placed in context, 2006 was a "change" cycle: Bush was in office, while development and the ICC lingered as issues. None of those factors helped Silverman in '06, but none will likely be factors in 2014. Nevertheless, most are asking whether Silverman still has electoral muscle. His name has been out of the public game for some time, and in many ways, the Leggett administration's economic development legacy is also his now (Silverman is the County's economic development chief).


Phil Andrews - Councilmember Andrews has built a sturdy reputation as a hardworking and upfront guy in his Rockville-anchored district. He still works the voters each cycle, even with only token opposition. Rumors are now circulating that he may be eye-balling a promotion of some sort. Most previously assumed he was waiting around for the 8th Congressional District to open up, but my theory would be that he's considering Executive. He's built a reputation as a staunch labor union opponent -- which makes more sense in a local primary than a federal one. In recent months, he's also quietly stepped up issue contrasts with the Leggett administration. Meanwhile, some of his biggest backers are the Volunteer Firefighters, who tend to dovetail in interest with Andrews' anti-labor perspective. Are all of these contrasts with his colleagues a coincidence or deliberate positioning? We shall see.

Ben Kramer / Rona Kramer - There has long been discussion about the Kramers making a bid to retake the seat formerly held by their father, Sid Kramer. Most of the talk had previously centered around Delegate Ben Kramer, who made a failed effort to join the County Council in 2009 (disclosure: I managed his opponent's effort). Since then, Kramer opted out of a rematch and instead went on to head the District 19 Democratic Delegate slate, coming in first place for three seats in 2010. It is unclear whether the rumors of his Executive interest are simply rumors, or more. Same goes for Mr. Kramer's sister, former State Senator Rona Kramer, who recently lost her re-election bid to then Delegate Karen Montgomery. It seems difficult to see an Executive bid coming out of that type of loss, but stranger things have happened.


Doug Duncan - Former Executive Doug Duncan is politically homeless right now, but his head occasionally pops up. For example, he was spotted in the audience at a hearing this summer on Montgomery County's proposed curfew. Mr. Duncan also donated to a few first-time primary candidates last year, prompting some to think he was trying to build a new network. Others have told me these rumors are hogwash. Would he really want to return to Rockville in this economy?

Nancy Floreen - The at-large Councilmember was rumored to be entering her final term this year, but candidates say a lot of things they don't mean in the midst of campaigns. She may yet run for re-election. That being said, people periodically speculate that she may try to go up-and-out rather than just out. Don't rule out an Executive bid just yet.

Mike Knapp - Former Councilmember Knapp was rumored to want to take on Leggett in 2010, but he instead retired from office. Craig Rice now has his seat, but Knapp has been rumored to be considering the Executive's race again.

Ike Leggett - Many have started measuring the drapes in Mr. Leggett's office before he announced his retirement! We understand he is not termed out of office, and that he is sitting on a decent cash cushion. What if he doesn't want to go? 

Rich Madaleno - The District 18 State Senator's name was circulating early this summer, but it has dropped off the radar since then. I'm not seeing the signs of life that would justify this rumor. (Disclosure: I worked on Madaleno's 2010 primary).

Tom Perez - Former District 5 Councilmember and aborted candidate for Attorney General, Tom Perez, is often conjured up in discussions about dark horse candidates for Executive. Perez is currently a big-wig at the DOJ, which makes him: a) potentially in a better place (depending on what you like doing), or b) out of the public eye for too long. His new ties with the Obama administration would be an X-factor if he decided to run.

P.S. To clarify, it seems extremely unlikely that all or even most of these sitting Councilmembers will actually run. At least a few will likely think better of the gamble and move on to something else (or simply run for re-election).


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  2. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the 2010 Democratic Primary at-large council results to determine 2014 viability. In 2006, Leventhal was the top primary vote getter but in 2010, as you noted, he came in fourth. The County Executive race will also be much more competitive with, I hope, a higher turnout than the 2010 Council at-large race.


  3. @Marc. Agreed -- I should've clarified that none of this is really a reflection on any candidate's chances. We have a long way to go and have no idea how this race will be framed.