By Bruce DePuyt
First of two stories
Doug Duncan spends the better part of his day in a small corner office in a nondescript office building on L Street NW. His non-profit staff is a tiny fraction of the sprawling bureaucracy he commanded as Montgomery County executive in the 1990s and 2000s. Same goes for the organization’s budget.
But the mission at Leadership Greater Washington is large — and Duncan, two and a half years in, likes the work. And he thinks the organization is moving the needle.
“We bring leaders together to advance the Washington region,” he said in a recent interview. Participation in the group’s programs “forge friendships and bonds that break down some of the regional barriers that we have. You will meet people in LGW that you would never have met except at LGW.”
[Disclosure: I’m a member of the LGW Class of 2017. As a journalist, I’ve known Doug Duncan since he was mayor of Rockville and I covered his tenure as county executive and his campaign for governor for NewsChannel 8.]
Participants in the LGW Signature program meet monthly; each session is focused on a single issue such as housing affordability, public safety, transportation or social justice. Approximately 1,600 people have gone through the program since its inception three decades ago. Most are elected or appointed leaders, non-profit executives, or from the corporate world.
Duncan (D) said he was drawn to the job because of its focus on regional challenges.
“In 2014, after I lost the [county executive] primary… I was looking for a job and calling around, [and] heard the job was open. I was looking regionally [because] we absolutely need more of a regional approach to our challenges. We need more of our leaders stepping up and saying, ‘we’re going to look at this from the region’s point of view.’”
Duncan believes the D.C. area’s choking transportation problems are making big-picture thinking more difficult.
“Our interaction has dropped dramatically over the last 40 years because of the traffic situation. Growing up here… you thought nothing of going from Rockville to Tysons Corner mall. You’d just pick up and go. Now you sort of have to plan that event. You don’t see people going back and forth as much… in terms of social interaction.”
LGW mixes wonky seminars with small-group interactions that can — when the chemistry is right — resemble support groups. The group’s after-work happy hours are well-attended. Membership is intentionally diverse and program days take place across the region.
Duncan, the former three-term “mayor of Montgomery,” as he was widely known, plainly enjoys working downtown. “I love working in the District. I love the energy that’s down here. And they deserve [their renaissance]. The District had so many bad years. It’s an exciting place to work and to be, and frankly [the city’s comeback] helps everyone in the region.”
More than a dozen Leadership Greater Washington staff and class members just returned from a trip to Cuba, and a trip to Israel is in the works. There is a sister-organization relationship with Leadership Chicago.
But the main focus is on bringing a diverse mix of people together to learn about, and propose solutions to, the region’s many challenges. Recommendations on the affordable housing crisis may come soon.
“Hopefully [we] become part of the solutions,” Duncan said.
Duncan dropped out of the 2006 race for governor citing depression, and lost to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) as he attempted a comeback in the 2014 primary. He says his current work brings many of the satisfactions he got as the top man in county government.
“Every day I met people in our county who were doing good things in the community because it was the right thing to do. And I’ve got to say in LGW, it’s the same. It’s very inspiring. I’m really enjoying it.”
“When I lost, the one thing that disappointed me was that I would not get to put another team together to run the county. When you have the right team in place it’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
NEXT: Duncan handicaps the 2018 race for Montgomery County executive