David Blair, a wealthy health care executive who has been the source of rampant political speculation in recent weeks, said Wednesday that he is “likely” to run for Montgomery County executive in 2018, and anticipates making a formal announcement “within the next month or so.”
In a telephone interview with Maryland Matters, Blair, 48, said he has become deeply concerned with the direction of the county and is prepared to offer “a fresh perspective” to confront problems.
Blair, a lifelong Montgomery resident, said he has been spending the past few months talking to dozens of leaders in a variety of sectors, “getting a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing our county – and the best solutions.”
Blair’s entry into the race would instantly shake up the Democratic primary to succeed County Executive Ike Leggett (D), who is term limited and cannot run again. Three term-limited county councilmembers – Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal – have been running for months, and Bill Frick, the state House majority leader, joined the contest recently.
Former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow and state Sen. Cheryl Kagan are among the other Democrats who are still pondering the race. Political provocateur Robin Ficker is seeking the Republican nomination.
Blair would be the freshest of fresh faces, a political novice who has made tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions but has otherwise not been particularly active in local politics.
But from the time he sold his principal business venture, Catalyst Health Solutions, which managed prescription drug benefits for government agencies and private industry, for a reported $4.4 billion in 2012, Blair’s name has surfaced as a potential candidate for political office. That speculation has ramped up in recent weeks, amid rumors – which Blair confirmed in the interview Wednesday – that he was polling for a possible county executive run.
Blair said he has thought about entering politics for a while, and concluded that county executive was the office that best fit his passions. He grew up in Darnestown, and said he was molded by the people he encountered and the experiences of his childhood in Montgomery County.
The desire to serve, he said, “starts with a deep sense of responsibility that comes from the core of my chest. It’s my turn to set the table for the next generation.”
Blair said that as he drives around Montgomery County, he no longer recognizes what he sees – primarily because the county’s many amenities and opportunities do not seem equally accessible to its residents.
“It increasingly seems like the county is being divided between the haves and the have-nots,” he lamented.
Blair identified the achievement gap in the public schools, the general economic gap in the county, and transportation and infrastructure as the top challenges for the future, and said he was prepared to offer “specific solutions to specific problems” as the campaign unfolds.
“What I can bring to the table is a fresh perspective,” he said. “I think I can bring innovative solutions to these challenges.”
Blair, who serves on the County Executive’s Economic Advisory Group, said he would seek to preserve elements of “Ike Leggett’s legacy.” He praised Leggett for his stewardship of the county’s economy, and for emphasizing infrastructure and new technologies.
But Blair was critical of the County Council, and by extension, the three members he’ll face in the executive race.
“One of the reasons that I’m running is that it seems much of the legislation that’s been crafted is focused on the next election and not the next generation,” he said, adding that the overwhelming voter support for a 2016 ballot initiative imposing term limits, which Ficker spearheaded, validated his criticism.
Blair said that he will research “best practices across the country” to confront the county’s challenges. “I don’t know that the other individuals who are running have that kind of perspective.”
Blair said he grew up in a household with “a serial entrepreneur” – his father, Thomas Blair, was a pioneer in the managed care industry. The son said he is trying to instill a spirit of entrepreneurship “into all aspects of our culture.”
Since selling his company in 2012, David Blair has been involved in several other health care ventures, and is also a partner in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Capitals, Wizards, Mystics and Capital One Arena. He and his wife Mikel recently opened Badlands, a popular children’s play space in Rockville.
“That’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
Blair and his family are well-known philanthropists in the Washington, D.C., area, and are major donors to the Bullis School in Potomac, from which he graduated after attending public elementary and middle schools. He attended Clemson University, emerging with a degree in financial management and accounting.
The Blairs live in a 6,800-square-foot home near the Potomac River, which they purchased for $3 million in 2009, according to state property records. Theirs is a blended family with six children, ranging in age from 20 to 5.
David Blair has made at least $57,050 in campaign contributions in recent years, according to two election databases, mostly to Maryland Democrats – including $1,000 to Frick’s state campaign account last year. Mikel Blair has made at least $26,000 in campaign donations.
Asked if he planned to self-fund his campaign, Blair said he expected that he would do some fundraising and spend some of his own money. “I haven’t made a final decision on that,” he said.
Blair’s looming entry into the race shows just how fluid the political environment in Montgomery County has become. He will be the first true outsider in the Democratic primary, and that could count for a lot. His ability to self-fund could also be pivotal.
But in a polyglot county, there are still no minority candidates running for executive, and no women – unless Krasnow or Kagan take the plunge. This is just the second open county executive race since 1994, and it’s not clear yet what the voters are looking for.
Blair said he is just beginning to assemble a campaign team. He is using SKDKnickerbocker, a prominent national firm, for some early consulting work, and said he is talking to “a handful of folks” who are helping him develop the policy solutions he will unveil on the campaign trail.
Larry Rosenblum, Leggett’s longtime campaign treasurer who is close to former county executive Sid Kramer (D) and his son, Del. Ben Kramer (D), has become a valued informal adviser.
“I think David Blair would make an outstanding county executive and I’m enjoying working with him on his quest,” Rosenblum said.
Blair said that while he is getting guidance from a variety of sources as he prepares to become a candidate, he is not looking to remake his image.
“I’m incapable of being anything but just me,” he said. “I hope to bring my own style to Montgomery County.”