Opinion: How Do You Make Heads or Tails of a 33-Person Race for County Council?

Last year, voters in Montgomery County approved the introduction of public financing of campaigns. On the surface, public financing is a good concept, helping to take some of the “big money” out of politics, and giving control back to the taxpayers. Hard to argue against, unless, of course, you’re the big money supporters. In reality, the results of public financing have been fascinating. While not everyone’s utilizing it – candidates can still fund their campaigns the “old” way – public financing has empowered a slew of people to run for the four at-large seats that are up this year. Thirty-three people are running just in the Democratic primary June 26. While we should always celebrate greater involvement in the political process, how is a voter supposed to even start to weed through 33 candidates?   Richard Gottfried Here’s how I, one of those 33 candidates, suspect it will go:

  • Of 33 candidates, you’re bound to know someone – so that person gets checked off first.
  • There are many ethnicities in Montgomery County, and it’s common, when you don’t know much about the candidates (and how could you with 33 in the race?) to associate yourself with someone of the same ethnicity. That’s candidate the second candidate you vote for.
  • You have interests and beliefs and, guaranteed, there’s a special interest group representing them who may or may not be supporting a candidate; it’s an easy choice to pick someone who thinks the same way as you.

Which leaves you one more, for the last at-large seat. History tells us that many voters leave that slot (or two, even) empty. I’m going to humbly suggest that you selfishly use the last slot for your own best interests – and go after the county’s biggest concern right now: its finances. I’ve thrown my hat into the ring for a very specific reason. As a CPA, I look at numbers, budgets and ledgers all day, every day. When I look at the $5.5 billion Montgomery County budget, there are some issues. Big issues. The kind of issues that politicians often cover with tricks, gimmicks and sly accounting – as our county council has unfortunately done the past few years. The problem is that the approach is not sustainable. Times are changing. Have changed. It’s a different economy, jobs are created differently, and because government has yet to figure out the “sharing economy,” the tax burden on property owners continues to increase, while services are forced to decrease. We can’t afford to treat the future with the same approach we’ve used before, and we must have representatives who understand the value of a dollar – or they will continue to take yours. Creating and managing a $5.5 billion budget is hard work, and that requires hard decisions to be made. I give every one of the candidates running credit for being willing to take on the challenge. But Montgomery County is at a crossroads, and if we don’t get smart fast about our finances, last year’s $120 million budget shortfall is only the beginning. And who pays for it in the end? You, the taxpayer, does. More and more each year. So, how do you make heads or tails of a 33-person race for four county council seats? Start by putting your own interests first. RICHARD GOTTFRIEDThe writer is a Democratic candidate for one of four at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council. He can be reached at votegottfried.com. Read commentaries from other candidates in the at-large council race:Ashwani JainHans ReimerCharles BarkleySeth GrimesWill JawandoMarilyn BalcombeBill ConwayNeil H. GreenbergerHoan DangBrandy H.M. Brooks

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