Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D) served notice on Monday that she may run for county executive as an independent in November – which would set up a three-way clash with the winner of the still too-close-to-call Democratic primary and anti-tax activist Robin Ficker (R).
“Today I filed an Intent to Declare Candidacy with the Maryland Board of Elections to run for County Executive in the November general election,” Floreen, a four-term council member, said in a statement.
“Let me be clear: I would like to have waited for the final count of ballots in the County Executive race. However, State law sets July 2 as the deadline for declaring an independent candidacy,” she said.
Floreen’s announcement adds a new twist to an already dramatic election in Maryland’s largest jurisdiction. The Democratic primary won’t be decided until provisional and absentee ballots are counted later this week – and it could drag on longer if there is a formal recount or if the results are challenged.
Marc B. Elrich, like Floreen a term-limited member of the County Council, is clinging to a 149-vote lead over wealthy businessman David T. Blair. Elrich was the choice of 36,117 county Democrats, 29.1 percent of the total. Blair has 35,968 votes, 29.0 percent of ballots cast.
There were six candidates in the field, including Floreen’s preferred pick, former Rockville mayor Rose G. Krasnow, who finished third.
Although she did not say so in her statement, there was immediate speculation that Floreen, a centrist, would decline to run if Blair wins, but would enter the race if Elrich, who ran with strong support from progressive organizations, unions, and civic groups, prevails. Business leaders are openly fearful about the prospects of Elrich leading county government.
“I know she’s upset that Marc Elrich may win, because of her own unhappiness with his political views,” said former Council member Gail Ewing (D), a former political science professor at Montgomery College.
Ewing said Floreen, 66, would be a formidable candidate if she runs.
“She is smart and she is really successful at doing it all,” she said. “She has connections at all levels, with the business community, with the unions, with everybody. She has a strong community base, too.”
“She’s a real force to reckon with, there’s no way to get around it.”
But Floreen could face several obstacles if she decides to proceed with an independent bid.
For starters, it’s unclear whether Floreen is eligible to run as an independent.
By law voters may not change their party affiliate immediately before or after a primary, a function of the state’s “sore loser” law that seeks to block primary candidates who fall short from then running in the general election as an independent. In 1990, then-Montgomery County executive Sidney Kramer waged a write-in campaign for reelection in the fall campaign after being upset in the Democratic primary.
“To me, there’s a legal question – and I don’t know the answer. Can you file a notice of intent to run as an independent when you’re not an independent?” Ficker asked. “She’s very clearly a Democrat today. It’s almost like trying to be [in] two different parties at the same time.”
Currently, Floreen is a registered Democrat, though she indicated in her filing papers she will change to unaffiliated on July 9, when the window for switching parties reopens.
She faces an Aug. 6 deadline for filing her candidacy, and must turn in approximately 6,500 valid signatures from registered voters at that time – meaning she will have to collect more like 10,000 signatures in just a month to ensure that she meets the threshold. If there are challenges to the primary outcome or a recount, Floreen could find herself having to decide whether to run before the Democratic battle has been resolved.
“I know that getting 10,000 petition signatures is not easy to do,” said Ficker, who has gotten several ballot initiatives on the general election ballot in Montgomery County, and was an independent candidate for county executive himself in 2006, garnering 9.4 percent of the vote. “In fact, I’d characterize it as difficult to do.”
Political observers say a Floreen candidacy could benefit from the feeling of disappointment many women voters have over the failure of female candidates to find the win column in the June 26 primary, particularly in the At-Large Council race, where the top four Democrats were all men. If all the Democratic nominees for council win in November, as expected, eight of the nine council members will be men.
A male politico said the unstated message of a Floreen candidacy would be: “OK, girls, we get one more chance.”
Floreen served two terms on the Montgomery County Planning Board and as mayor of Garrett Park before winning a seat on the Council. She was the top vote-getting in that 2002 contest.
Although she did not explicitly say she would opt out of the contest if Blair overtakes Elrich at the finish line, she did lament the lackluster turnout and sharply divided outcome.
“I did not support either David Blair or Marc Elrich. Whichever candidate prevails in the count will do so with less than 30 percent of the third of Democrats who voted — a fraction of a fraction,” she said in her statement. “That’s less than 40,000 votes in a County of more than a million. I believe ALL Democrats, Republicans, and independents would benefit from a third, independent choice.
“I will announce my final decision on candidacy once all the primary votes for County Executive have been tabulated and certified.”
If Floreen runs as in independent, she is likely to enjoy substantial financial support from the county’s developers and other real estate interests. Blair, a former health care executive, largely self-funded his campaign, and as he rose in the polls, business leaders sought to unify behind his candidacy.
Ben Spielberg, Elrich’s campaign manager, did not respond to an email Monday evening requesting comment. Laura Evans Manatos, a spokeswoman for the Blair campaign, was on vacation and did not respond to an email. A phone message left at Blair’s campaign headquarters in Rockville was not returned.
Asked whether a three-way race with Floreen and the Democratic nominee would alter his strategy, Ficker replied, “I think I’m going to win whether or not she’s on the ballot.”