Declaring “there is no mandate” in fellow Democrat Marc B. Elrich’s primary victory, Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen announced her independent run for county executive on Wednesday, saying she will immediately begin working to gather the signatures needed to get onto the November ballot.
“The critical interests of Montgomery County families are ill-served when any candidate can prevail with barely 29 percent of the one-third of Democrats who turned out, the Republicans had no choice at all, and the county’s 150,000 independent voters were prevented by law from voting in either contest,” she said in a statement.
Floreen’s decision sets up a likely three-way battle with Elrich, who won the Democratic primary by 80 votes, and activist Robin Ficker, an attorney who ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
Nancy M. Floreen
“I honestly wasn’t planning to do this,” she told Maryland Matters. “But after the [primary] results came in, I started getting bombarded with communications from people saying, ‘Nancy, you’ve got to do something.’”
She said a neighbor stopped her Wednesday morning and asked, “Nancy, am I going to have someone I can vote for in the general election.”
Critics of the major-party candidates, particularly moderate, pro-business Democrats, expressed both glee and a sense of relief that Floreen has decided to get in the race.
“It’s great,” said former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who served three terms. “[Until now] you had the gadfly, Robin Ficker, and the socialist, Marc Elrich. She’s a much more common-sense answer to what the needs of the county are.”
“It’s clear to many people that a choice between Marc Elrich and Robin Ficker is not a choice at all,” said former Councilmember Steve Silverman (D), who served as head of economic development for Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett (D).
Elrich, a three-term councilman, has heard such talk his entire political career.
He has expressed confidence that voters who give him a fair shot will decide he’s more mainstream than his reputation. In the 2014 general election, Elrich was the top vote-getter in the at-large race, outpacing Floreen, the second-place finisher, by nearly 1,000 votes.
On Sunday, after the Board of Elections concluded its vote count, Elrich said he’s not anti-development, he’s against development that comes at taxpayer expense.
“People understand we have to get more serious about schools and transportation,” he said. “If we’re going to develop we have to make sure that those pieces come along with it.”
Elrich has been working the phones, hoping to get elected leaders to publicly support him, and his efforts are bearing some fruit.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D), one of the six candidates running with Elrich in the just-concluded primary, said he supports the nominee.
“Marc and I, we have our differences, but people grow into their new roles,” Berliner said. “My belief is that anybody who assumes a larger responsibility will rise to the occasion and [he will] realize he has to pull our county together.”
“He has work to do to assure the rest of the community that he will be a county executive for the entire county,” he said.
At-large Councilman Hans Riemer (D) is also on board with Elrich.
“Marc Elrich and I have been allies on many issues though we also have profound differences in our approach to progressive politics and the future of the County. He won the Democratic primary for County Executive and therefore I support him,” Riemer wrote in a Facebook post.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D) said he too supports Elrich.
“I’ve never seen him as the crazed liberal that people have made him out to be. … He’s not anti-development, he wants certain things with development,” Madaleno said.
Councilman Tom Hucker (D) is also backing Elrich, as is Del. Marc Korman (D).
But many other leaders are remaining neutral, holding off on a commitment until primary runner-up David T. Blair decides whether to seek a recount and whether Floreen and her team can get the signatures they need.
In addition, many elected officials, including some who Elrich has reached out to, are staying on the sidelines until they see what their colleagues do.
“Obviously there’s comfort in numbers,” said one official, speaking anonymously in order to speak candidly.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow, who finished a distant third in the county executive primary, is backing Floreen. Floreen is said to have been instrumental in Krasnow’s decision to enter the race earlier this year.
Floreen acknowledged that the task of gathering approximately 7,300 valid signatures by the Aug. 6 deadline won’t be easy. Given her track record — four terms on the county council, a stint on the county planning board and one and a half terms as mayor of Garrett Park — Floreen’s ability to attract votes is a given.
“Nancy Floreen is a very credible candidate, and I would expect it to be a competitive election,” said former Councilmember Phil Andrews (D). “She has a more moderate voting record than councilmember Elrich.”
“The race will come down to their ability to reach out beyond their bases,” Andrews said.
Because she was term-limited and not planning to seek another office in 2018, Floreen has not been raising funds this cycle. Her campaign account has just $121.
One elected official said it will cost $300,000 to get enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot, and $1 million to mount a winning campaign. Business groups are expected to mobilize quickly to help with the effort.
In addition, the county Board of Elections must approve her request to switch from Democrat to unaffiliated. The board meets July 16 to rule on her party-change application. The state board of elections has advised the Montgomery board that it may do so.
If she can get on the ballot, she will seek to become the first woman to serve as county executive in Montgomery, and the first non-Democrat elected to the post since the 1970s.
“We’re in unchartered territory,” Silverman said. “But if you look at the math, I think there’s a path to victory.”
Because just 17 percent of Montgomery County voters are Republican, few observers see Elrich and Floreen splitting the vote in a way that propels Ficker to victory. Beyond that, the dynamics of a three-way race are just beginning to take shape.
“It’s hard to predict at this point what’s going to happen,” Andrews said.