Montgomery Executive Race Hits Next Phase With Floreen Petition Haul

It appears Montgomery County voters will have three choices in the race for county executive, not just two, when they step into the voting booth in November.  Democrat-turned-independent Nancy M. Floreen submitted 20,343 petition signatures to the Board of Elections on Monday afternoon, almost three times the number she needs to qualify for the ballot. Assuming she meets the legal threshold of 7,255 valid signatures, Floreen will run against fellow County Council member Marc B. Elrich, winner of the Democratic primary, and Robin Ficker, the GOP nominee. “It’s amazing,” she said of her team’s three-week effort, a push helped along considerably by the work of two paid signature-gathering firms, Field Works and The North Consulting. “These petition drives are very demanding.”  Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen turns in her paperwork Monday to launch an independent bid for county executive. Photo by Bruce DePuyt  Floreen is “waiting until we get certified” by the Board of Elections to begin the next phase of her campaign.   After four terms on the Council, the term-limited Floreen was set to retire. She backed former Rockville mayor Rose G. Krasnow in the Democratic primary, but Krasnow finished third behind Elrich, who ran with the support of unions, progressives and civic leaders, and businessman David T. Blair, the choice of more moderate voters, business groups and The Washington Post editorial page.  When Elrich and Ficker, an attorney and longtime gadfly, emerged as nominees, Floreen, a centrist, said she was besieged by people asking her to run as independent, to give voters an additional option. She changed her party registration a short time later.  “She wants to do what’s right,” Melissa S. McKenna, a former head of the County Council of PTAs who appeared with the candidate on Monday at the county Board of Elections in Gaithersburg.  “She’d be one of the best county executives we’ve had, by a mile,” said Paul S. Geller, an education activist who ran unsuccessfully for county council in June. “She understands the middle ground in every argument.”   Former Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who served three terms, is backing Floreen, as are several high-profile members of the business community, who are expected to help bankroll her campaign. Many elected Democrats are backing Elrich, citing his victory in the party’s six-candidate primary. He has reached out to several of his former rivals, seeking their support.  Floreen has yet to hire a campaign manager or open an office; Elrich’s campaign manager moved to California after the primary to rejoin his wife, not anticipating the winner of the Democratic primary would have to sweat the general election. Campaign Chairwoman Debbie Spielberg is serving as manager on an interim basis. The board now has 20 calendar days to review Floreen’s signatures.   Financial challenges for Elrich While Floreen can anticipate a windfall of financial support from developers and the real estate community, Elrich, who many business leaders oppose, is grappling with the county’s new public campaign financing system, which he utilized to great effect in the primary. That system has a generous matching formula, an enticement to get candidates to participate. The first $50 that county executive candidates receive from a qualifying donor is matched six-to-one, the second $50 is matched four-to-one, and the next $50 is matched two-to-one. Elrich collected more than $600,000 in matching funds during the primary, at the same time his principal opponent, Blair, was spending about $3 million — much of it from his own pocket (Elrich also benefited indirectly from independent expenditure campaigns from unions and progressive groups). But once an individual has contributed $150, he or she is maxed out for that four-year cycle.   This means Elrich, who survived a grueling primary, must now cultivate a whole new group of donors as he enters a race against two well-known rivals.   He called the “max-out” provision of the public financing law “dumb.” “It’s a mistake in the law, the way we wrote it,” he said in an interview. “You should be able to treat [the general election] as a new campaign.”   Former Councilman Phil Andrews, the primary architect of the system, defended the law, including the low ceiling for donors.   “They have to keep expanding their base,” he said. “They can’t keep going back to the same people.” Critics have long complained that developers and other business interests hold undue sway over county government policy because of their ability to raise funds, particularly for incumbents seeking re-election. Montgomery’s system, which is being used for the first time this cycle, is being watched closely by good-government advocates elsewhere.  Andrews served as the executive director of Maryland Common Cause before entering politics. As he seeks to replenish his campaign coffers, Elrich said his campaign is “trying to work with people we know.”   “We’re going to people who gave to [the other Democrats] in the primary.”   Elrich, who served on the Takoma Park City Council before winning a seat on the County Council in 2006, has long been successful without raising a lot of money, observers noted.   bruce @marylandmatters.org

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