If this was any other campaign year, the winner of the Democratic primary in the race for Montgomery County executive could kick back and hit cruise control en route to a stress-free victory in November.
Not this time.
Three-term County Councilman Marc B. Elrich (D), who won his primary by the barest of margins (just 77 votes), was forced to spend the summer retooling for a general election battle against two brand-name opponents, Democrat-turned-independent Nancy M. Floreen and attorney Robin Ficker (R).
Floreen, who planned to retire after 16 years on the county council, decided to enter the contest after the recount in the Democratic primary, succumbing to the entreaties of citizens and businesspeople who felt the party choices weren’t really choices.
She quickly tapped a large network of real estate and other deep-pocketed commercial interests to gather the needed signatures, and now voters will have three choices when they cast ballots in the fall.
All three candidates have new staffers on board as they prepare for the marathon between now and the start of early voting.
Because they say you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, here’s a look at the folks — some old names, others not so much — who will be trying to steer their candidate to victory in November.
Marc B. Elrich
Elrich has hired Brian Wivell to serve as his campaign manager. Wivell, who is active with the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America, was co-manager of Chris Wilhelm’s campaign for county council and helped Virginia Democratic Del. Lee Carter win an upset victory over a powerful GOP incumbent in 2017.
“[Wivell] understands public financing, how to compete while being outspent and the importance of a robust field campaign where we can talk with residents who are receptive and supportive of my message that we need to work with our residents, our small businesses and our county employees to enhance our quality of life for everyone,” Elrich said of his decision to bring on Wivell to the campaign.
Campaign Chairwoman Debbie Spielberg, who took over day-to-day operation of the campaign when her nephew Ben, who had been the campaign manager for the primary, left the Washington, D.C., area in early July, now goes back to her original post. She has been an Elrich volunteer since 2006.
The campaign’s new field director is Brad Chester, who worked on Vaughn Stewart’s bid for the House of Delegates in District 19 this spring. Chester will help organize what Spielberg called the “grass-roots, community-focused” network of volunteers (and a few paid interns who’ve stay on even as they return to class) who have always been a hallmark of Elrich campaigns.
Dale Tibbetts is the candidate’s treasurer.
A new fundraiser is coming aboard soon, Spielberg said. Elrich and Ficker are participating in the county’s new public campaign financing system. Floreen, who is expected to attract even more financial support from the business community the coming months, is not.
Elrich, Wivell and Spielberg will handle press matters, mostly the candidate.
The Elrich headquarters is at 8700 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, in the old Sun Trust Building.
He had $103,000 in the bank as of Aug. 21.
Now that she’s on the ballot, Floreen has begun assembling her team.
Richard Parsons, a longtime transportation advocate and political consultant, has come aboard as campaign manager.
A former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and president of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, Parsons worked most recently for David Trone’s bid for Congress, in the 6th District. An outspoken advocate for the Intercounty Connector, he brings deep ties to the business community.
“He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge about the county and its players,” Floreen said.
Sarah Van De Weert will serve as director of communications for the Floreen campaign.
Joyce Fuhrmann is treasurer.
Sally Sternbach, a longtime activist who also has deep ties to the business community, serves as campaign chairwoman.
The Floreen campaign has moved into the headquarters space used by Rose Krasnow, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for county executive, at 1616 Rockville Pike in Rockville.
She had $135,832 cash on hand in her most recent report. The campaign declined to give a more updated number.
Fundraising will be a shared responsibility, Van De Weert said.
Former state delegate Robin Ficker, who served one term in Annapolis, has been involved in county politics for decades, running for every office imaginable, sometimes as a Democrat, occasionally as an independent, now as a Republican.
He has gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures to place more than a dozen questions on the ballot. He rarely fails to qualify, but his questions almost always get defeated. A notable exception is his 2016 effort to enact term limits for top county officials, which passed overwhelmingly.
Ficker’s campaigns are usually seat-of-the-pants efforts, fueled by his seemingly boundless energy.
Now, thanks to the county’s campaign finance system, with its generous match for small donations, Ficker, for the first time, has money to play with.
David Knupp, who is doing communications for Amie Hoeber’s congressional race against Trone, is also working for Ficker. An outside consultant, he is the closest thing Ficker has to a traditional campaign manager.
Given the candidate’s reputation as a gadfly (and loud-mouth heckler at Washington Bullets games, until his courtside seats got moved to the rafters), Knupp knows he has his work cut out for him.
“My goal is to show people … that there is a different side to him, a person who truly cares about the people of Montgomery County,” Knupp said. “And even when seeming misguided, he always wanted to have the interests of the people of Montgomery County at heart.”
Ficker’s communications director, in characteristic break-the-mold fashion, is Ryan Gniadek, a 17-year-old student at Quince Orchard High School and president of the Teenage Republicans of Montgomery County.
“He’s a very astute, very capable individual who has worked on a lot of campaigns in the past,” Knupp said.
Amy Ginther is Ficker’s treasurer.
Knupp said that Marc Uncapher, the head of the county GOP, and party activist Dwight Patel round out Ficker’s kitchen cabinet.
The campaign does not have a headquarters, using the Montgomery County Republican Party’s offices for meetings.
Ficker had $234,000 cash on hand as of Aug 21.