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Government & Politics

Montgomery Co. Exec Candidates Take Their Case to the Realtors

In a debate before a roomful of Realtors Wednesday, Montgomery County executive candidate Nancy M. Floreen (I) cast herself as a stronger advocate for the business community than her November opponents, accusing her main rival of wanting to rehash “old issues” and engage in “paralysis by analysis.” “My number one objective is to grow our economy, to support our businesses who are here and to attract new investment,” Floreen said. “If we do not do that, your taxes are going to go up. People are going to leave.” Floreen, a four-term member of the County Council and lifelong Democrat, entered the race for executive at the behest of business leaders and other allies this summer, after her longtime colleague, Councilman Marc B. Elrich, emerged from a prolonged recount as the winner of the Democratic primary.   Elrich, a critic of the county’s development practices, rejected Floreen’s portrait of him, telling the audience of more than 100 that he’s committed to improving Montgomery’s business climate.  The three candidates for Montgomery County executive debate Wednesday: Councilman Marc B. Elrich (second from left), attorney Robin Ficker and Councilwoman Nancy Floreen. Photo by Bruce DePuyt  “I’ve been a champion of responsible development,” the three-term legislator said. “I do think that we need to get more out of development to support infrastructure in this county.” “I think we need a different way of doing it, because right now, with impact taxes, if you pay an impact tax in Bethesda, there’s no guarantee that that money will go to a project in Bethesda.” Attorney Robin Ficker (R) highlighted his role as anti-tax activist, telling the audience he would work with “my friend Larry,” a reference to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), to ease congestion on Interstate 270 and provide a voice for people who don’t live down-county. “I am the only candidate here who does not live in Takoma Park Trapezoid,” he said to laughter. “All four Democratic At-Large [Council] candidates live in the Takoma Park Trapezoid. The chairman of the County Council lives in it. Rep. [Jamie] Raskin lives in it. It’s an area only 4.1 percent of Montgomery County’s land area. Those folks love to raise your taxes.   “I live in Boyds and I drive 270,” he said. “We’re going to get Montgomery County moving again.”  Elrich noted that Montgomery has 10 million square feet of vacant office space. “We need to figure out.. what has made us undesirable. The state needs to ask themselves the same questions.”  Floreen scoffed. “I’m not going to put together a two-year task force to tell me what’s wrong with permitting and review,” she said. “This is not a mystery. We do not have to have paralysis by analysis. “I am actually aware of what the business community feels about how we make them feel… how they feel dumped on, how they don’t feel valued.”  Normally, the race for Montgomery County Executive is effectively decided in the Democratic primary, but Floreen’s decision to bolt the party and run as an independent has scrambled the contest, creating an air of uncertainty. “I made this into a real general election,” she said in her opening statement, a remark viewed as a slight against Ficker, a perennial candidate. The candidates also discussed tax policy, the county’s pursuit of Amazon’s second national headquarters, affordable housing, the role of the unions that represent county employees, transportation and Montgomery’s uneven efforts to lobby the General Assembly for more state aid. Elrich said that, if elected, his fiscal year 2020 budget would hold the line on taxes. “I’m going to live within our means. I have to live with the dollars we’re spending now and figure out how to spend those dollars better. I think we can do that.” He also said he would consult with the county’s unions to “resize the government,” a remark that struck Floreen as ludicrous. “You’re going to have the unions decide how we operate?” she said to laughter from the audience. Really? They’re not going to determine how I run Montgomery County, and they shouldn’t, because they’re the most costly elements of our operation.” Elrich, who has close ties to organized labor, stuck to his guns. “Nancy’s comment shows how little she understands how people go about restructuring in the real world,” he said. “Lockheed Martin and Toyota went about their restructuring by working with the work force, because no one knew the work floor and the work process better than the workers.” Ficker said the ballot question he sponsored requiring unanimous consent of the Council for any property tax increase beyond the rate of inflation had saved families tens of thousands of dollars. He accused his rivals of being beholden to their supporters. “My campaign is not being financed by a parallel, union-financed campaign.. or by a parallel PAC campaign. I’m responsible only to you,” he said, in his trademark bellow. The GOP candidate is participating in the county’s new public campaign financing system. Floreen chided Elrich for the letter he released expressing support for Amazon, which has included Montgomery in its list of “HQ2” finalists. “The county executive should not be in the position of having to write a letter to Amazon saying, ‘I’m really OK with business, don’t be afraid,’” she chided, adding, “The head of the county has to be the kind of person who will continue with our creative deal to attract jobs and businesses to the east part of the county, something that my colleague fought against. “The county executive has to set the tone for our future.” Elrich said election-year politics played a role in his decision to clarify his support for state and local efforts to woo the e-commerce giant. “I wrote the letter to Amazon because I heard people associated with your campaign going around publicly saying that I wouldn’t support the Amazon deal. I thought that was wrong. I thought it was destructive. Considering I supported the Amazon project from when it was introduced, it was not useful to put out there that someone who might be County Executive would undo the deal.” Ficker boasted that he recently spent time in Seattle, speaking to Amazon employees and encouraging them to choose Maryland. His boast prompted a retort from Floreen: “I’m sure the receptionists at Amazon were very nice to Mr. Ficker.” Despite Ficker’s repeated references to Hogan, it’s not clear if the governor is supporting his candidacy. Inquiries to the Hogan campaign were not returned. In introductory remarks before the forum, Tom Daley, president of the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, said, “We want our industry to be treated equitably and not to be singled out as the single financing source for every county initiative. We simply seek a seat at the table and the opportunity to work with the [County] Council and the County Executive on major initiatives and direction.” The debate was moderated by Will Thomas, a former WTTG (Fox 5) reporter and anchor who recently left TV to become a real estate agent. [email protected]


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Montgomery Co. Exec Candidates Take Their Case to the Realtors