Frustrated by an incumbent whose leadership style he considers sluggish, Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D) has formed an “exploratory” committee ahead of an expected bid to unseat County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) in 2022.
Hucker held a campaign event at Kaldi’s Social House in Silver Spring Thursday evening, a venue he chose because it is a Black- and immigrant-owned small business.
He was joined by several elected officials, including state Senators William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) and Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) and Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D).
Navarro said she believed Montgomery could recover more robustly and equitably from the COVID-19 pandemic if Hucker takes the executive spot.
“In order for us to take Montgomery County to the next level, our COVID-19 recovery cannot be the same as pre-COVID Montgomery County,” Navarro said. “It needs to be better.”
She and other speakers said Hucker’s history as a state legislator as well as on the council will be beneficial in forging working relationships at all levels of government.
Hucker becomes the third Democrat to announce plans to challenge Elrich, who became the top official in the state’s largest county in 2018, following a narrow primary victory.
In considering whether to challenge Elrich, with whom he has a friendly relationship, Hucker has spoken extensively with associates from around Montgomery and others he befriended during his two terms in the House of Delegates.
Hucker’s council district includes the politically-active and liberal southeast corner of Montgomery County, an area that includes Takoma Park, where Elrich served as a city councilman before winning a county council seat.
Although the two men have overlapping bases of support and have worked together on countless issues, Hucker has been urged to forego a third term on the council because of frustrations with Elrich’s leadership style.
“He’s being urged by unions and business-leaders and everybody” to run, said a well-known, politically-active Democrat with whom Hucker has spoken.
He received 64% of the vote in a three-candidate general election campaign that included a long-serving Democrat, Council Member Nancy Floreen, who ran as an independent, and Republican Robin Ficker, a perennial candidate.
The activist — who spoke on condition of anonymity — said there is a broad belief among political insiders that Elrich could be vulnerable.
Elrich “hasn’t built out that 29% [and] Tom knows it,” he added. “There’s been a lack of purpose and immediacy by the county executive.”
Hucker, the founder of Progressive Maryland, is expected to focus on economic development, social justice and expanding the county’s transit network.
“It’s not enough for our county executive to be progressive. We need a progressive that can and is committed to actually delivering progressive results,” said Hucker, who also promised a “culture of action, not delay and paralysis” if elected.
In an email to supporters on Thursday afternoon, he said he would be making a “special announcement.”
“Our county needs forward-thinking, progressive change,” Hucker wrote. “We can make it happen — but only with your support.” The announcement, an invitation to the rally, did not mention his plans to challenge Elrich.
Blair announced his plan to run for executive in March. The former CEO of a health care services company and a philanthropist, Blair spent more than $5 million on the 2018 race and is expected to dig deep again in next year’s battle.
Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D) launched his campaign for county executive last month. Unlike Hucker, who could seek re-election to the council if he chose, Riemer is in his third term and cannot run again for his at-large seat because of Montgomery’s term-limits law.
In Montgomery County, Republicans are a non-factor in local elections. Whether the presence of so many primary challengers works to Elrich’s advantage won’t be known until Democratic voters go to the polls next June.
It took Elrich several tries to win a county council seat, but he was the top vote-getter in the 2010 and 2014 elections. He has strong ties to the county’s politically-powerful unions.
Elrich has generated headlines for his battles with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) over the state’s response to the pandemic, a controversial highway-widening project and other issues.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report, which was updated after Hucker’s event.
(Disclosure: The David and Mikel Blair Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Maryland Matters.)