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Commentary Government & Politics

Opinion: East County Deserves a Seat on the Montgomery County Council

Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) has represented the East County ably, the author writes, but may be moving on to run for county executive in 2022. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

By Sebastian Smoot

The writer is a community activist in Montgomery County’s East County. He co-founded the Better Burtonsville Association, the Coalition to Fix MD 198, and Better BRT on Route 29 and currently serves on the East County Citizens Advisory Board. In his day job, he designs wastewater treatment plants.

Voters’ decision last November to add two district seats on the Montgomery County Council will completely change how the county is governed and how services are delivered to key parts of the county. East County — which includes Burtonsville, Calverton, Colesville, Fairland, Hillandale, and White Oak — would benefit greatly from its own council district.

With over 118,000 residents, East County accounts for 11% of the total county population. According to CountyStat, East County is one of the most diverse regions of the county: 20% Black, 20% Hispanic, and 16% Asian. One out of every five Black Montgomery County residents lives in East County, mostly in Fairland and White Oak.

East County has faced decades of economic hardship, and the entire area east of U.S. 29 is at risk of food insecurity due to limited job security, retail options, and transit access (FoodStat, 2018). According to a 2016 report, 30% of households in the area are classified as “Very Low Income” (less than $30,000 per year), 12% don’t own a car, and an additional 38% have access to only one vehicle.

Before Tom Hucker was elected to represent Council District 5, there was no continuous representation for East County residents: between 2008 and 2014, six council members represented East County. The deaths of Marilyn and Don Praisner led to the election of District 4 Councilmember Nancy Navarro. Following the 2010 census, East County was redistricted into District 5 (Silver Spring/Takoma Park), represented by Valerie Ervin at the time. When Ervin resigned to lead a non-profit, Cherri Branson was appointed for the remaining 11 months of Ervin’s term.

Hucker’s steady representation has brought much-needed improvements to East County and connected our underserved families to resources and services. During his tenure, Hucker fulfilled several long-awaited East County goals, including reopening the Maydale Nature Center in Cloverly; cracking down on persistent rental property violations in White Oak; and helping to launch Maryland’s first bus rapid transit system. Additionally, Hucker has addressed urgent community needs, such as keeping the East County early voting center open and ending the dangerous car meetups in Burtonsville. 

With council districts shifting and Hucker exploring a run for county executive, it would be a shame for the East County to once again not have a champion in Rockville. East County deserves a representative who is from the area, understands its needs, and is in touch with the community. East County should not be merged into areas with different needs, such as District 4, which has two Metro stations and multiple strong Wheaton-based candidates.

With planned developments in Hillandale and Viva White Oak projected to add over 6,000 homes and 10,000 jobs, this area could become one of the fastest-growing parts of the county over the next decade. Opportunities exist to transform underutilized strip malls in East County into dynamic, people-centered activity centers. The Fairland Master Plan is being updated for the first time in over two decades to address the changing needs of the neighborhood. An East County council member would be best-suited to lead these transformations.

If the goal of the Commission on Redistricting is to create districts that ensure minority representation, connect underserved areas, and reflect Montgomery County’s commitment to racial equity and social justice, dedicating a council district to the East County should be a no-brainer. A region with one-ninth of the county population deserves its own council member to represent the district. It’s the right thing to do, it aligns with the county’s equity goals, and it addresses the needs of this growing community.