Housing, Economic Development were Central Issues at Montgomery County Candidate Forum
Candidates for Montgomery County Executive and the County Council’s at-large seats discussed health, education and jobs at a political forum held on Thursday.
The forum was hosted by the Montgomery County Black Collective, a group of Black leaders of various organizations in the county advocating for policies to eliminate inequity.
The Black Collective designed the forum to address issues faced by Black-led businesses and nonprofits, and focused on economic development, education, health and housing.
The candidates were sent the questions in advance, and were given two minutes to answer.
Five of the six county executive candidates attended the event held at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center in Silver Spring: Shelly Skolnick (R), Reardon Sullivan (R), Marc Elrich (D), Peter James (D), and Hans Riemer (D). Business owner David Blair (D) sent in a video responding to the questions.
Affordable housing and economic development became points of contention between Riemer and Elrich.
Elrich sought to establish a record of tackling shortcomings, pointing to fixing Worksource Montgomery, the county’s job search service, and funding new housing projects in the region.
Though the county executive said the county “has made a mess” of affordable housing.
“Housing policies which only talk about building housing — without being specific about who you are building housing for — will fail,” Elrich said.
Riemer said that Elrich was “part of the problem” with housing policy in the county.
The county council member asserted that Elrich has opposed affordable housing proposals throughout his administration.
“He has been resisting and fighting and saying no to new housing at every turn, not recommending new housing that is affordable on properties,” Riemer said.
Both Republican candidates said that eliminating the county’s debt was a big policy priority. Skolnick plans on decreasing the debt by cutting spending, claiming he can cut the operating budget down by 5%.
Sullivan said public safety was his top priority. He proposed reinstating student resource officers to schools. He also supported providing stipends for police vehicles and financial incentives to live in the areas in which they work.
Six of 11 candidates seeking the at-large council seats participated in the panel: Gabe Albornoz (D), Dana Gassaway (D), Scott Goldberg (D), Tom Hucker (D), Dwight Patel (R), and Laurie-Anne Sayles (D). Will Jawando (D) sent in a video response.
Brandy Brooks (D), Christopher Fiotes (R), Evan Glass (D), and Lenard Lieber (R) were unable to attend.
Among at-large candidates, land use became a talking point during the forum’s closing statements.
Gassaway said that the vast majority of the usable land in Montgomery County is now gone.
“We cannot feed ourselves,” Gassaway said. “If there were an emergency we would not have the biomass.”
Sayles said the county should focus on food production — including at agri-tourism magnets, breweries and wineries — within the county’s 93,000-acre Agricultural Reserve.
She also said the county was not building enough affordable housing or making sure there is racial and gender parity among the county’s spending contracts.
Hucker agreed that more affordable housing units need to be built, and noted that just 30% of the county’s annual goal was constructed last year. He also expressed interest in expanding county job creation programs and addressing mental health in county schools.
Goldberg, who owns a real estate management company, highlighted his experience as a job creator and told voters he would use his “best judgment, knowledge, experience and intelligence” to steer the county’s budget and make the county a better place.
Albornoz promised to work collaboratively on the council to solve tough problems and to “uplift all communities and treat everyone with the dignity and respect that they so richly deserve.”
Patel, the only Republican candidate to appear, said he would support better roads and infrastructure in the county, specifically the widening I-270 and the Capital Beltway.
The full forum is available online.
Voters will elect four at-large councilmembers in 2022. Election Day is July 19; early voting begins July 7.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.