This is the first entry in a series of previews and in-depth looks at major candidates running for Montgomery County Executive in 2018
Robin Ficker, an attorney based in Bethesda, announced his entry into the Montgomery County Executive election in March. Ficker is running as a Republican.
Ficker holds three degrees: a B.S. in electrical and mechanical engineering from Case Institute of Technology, a J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law (also attended University of Pennsylvania Law School), and an M.A. in public administration from American University.
Older residents may remember one of Ficker’s earliest legal efforts when he filed a lawsuit to have the NFL’s infamous blackout rule lifted a week before Washington hosted the Green Bay Packers in a Christmas Eve playoff game in 1972. The blackout rule prevented local fans from watching the game. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the lawsuit, and the United States Supreme Court famously denied a petition from Ficker to lift the ban an hour before kickoff.
Ficker has run for numerous offices on the local, state, and federal levels. He has run as a Democrat, Republican, and an independent. The exhaustive list of campaigns includes runs for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1972 as a Democrat, the U.S. Senate in 2000 as a Republican and Montgomery County Executive in 2006 as an independent. Ficker was voted into office, however, in 1978, and represented Montgomery County from 1979 to 1983.
More recently, Ficker was a leading advocate in pursuing three-term limits on the Montgomery County Executive and Councilmembers, an amendment that overwhelmingly passed last November.
Starting off with education, Ficker says that he’s big on youth fitness.
“I would like to see every Montgomery County school child run or walk at least one mile every single school day,” Ficker said. “(I want to) get Montgomery County moving and get rid of some of these sedentary habits.
Ficker is aware that running as a Republican presents a strong challenge in a county as left-leaning as Montgomery County. But he points out that his successful term limit activism shows that he can win Montgomery voters over.
“I think I’m more in touch (with the constituents) than the elected officials,” Ficker said, noting that the measure, which some Montgomery politicians opposed, passed with 70 percent of the vote.
Ficker also wants to bring the FBI headquarters to Montgomery County. The future location of the headquarters is currently in limbo, after a deal to move the FBI to Greenbelt in neighboring Prince George’s County fell through earlier this year.
“For some reason Montgomery County didn’t even apply, didn’t even try … I want to try to get the FBI headquarters here in Montgomery County near a metro stop,” Ficker said, adding that having the FBI in the county would be both an economic boon and a deterrent to local drug dealers.
Another issue Ficker wants to focus on is I-270.
“The present council has done absolutely nothing about I-270, which I drive every day,” Ficker said. “Wait until school starts and it’ll just be gridlocked … I’m in favor of two reversible lanes, all the way up and down.”
“We need a little leadership there, not people who are stymying progress.”
Well, if you’re dead set on voting Republican, Ficker may be your only realistic option. As of this posting, he is the only major Republican candidate to emerge. Jim Shalleck, the Republican nominee in 2014, has not indicated that he will run again. It’s certainly no surprise that more Republicans aren’t stepping forward, considering Shalleck lost that vote by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Ficker markets himself as a political outsider who will shake up the status quo. He sees his interests as aligned with the taxpayers in the county who want to ease the burdens put on them by politicians who, until last November, could stay in office as long as they pleased.
Whether or not you agree with Ficker’s politics, it’s hard to deny that he is the most energetic candidate on the ballot. Understanding his glaring weakness–being a Republican candidate in a strongly democratic county–Ficker has stressed his desire to debate his opponents.
“I debate every single day. If they want to debate, I’ll be delighted. But I don’t think they’re really eager to debate (me).”
Ficker certainly isn’t holding back on his competition, and is even going so far as to issue an unusual challenge:
“These three guys are a total of 186 years old. I challenge them to a ‘Get Montgomery County Moving’ Executive bike challenge,” Ficker said, with gusto. “I’ll be happy to race them from Bethesda down to Georgetown on the (Capital) Crescent Trail, and they can do a relay and I’ll still beat them. Because I’m not a couch potato. And I think they are. I want to get Montgomery County moving again. Bring some energy in, bring some jobs in, make us number one. And keep us there.
If “Get Montgomery County moving again” gives you an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu regarding another politician just a town over, it probably won’t help to say some people feel his bombastic, controversial history makes him unfit for office.
Citing Ficker’s two law license suspensions, in 1998 and 2007, Maryland politics blogger Ryan Miner wrote in 2016 that he would “consider hiring Joe Pesci’s character from the timeless classic, My Cousin Vinny, Vincent Gambini … before I would ever consider hiring Attorney Robin Ficker.” Seventh State, another Maryland politics blog, has frequently criticized Ficker in the past for myriad reasons: multiple ethics violations, questionable past campaigning tactics, even his background as a professional heckler for the then-Washington Bullets.
In Ficker’s defense regarding the last item, he points out that he never used foul, racist, or sexist language when he attended Bullets game.
The Takoma Take
For many Takoma Park residents, it’s hard to forget Ficker’s questionable decision to participate in this year’s Fourth of July parade with an imitation Roscoe the Rooster. The rooster of the 90’s has long since passed, and city officials aren’t willing to discuss Ficker’s stunt on record, which in itself intimates how it went over.
When asked for his response to those who thought it was in bad taste to carry an imitation of a beloved folk hero who had passed, Ficker chuckled as he replied, “I would say that some people would say that Montgomery County has passed!”
But setting aside Roscoe-Gate, Ficker has a long history with Takoma Park. He was born at Washington Adventist Hospital, raised in the area, and attended Takoma Park Elementary School. Ficker frequently collaborated with late Takoma Park Mayor Sammie Abbott, including trying to prevent the tearing down of Silver Spring Intermediate School, which served Takoma Park, in the early 1990’s.
Whether you agree with his politics or not, it’s impossible to deny that Ficker has deep ties to Takoma Park, and his lifelong activism in the region is not an unheard of trait for someone from this city.
“I love Takoma Park,” Ficker said. “I love Takoma Park. I was born in Takoma Park. I like the activism in Takoma Park. Sammie Abbott was one of my best friends. I like the fact that Tom Perez has risen to be the spokesperson for the Democratic party … I’m a very competitive person and I want Montgomery County to achieve and be number one. And I’m going to push that while I’m County Executive.”
UP NEXT… At-Large Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal
DISCLOSURE: The writer of this feature is not a resident of Montgomery County. In no way is this writer affiliated with any candidate covered, and will not be casting a vote in the Montgomery County Executive election.