This is the second installment in a series of at least four features. These features are meant to serve as a primer on major candidates in the 2018 Montgomery County Executive race.
Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal officially entered the 2018 Montgomery County Executive race in June. Leventhal is currently serving his fourth term as an at-large member of the council. Newly instated term limits will make his current term his last, regardless of the county executive race’s outcome.
Leventhal holds two degrees–a B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. in public administration from Johns Hopkins University–and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.
Leventhal has no shortage of experience in the world of politics. Before running for elected office, he held jobs in campaign management and political staffing. He was a U.S. Senate aide for eight years, serving three on the Senate Finance Committee and five on former Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s staff; he spent seven years as the senior federal relations officer at the Association of American Universities; and for six years he served as chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. He is 15 years into his tenure as a Montgomery County Council member.
Leventhal has provided his stances on key issues in a very detailed list on his website. For the purposes of this feature, we will focus mostly on Leventhal’s views on issues that he shared with Takoma Voice.
Leventhal is chairman of the Montgomery County Health and Human Services Committee, and advocating for the most vulnerable, including the homeless, is an issue you can expect to hear coming from his campaign. In June, Leventhal gave his support to launching the Inside/Not Outside Plan to End Chronic Homelessness campaign. The campaign seeks to house every identifiable, chronically homeless person in the county.
“I know that local government will always be a case of a lot of needs chasing limited resources,” Leventhal told Takoma Voice. “Under those circumstances, I believe our priority should be to make sure that we are always looking after those who most need government on their side, who if not for the help of government, would not be able to make it on their own.”
On multiple occasions Leventhal summed up the greater scope of the issues he will campaign on with two ideas:
“I will look at the allocation of resources through the prism of equity and social justice,” he said. “That is the emphasis that has marked my work to date and that would continue to be the focus of my work as county executive—equity and social justice.”
Leventhal’s track record on making healthcare available to everyone is no secret, having been central to the founding of Montgomery Cares, which provides health care to the uninsured. The service is available to Montgomery County residents, and Leventhal says 30,000 citizens use it every year.
Leventhal is a proponent of the much-maligned Purple Line light-rail project. When a judge upheld blocks on construction back in May, Leventhal tweeted sharp criticism of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s decision.
“Judge Leon’s ruling shows how difficult it is to make any transportation improvements in suburbs filled with affluent, litigious people,” he said in the May 23 tweet.
While last week we saw a candidate in Robin Ficker who champions himself as a political outsider, in Leventhal we have a candidate who knows he’s the opposite, and says that’s why he is right for the job.
“I’m not running as an outsider,” Leventhal said. “I’m running as the guy who understands the mission of every county department, and who knows how to make government work for you and get results.”
If you’re someone who believes government takes care of its own at the expense of the constituent, you may applaud Leventhal’s history of taking it to his own kind. He’s criticized Montgomery County multiple times in the past for overpaying top government officials, including in 2015 when he said he believed “it is appropriate for us … to ask whether the compensation we are providing is appropriate and necessary to attract the very best and brightest talent.”
Leventhal, like the vast, vast majority of Montgomery County, is not a fan of the rhetoric coming out of Washington and supported the Montgomery County Council’s resolution to uphold the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement.
“I think a lot of people are turned off to politics because of the ugly tone that’s coming from the White House, and my campaign is a positive campaign,” he said. “Democrats need to offer solutions and that is what I’ll do.”
Former County Executive Doug Duncan can’t really be categorized as an “opponent,” per se, but he offered these words to political blog Maryland Matters on Leventhal, whom he categorized–along with fellow councilmember Roger Berliner–as part of the “(Ike) Leggett legacy of … drift,” back in May:
“Once (Leventhal) decides something, that’s it. He’s very hard to persuade … He’s very hard to have a discussion about different issues with, once he’s made up his mind. George has a reputation for … ‘my way or the highway,’ and that’s a problem.”
Duncan paired this criticism with a call for “renewed focus on growing the commercial tax base,” something he thinks council mainstays like Leventhal and Berliner won’t do.
The Takoma Spin
While speaking about his campaign issues, Leventhal praised the inclusive nature of Montgomery County, a virtue he wishes to expand upon as county executive.
“We want an environment in Montgomery County of tolerance, respect, civility, courtesy and reasoned discourse,” he said. “Where everyone feels welcome and safe, no matter where they were born, no matter what language they speak at home, no matter what faiths or traditions they follow; that this is a community that is stronger because we have such an extraordinary demographic array that people bring their skills and talents here, and choose this place to be their home, from all over the world. “That’s a great strength.”
That’s a sentiment in synch with the values of many, many Takomans (let alone the rest of the county), and is sure to win Leventhal some votes come primary time. But the challenge for Leventhal–the same challenge for each Democratic candidate–is not going to be celebrating and facilitating Montgomery County’s diversity, it’s separating himself from his fellow Democrats.
Each candidate has a website for their campaign, and each website has a page dedicated to the issues they care for most. Those issues, among the three Democrats, are rather uniform. Let’s create jobs, let’s be environmentally conscious, let’s strengthen our school system, etc.
Leventhal is very proud to call himself a resident of Takoma Park, but with no less than three major candidates having ties to Takoma Park, it won’t be as easy as voting for the hometown candidate (not that it ever SHOULD be that easy!). If you’re looking for a reason to cast your ballot for Leventhal over Berliner and Marc Elrich in the Democratic primary next June, you’ll need to dig a little deeper.
Leventhal said something interesting in our conversation that, at first, didn’t come off as particularly noteworthy. But it resurfaced during research for this feature.
“My office has the reputation of being the place to go if you need assistance, if you need your question answered, if you need your problem solved,” he said. “I have hundreds of e-mails from constituents who thank me for responding to them, and say I am the only council member who bothered to write back.”
Plenty of politicians are quick to pat themselves on the back. No big deal, right? Well, he may not be exaggerating.
If you follow that link, you’ll find a blog post from February that does not exactly praise Leventhal’s politics, but claims that Leventhal was the only council member who responded to inquiries. That’s a ringing endorsement, coming from someone who does not endorse him.
Indeed, Leventhal is the only Democratic candidate at the time of this posting to respond to Takoma Voice’s requests for an interview.
Politician accessibility isn’t an issue one can get behind like healthcare or tax reform, but if you want your next county executive to be someone who makes you feel involved, you may consider voting for 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.