Democrats Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, current Montgomery County councilmembers hailing from Takoma Park, are vying for the county executive job in 2018, each hoping to bring their individual brands of liberalism to the position.
Elrich and Leventhal’s campaign platforms find common ground on causes like protecting the environment and improving resources for Montgomery County schools, but they bring different approaches to economic development.
While Elrich emphasizes affordable housing, a higher minimum wage and tenants’ rights, Leventhal wants to house the chronically homeless and create a more accessible, “customer service”-oriented government.
Both candidates formally entered the race earlier this summer, after current county executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett, who has held the position since 2006, announced last fall he will decline to seek a fourth term.
The candidates are both subject to a new term limit amendment approved last fall, which limits councilmembers and county executives to three terms. Elrich is serving his third term on the county council, and Leventhal is serving his fourth.
The Takoma Park Democrats will face fellow councilmember Roger Berliner—and other candidates still expected to join the race—in the primary election slated for June 28, 2018. Robin Ficker is the sole Republican currently registered.
“I’ve consistently been a voice for people who need government on their side.” George Leventhal
Elrich enters the race in the midst of an effort he’s leading to raise Montgomery County’s minimum wage to $15. He previously led the passage of a 2013 bill that boosted the hourly rate to $11.50 over four years.
Elrich, who serves as chair of the council’s public safety committee, calls himself “a strong, long-term supporter of tenants’ rights in this county,” backing rent stabilization and recently securing another bill that increases property inspections and requires earlier notice for rent increases, among other requirements.
Meanwhile, Leventhal, who has led the health and human services committee since 2002, said he brings a “strong focus on equity and social justice” to the campaign, as he’s worked to provide universal access to primary health care through the Montgomery Cares network of community health clinics.
He said he’s fought to house all homeless veterans in the county, too, and says the next step is housing all chronically homeless residents.
“I’ve consistently been a voice for people who need government on their side,” Leventhal said.
He said he wants to create a “culture of customer service” in the county government, saying that every resident who contacts him deserves a timely response and a sufficient effort to handle the problem at hand.
The candidates’ platforms overlap on economic development: they both hope to foster growth, but their strategies differ.
“There are other models than throwing money at big corporations.” Marc Elrich
Leventhal, who calls himself a “progressive for progress,” said he’s focused on drawing “high-tech, high-growth jobs” to the area by building relationships with employers, citing his personal connections to the executives of MOM’s Organic Market, Honest Tea and Mayorga Products.
“These are friends of mine, who are all supporting me, and these are the kinds of companies we should be proud to have in Montgomery County,” Leventhal said.
Elrich said he doesn’t think the county can attract enough large corporations to provide an economic boost, saying “there are other models than throwing money at big corporations.”
Instead, he wants to support entrepreneurs and small business incubators, which he said can “produce real jobs and real businesses” in the area.
And he said he’s had a history of rejecting development plans that didn’t include plans to build infrastructure like transportation and schools to handle influxes of residents.
“In a lot of ways, we’re [the county executive candidates] are alike, but I’d say I’m more measured about approving new development,” Elrich said.
Part of that advocacy for sufficient transportation is the countywide Bus Rapid Transit system, which Elrich said he originally proposed ten years ago and is now part of the county master plan.
Meanwhile, Leventhal’s transportation efforts have focused on the Purple Line, a 21-station light rail line that would connect the Maryland suburbs of Washington. Leventhal is a founder and ex-officio board member of Purple Line Now!, a coalition of local organizations fighting for the rail line’s development.
Elrich and Leventhal also see their transportation projects ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment, a cause they’ve both championed. Both signed on to a resolution in June to reaffirm Montgomery County’s commitment to fulfilling the Paris climate accord after President Trump stated the country would leave.
Elrich and Leventhal also overlap in their plans to alleviate overcrowding in Montgomery County schools and close the achievement gap.
Leventhal said he plans to work with the state government to garner sufficient funding for school building projects.
Elrich, who spent 17 years as teacher at Takoma Park’s Rolling Terrace Elementary School and serves on the county council’s education committee, said that, in addition to campaigning for funding and equal achievement, he sees his support for a higher minimum wage and more affordable housing as a boon to academic achievement.
“You have to tackle [the achievement gap] on all fronts, not just in school,” Elrich said.
Both candidates are Montgomery County natives and graduates of the school system.
Elrich said he has lived in Takoma Park since the early 1980s, serving on the city council for 19 years and helping found the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Food Co-op.
And Leventhal served on the board of CASA of Maryland when it was headquartered in Takoma Park and was close with late mayor Sammie Abbott. He also served as chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee in the late 1990s.
Elrich and Leventhal, both at-large county councilmembers, are running for executive at a time when some have criticized the number of councilmembers—three out of nine total — —that hail from the 18,000-resident Takoma Park.
Neither candidate, though, expects that sentiment to affect his campaign.
“People know I’m from Montgomery County, but Takoma Park—that hasn’t come up,” Leventhal said. “People want to hear what I can do for them, and that’s as true for people in Bethesda and elsewhere as it for Takoma Park.”