The Woman’s Democratic Club of Montgomery County, MD hosted a forum on Thursday, March 22, 2018, at 7:00 PM at the Silver Spring Civic Center. All of the Democratic candidates running for County Executive were there: County Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, and George Leventhal, as well as state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda), Potomac businessman David Blair, and former Mayor of Rockville and County Planning Department Deputy Director Rose Krasnow. The six candidates will face off in a June 26 primary.
WDC President Fran Rothstein welcomed the capacity crowd and thanked all of the candidates for participating. She also thanked the promotion partners and the volunteers who made the forum possible. The forum was shown live and can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/WomansDemClub/videos/983618471791567/
The forum focused on policy issues that affect women and children. Candidates were asked to reflect on how their decisions would affect women:
Will the decision improve women’s lives?
Will it increase the safety for women?
Will it improve women’s physical and mental health?
Will it improve women’s economic position?
In addition, when attendees registered, they had an opportunity to identify issues they wanted the candidates to address. Forum questions addressed those top issues: economic development and growth, affordable housing, and education.
Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart moderated the forum, asking questions ranging from, “How will your economic development plan affect women?” to “How will you ensure that women, particularly women of color, will be represented at the highest levels in your administration.”
Bringing more jobs and small business opportunities to the county was a major theme. In one exchange, the candidates were asked to name one program or policy specifically geared to women or children. Most agreed that expanding daycare and early childhood education and also reducing the cost of those services would be a boon to county women and children. The candidates also agreed that the lack of affordable housing was a serious challenge, and each offered creative ideas to address this. All said they strongly support women’s reproductive rights.
The largest areas of disagreement were public financing for campaigns and the Montgomery County Liquor Control Board. Three of the six candidates are participating in the public campaign funding option: Elrich, Krasnow, and Leventhal. Berliner, Blair and Frick opted for traditional campaign financing. Under the public options, contributions are limited to $150 per county resident. The county matches funding after specific thresholds are met, with smaller contributions matched at a higher level. Designed to reduce the influence of big money in county politics, the rules prohibit candidates using public financing from accepting donations from labor groups or corporations. Candidates under the traditional system can accept individual contributions up to $6,000 each, as well as donations from employee unions and businesses. Candidates offered different reasons for not participating in public financing. For example, Berliner said it was a strategic decision since only 20% of voters have had the opportunity to get to know him in prior elections. Blair said while he likes the idea of public funding, it was not appropriate for him.
The continued monopoly of the Montgomery County Liquor Control Board was an area of difference among the candidates. Leventhal advocated sale to a serious bidder. Elrich said the $130 million per year generated is impossible to replace. The liquor and restaurant industries do care, Frick replied. He noted the recent closures of restaurants and that new ones are not opening here because the system is broken. Krasnow remarked that her position had evolved as she learned more, and that, given the budget constraints, she would not advocate any change to the current system. Berliner, observing that a third of sales are already going out of state, wants to end the monopoly, not privatize it. “Wholesale and retail monopolies are anti-consumer and anti-business.” He wants the county to compete. Blair thinks the county should not be in the liquor business, but he was the only candidate to bring up the issue of how to provide for the hundreds of people who work for the control board, saying the next County Executive won’t want to make a decision that doesn’t take those employees into account.
Mayor Stewart opened the next question by saying that jails are a large provider of mental health services and asked the candidates how they would go about improving behavioral health in Montgomery County. Frick said that more beds were needed and Krasnow noted that there are more women in prison today. Several candidates identified the need to address mental health issues before people reach prison. Berliner talked about the need to increase providers and use telemedicine where appropriate. Blair pointed to the schools and the importance of investing in counselors. Leventhal, who has chaired the council's Health and Human Services Committee for 15 years, talked about stigma, suicide, and the persistence of homelessness. Elrich agreed on the need for more school services, and also pointed to mental health and drug courts that divert offenders from jail. These needs and services cost money, he said, and county residents are wary of increases in taxes.
Privatization of county stormwater management was a non-issue. The candidates, while agreeing that the county needs to improve water quality and maintain high standards for green infrastructure, mostly agreed that plans to use private contractors for monitoring ponds were sensible and criticism of County Executive Leggett’s proposed changes was misplaced.
Mayor Stewart’s next question was: What do you think about Governor Hogan’s proposal to widen 270? Hogan’s $9 billion plan would add four toll lanes each to Maryland’s portion of the Capital Beltway (I-495) and to I-270 from the Beltway to Frederick. Most of the candidates endorsed adding two reversible lanes instead. Elrich said that with four lanes the bridges won’t absorb the increases in traffic. Transit issues will be huge for the next county executive and solutions could pay off in more jobs for the county, said Frick.
WDC will present a forum with the Democratic candidates for governor on Tuesday, April 24, 2018, from 7:00 PM 9:00 PM at the Silver Spring Civic Center. Register here.
1 Bethesda Chevy Chase Breakfast Club, Indian American Democratic Club, District 18 Democratic Breakfast Club, Montgomery County Young Democrats, Greater Silver Spring Democratic Club, Progressive Action Montgomery County, Indivisible Montgomery, DoTheMostGood MoCo, District 17 Democratic Club, Asbury Democratic Club, District 18 Democratic Caucus, District 19 Democratic Club.