By Kevin O’Rourke
Nine candidates are vying for the at-large seats on the Montgomery County Council this year. The Council is made up of nine members, of which five represent the each of the five districts in the county. Those members are elected by their districts. The remaining four members are elected as at-large members. At-large members are elected by and represent all of the residents in the county.
Germantown is represented by District 2 Council Member and current County Council President Craig Rice, whose term as Council President will end when a newly elected council takes office on Dec. 2.
At an up-county town hall meeting in Clarksburg on Oct. 8, County Council President and Germantown resident Craig Rice, spoke about the importance of the at-large council seats. He responded to a question about the upcounty area being under-represented on the council. He said, “All four at-large members partnering with any district council member can create a majority. Right now, the majority of the four at-large council members live within a five mile radius of each other in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring area.”
“Many people in the up-county area have said that we need more at-large members on the Council that are actually from the up-county area, or even the mid-county area,” said Rice, who is also up for re-election this year. In the Germantown area the race for the District 2 Council Seat, is between Craig Rice (D), of Germantown and Dick Jurgena (R), of Darnestown.
“The at-large members have a responsibility to you just as they have a responsibility to whichever area of the county they live in,” Rice told residents gathered at Rocky Hill Middle School in Clarksburg. “They have a responsibility to be up here at meetings, they have a responsibility to be responsive to any needs that you ask them to address. I would ask you to push them to be your representatives, because they are your representatives. They need to be advocating for you as well.”
All members of the County Council serve four-year terms and are elected every four years. Democratic candidates currently hold all nine seats on the County Council.
There are nine candidates vying for the four at-large seats on the County Council. Four Democratic incumbent candidates, four Republican challengers and one challenger from the Green Party are all in this year’s race.
The four incumbent Democratic candidates are: Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, George Levanthal, and Hans Riemer.
Marc Elrich has served on the County Council for eight years and is seeking is third term as Council Member At-Large. A former MCPS school teacher for 17 years, the 64-year-old Elrich has previously served on the Takoma Park City Council. Elrich was instrumental in passing the bill to raise the minimum wage in the county and the council’s plan for a bus rapid transit network or BRT. He was also one of the leaders to protect Ten Mile Creek in Clarksburg.
Nancy Floreen has been a member of the County Council since 2002, and served as Council President in 2010. Florreen, 63, or Garrett Park, chaired the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee until 2010 when she became Chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. Previously, she served as mayor of Garrett Park and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, as well as, the County Planning Board. Floreen has pledged to work toward ensuring the county’s fiscal sustainability, to increase job opportunities, as well as continue to improve education.
George Levanthal is seeking his fourth term on the county council. He is the Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman. Levanthal, 51, of Takoma Park has served as Health and Human Services Committee to help reduce homelessness in the county. He is co-founder of the Purple Line Now, which advocates the 16-mile long modern light rail project that will connect Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, Takoma/Langley, College Park, and New Carrollton in neighboring Prince Georges County. He will also work to restrict the use of toxic pesticides in the county and earned sick leave for county employees.
Hans Riemer is seeking his second term on the Council. Riemer, 43, of Takoma Park, is a former advisor to AARP and the 2008 National Youth Vote director for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He was instrumental in the passage of the increase in the county’s portion of the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit for the low-income workers. He was also the head of the committee to make the county more of a destination for younger residents. Riemer said that the Corridor Cities Transitway, or CCT, was a transportation priority for him, after upgrading METRO and the creation of the Purple Line. The CCT is a bus rapid transit system which would run from Shady Grove through Germantown to Clarksburg.
The Republican challengers are: Robert Dyer, Chris Fiotes, Jr., Adol T. Owen-Williams II, and Shelly Skolnick.
Robert Dyer, is the founder and publisher of Suburban News Network, which publishes three blogs about Montgomery County, @Bethesda Row, RockvilleNights.com, and East MoCo. Dyer, 43, of Bethesda, said he is basing his campaign around three main topics; transportation, affordable housing and education. He would like to extend the MARC service on the Brunswick Line, as well as extend Montrose Parkway to the ICC. Dyer would also build a new Potomac River crossing to allow easier access to Dulles Airport. He believes the County should build the long promised M-83 roadway from Clarksburg to Gaithersburg, and is opposed to the planned BRT system. Dyer would protect existing affordable housing and supports the recommendations of the Tenants Work Group, which would protect tenants from negligent landlords. He is also pushing for universal pre-k schooling for every child.
Chris Fiotes, Jr, is the owner of a Gaithersburg commercial real estate company; he has experience in zoning, construction and capital investments. He gained an understanding of legislation and budget formulation while working in the U.S. Senate, Fiotes said. “For too long a small portion of the county has been highly represented on the County Council, while the vast majority of the county remains under-represented,” said Fiotes, Jr. in a video message to voters taped by www.mymcmedia.org. “It is time to balance the geographic distribution of the County Council among the at-large members.”
Adol T. Owen-Williams is financial consultant from Potomac. “Montgomery County was both an economic and service economy. Today, our county leadership is proud to boast that they have chased every manufacturing business out of our fair county,” the 50-year-old Owen-Williams said in a video message to voters taped by www.mymcmedia.org. “We are now absolutely and solely dependent on the bounties of the federal government for our county’s primary existence. However, at the federal level there is more talk about dispersing the various agencies in Washington DC. Not if, but when that occurs Montgomery County will become another Detroit, Mich. Owen-Williams would end funding for the light-rail Purple line and instead work toward funding projects which would expand existing thoroughfares.
Shelly Slotnick, a lawyer from Silver Spring who has served as a member of the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission; past president, Norbeck Meadows Civic Association; past director, IBM-WMA Employees Federal Credit Union; past member, and Montgomery County Recycling Task Force. Slotnik, 70, is proposing that the County Council be changed to rather than the current make-up of five elected district representatives, and four at-large members, to nine different districts with an elected representative. “Currently, three of the four incumbent at-larger members live in Takoma Park,” said Slotnick in his video message to voters taped by www.mymcmedia.org. “That is not fair. That is not geographic diversity. That is not geographic democracy.” Slotnick claims his nine district system would make the council more effective and representative of the county.
Green Party candidate Tim Willard is a retired employee of the National Archives. Willard wants the County to take stronger action to reduce global emissions and create a sustainable development plan, and ensure that all citizens have access to affordable house and first class schools. Willard, 62, of Kensington, wants to see the county take the lead in producing renewable energy with the construction of solar panels or solar water heat on county buildings, as well as investigate inexpensive ways for residents to purchase solar electricity. He would also like to see more neighborhoods become walkable or bicycle-friendly with stores and transit within easy walking distance. He would like the county to establish a “green job corps” to train at-risk youths in skills such as solar panel installation and environmentally friendly construction. Willard was a member of the Save Ten Mile Creek Coalition, which worked to have the County Council place sharp limits on construction in the environmentally fragile watershed around Clarksburg.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 4. Early voting in Maryland has started today, Oct. 23. On Oct. 13, the League of Women Voters and Montgomery Community Media, www.mymcmedia.org held an At-Large Candidates Forum with all nine candidates the forum can be viewed below.