A new era has dawned in Montgomery County, as Marc Elrich was sworn in as the seventh Montgomery County Executive. Elrich and the new County Council, which has four new members, took their oaths of office at the Inauguration Ceremony held at Strathmore Music Hall in North Bethesda on Monday.
Elrich won a three-way election in November, easily defeating former Independent candidate and Councilmember Nancy Floreen, and Republican challenger Robin Ficker to become the seventh County Executive in the history of Montgomery County. He is the first new County Executive in 12 years. His predecessor, Ike Leggett served three terms as the County’s leader, from 2006 to 2018.
Elrich will work with a nine member County Council, from which he just spent three terms as a Councilmember, which has the most new faces on the Council in many years as four members are first-time Councilmembers, including three new At-Large representatives. The large number of new faces is due to a term-limit referendum voted on by County residents in the 2016 election, which forced four members to move on from their seats.
The new County Council is made up of District 4 Councilmember Nancy Navarro, who was elected as Council President at the first Council meeting on Tuesday; District 3 Councilmember Sidney Katz, who was elected Council Vice-President, new member District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson; District 5 Councilmember Tom Hucker; District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice; At-Large Councilmember and outgoing Council President Hans Reimer; new At-Large Councilmember and former head of the County’s Recreation Department Gabe Albornoz; new At-Large Councilmember Evan Glass; and new At-Large Councilmember Will Jawando.
The Council and Elrich were administered the oath of office by County Clerk Barbara Meikeljohn.
In his inaugural address to the County, Elrich, who spent many years as a teacher in Montgomery County, quoted teacher and later astronaut Christa McAuliffe saying “’I teach. I touch the future.’ That is what my administration will be about, how we will touch the future. That is our job. We are not governing for today or tomorrow, we governing for the day after that.”
He spoke of the areas of focus that his administration. “My administration is going to focus on a number of areas, many will not surprise you. The first and foremost will be our children, because they are our future. My goal is to significantly expand early childhood education. We know that this investment made up-front yields dividends down the line, both for the students and for society as a whole. We first talked about the Achievement Gap 50 years ago. Yet the dramatic differences in education attainment persist among racial and income lines. We know that those social determinants are determinants for future outcomes for people.”
Elrich spoke about the need to change society and “moral obligation” to improve the world in which we live.
“I am not an incrementalist,” he said. “I will never be an incrementalist. Knowing the biggest barriers to student success are poverty and income inequality I spearheaded the push for two minimum wage increases in Montgomery County. This not about whether it is worth $15 to flip a hamburger, it is about whether the hamburger flipper can put a roof over his head and the heads of their children.”
He continued. “I believe we have a moral obligation to create a more just society — now, to make this a better place for everyone. This our responsibility. I am going to do everything I can with my administration to move that needle. We are 150 years past the end of the civil war and we can’t come to terms with this. If we can’t do it here, I don’t know where you can do it.”
He acknowledged his critics on the campaign trail who accused his progressive stances on social and environmental issue being anti-business. “There is no way we are going to be able to succeed in any of the things I want to achieve without a healthy business climate,” said Elrich. “I know full well that without a healthy business climate we will not have the revenues we need to address the social problems we face, so our goal is to make sure that we have a healthy business climate without sacrificing the quality of life and without addressing the need for schools and education. I believe we can do both.”
He promised to streamline as many County regulations and codes as possible to improve Montgomery County’s reputation among the business community.
“In every meeting I went to on the campaign trail I was told by small business people that we have the worst business climate in the world, maybe the planet, possibility the universe. One of the first things we are going to do is benchmark Montgomery County’s codes and regulations against surrounding jurisdictions. If we are doing stuff that other people aren’t doing – we are not going to do it anymore. We are going to put a lens of realism on what we require people do, so we can make sure that we are not pricing people out of doing business in Montgomery County and we are not incentivizing people to go somewhere else.”
“I don’t think anyone has ever said, ‘You are the best regulatory environment,’” Elrich told the audience. “I’d be happy if somebody said, ‘You are not the worst place do business. You are just like everybody else.’ I would be happy to be just like everybody else. I don’t want to be the worst place to do business. I want to make sure that by the end of my first year we are well on the way to making sure that no one says to us anymore.”
He added the caveat, “I am not going to sacrifice safe, or the environment, but we are not going to do dumb stuff.”
Elrich also spoke about the need to improve transportation in Montgomery County, couching it as an economic development necessity. He championed the completion of the Bus Rapid Transit system.
“The biggest impediment to business development in this region is the lack of a bus network. As critical as Metro is, it doesn’t serve every function. People trying to move around any county around here find the transportation system inadequate. We are going to build the BRT system we started working on 10 years ago and it will be an engine of economic development.”
While saying that we must improve transportation in Montgomery County, Elrich flat out told Gov. Larry Hogan that he would not allow the governor’s plan to widen I-495 to go due to concerns about global warming.
“We have to recognize the urgency of global warming and climate change and take concrete steps to change that. We are going to explore creative, common sense, ways to address greenhouse gas emissions at the local level through clean energy, energy efficiency, enhanced building design, reduction of waste, and better transit options. Note to the governor — no Beltway widening,” said Elrich to a round of applause.
“We will reduce our carbon footprint, we owe our children and grandchildren nothing less. Hopefully this county be an example for other jurisdictions,” he said.
Elrich laid out what he called ambitious plans to improve the social, and financial circumstances of many of the County’s residents. “I know these are ambitious goals and many have price tags attached to them, and we have limited financial resources for the foreseeable future – but doesn’t mean we can’t get things done. I will be working hand-in-hand with county employees to restructure our county government to operate more effectively within our budget to provide the best value for every dollar we invest,” said Elrich.
He also promised no new taxes in his first year in office. “I saw what the campaign was about, we are not going to be raising taxes this year. So, if you not going to raise taxes and you have a $5 billion budget, it behooves you see if you can work better, work smarter, and more efficiently. We have got to be better stewards with the money.”
At Tuesday’s reorganization meeting the 19th Montgomery County Council met and elected Nancy Navarro as president and Sidney Katz as vice present. Each will serve one year in that post. Navarro just completed a one-year term as Council vice president. This is the second time she has been elected to serve as Council president.
Navarro’s priorities for the year include: closing the opportunity gap in academic achievement; expanding early child care and early childhood education; implementing a senior agenda for the county’s aging population; redeveloping and revitalizing areas of the county and creating more jobs; expanding civic engagement; and making the county more business friendly.
Navarro has served on the Council since 2009. She also served as Council president in 2013 and vice president in 2012 and 2018. In Oct. 2001, President Obama appointed her to the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, where she served on the Early Childhood Education Committee. In 2014, she was selected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments. Prior to her Council service, Navarro was a member of the Montgomery County Board of Education from 2004-2009.
“The watchword for me is equity, and I am passionately determined to continue that work as president of this great Council,” said Navarro. “To me, One Montgomery means recognizing the differences among us, while emphasizing that however different our backgrounds or our lifestyles may be, we are all connected. We all share the same need for a government that encourages economic growth, protects our families, educates our children, and provides a safety net in case we fall on hard times.”
Navarro took the opportunity to take a swipe at President Donald Trump in her opening remarks at Council President. “The work of keeping a changed county ‘One Montgomery’ remains even more urgent today. As we witness daily attacks on our core values, from the highest office in the nation, we must double down on our resolve to defend the fundamental core values of inclusion, respect, and freedom, here at home.”
She also outlined her “core priorities that are designed to improve the quality of life of our children and adults,” which including closing the opportunity gap in academic achievement, early care and education, implanting a senior agenda, redevelopment, revitalization, and more jobs, civic engagement, and making Montgomery County friendly for businesses.
Top: County Executive Marc Elrich is sworn in as the seventh Executive of Montgomery County by County Clerk Barbara Meikeljohn at Strathmore Music Hall on Monday.
Next: The 19th Montgomery County Council: Front row: Will Jawando, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro, and Evan Glass. Back Row: Hans Reimer, Gabe Albronoz, Craig Rice, Andrew Friedson, and Tom Hucker.
Next: County Executive Marc Elrich delivers his inaugural address.
Video: County Executive Marc Elrich's entire inaugural address.
Next: The four new members of the County Council, Will Jawando, Andrew Friedson, Gabe Abronoz, and Evan Glass.
Next: New Council President Nancy Navarro, out-going Council President Hans Reimer, and new County Executive Marc Elrich.
Photos and video courtesy Montgomery County.