For Mont­gomery County ex­ec­u­tive

Mr. Blair, a po­lit­i­cal new­comer, could in­ject a dose of vi­tal­ity into a lo­cal­ity fac­ing chal­lenges.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THESE SEEM like boom times in Mont­gomery County, the mainly rich sub­urb that has ab­sorbed roughly 100,000 new res­i­dents since 2010 to a pop­u­la­tion now ap­proach­ing 1.1 mil­lion. Ama­zon (whose CEO, Jef­frey P. Be­zos, owns The Post) has short­listed the county for its se­cond cor­po­rate head­quar­ters; con­struc­tion cranes tower over Bethesda and Sil­ver Spring; and the pub­lic school sys­tem, one of the na­tion’s largest, in­cludes some of the best high schools any­where.

That’s why it’s easy to over­look some omi­nous signs of fis­cal and eco­nomic trou­ble ahead. A bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion of re­tirees, im­mi­grants and other less af­flu­ent res­i­dents has strained lo­cal re­sources and bud­gets. Those moving into the county tend to be poorer than those leav­ing. The chasm be­tween eco­nom­i­cally pros­per­ous pock­ets (such as the ones dom­i­nated by cranes) and stag­nant ones is widen­ing. Most wor­ry­ing, busi­ness and job growth are ane­mic.

That’s the un­set­tling back­drop for the June 26 Demo­cratic pri­mary, which is likely to de­ter­mine who will run the county for the next four years. County Ex­ec­u­tive Isiah Leggett, a deft and ca­pa­ble man­ager, is re­tir­ing af­ter 12 years in the job (and no Repub­li­can has won an elec­tion in Mont­gomery since 2002). The cen­tral ques­tion is which of the can­di­dates for county ex­ec­u­tive is most ca­pa­ble of juic­ing a slug­gish com­mer­cial en­vi­ron­ment — the only way to broaden the lo­cal tax base so it can sus­tain the county’s ex­cel­lent schools and pro­gres­sive ser­vices.

We think the best bet is David Blair, a dy­namic po­lit­i­cal new­comer with busi­ness acu­men, en­ergy and pas­sion for in­no­va­tion.

Mr. Blair, who started and sold a suc­cess­ful pre­scrip­tion-drug ben­e­fits com­pany, is a po­lit­i­cal out­sider but a life­long Mont­gomery res­i­dent, and with an in­sider’s ap­petite for pol­icy de­tail, bud­get num­bers and rig­or­ous analysis. His en­trance to a race that in­cludes three sit­ting (but term-lim­ited) County Council mem­bers, a for­mer mayor and an in­cum­bent state leg­is­la­tor was greeted with some de­ri­sion. Since then he has changed minds. Yes, his out­size cam­paign spend­ing and squadrons of paid door-knock­ers have helped with that. But so have his ea­ger­ness to lis­ten and his sub­stan­tive but re­al­is­tic ideas for at­tract­ing new busi­ness, ex­tend­ing pre-K, pre­par­ing young peo­ple for the workforce and im­prov­ing traf­fic.

Granted, Mr. Blair would face a learn­ing curve in of­fice. At 48, he is a gen­er­a­tion younger than his chief ri­vals, who are steeped in Mont­gomery politics and vet­er­ans of count­less pol­icy bat­tles. They in­clude Rose Kras­now, a knowl­edge­able for­mer mayor of Rockville who spent 13 years as a top county plan­ner; Roger Ber­liner and George Leven­thal, ac­com­plished law­mak­ers on the County Council; and an­other long-serv­ing council mem­ber, Marc El­rich, whose pop­u­lar­ity owes much to his re­flex­ive op­po­si­tion to in­nu­mer­able lo­cal projects — in­clud­ing the Fill­more, a beloved live mu­sic venue in Sil­ver Spring. Mr. El­rich would be the wrong per­son to broaden the county’s tax base and re­vive its prospects. Those can­di­dates, as well as an­other, state Del. Bill Frick, are smart and sub­stan­tive.

Mr. Blair would make an un­ortho­dox county ex­ec­u­tive. With his com­bi­na­tion of fresh think­ing and busi­ness savvy, he would also stand the best chance of in­ject­ing a dose of vi­tal­ity into a county that badly needs it.

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