1st de­bate in heated race sees a few jabs

3 VIE FOR TOP POST IN MONT­GOMERY Can­di­dates tout ideas for schools, roads, hous­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JENNIFER BAR­RIOS

The first de­bate in the fall cam­paign for Mont­gomery County ex­ec­u­tive — which this year is an un­usu­ally con­tested af­fair — yielded oc­ca­sional snip­ing but also con­sen­sus among three can­di­dates vy­ing for the county’s top elected post.

Demo­crat Marc El­rich, Repub­li­can Robin Ficker and in­de­pen­dent Nancy Floreen — who ear­lier this year broke from the Demo­cratic Party to run for the seat — an­swered ques­tions for nearly two hours at a fo­rum at Mount Cal­vary Bap­tist Church in Rockville.

Floreen, a 16-year at-large County Coun­cil mem­ber who in­tro­duced her­self as a “life­long Demo­crat,” told the au­di­ence of about 40 peo­ple that she jumped into the county ex­ec­u­tive race only be­cause El­rich wound up the win­ner of the six-way Demo­cratic pri­mary in June.

She said she served as coun­cil pres­i­dent twice dur­ing her ten­ure, point­ing out that El­rich had never been cho­sen for the role in his 12 years on the coun­cil. “I wasn’t an­tic­i­pat­ing run­ning for county ex­ec­u­tive, that’s for sure, and if any other Demo­cratic can­di­dates would have won, I would have sup­ported them,” Floreen said.

El­rich, also an at-large coun­cil mem­ber, largely es­chewed men­tion­ing his op­po­nents, in­stead point­ing out he served on the coun­cil’s ed­u­ca­tion com­mit­tee and chaired its pub­lic safety com­mit­tee. He said he would bring a

“depth of ex­pe­ri­ence to this job that other peo­ple don’t have.”

“I be­lieve in eco­nomic growth, but I also be­lieve ev­ery­thing has to be bal­anced for the peo­ple who live here,” he said. “We have neigh­bor­hoods that I think strug­gle to thrive, and there are other parts of the county that do quite well. We seem to be very com­fort­able with the east-west di­vide, and I’m not com­fort­able with it.”

El­rich, fa­vored by unions and pro­gres­sive groups, won the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion for county ex­ec­u­tive in the June pri­mary with 29 per­cent of the vote. Ficker — an at­tor­ney and peren­nial can­di­date who ran for county ex­ec­u­tive as an in­de­pen­dent in 2006 — was un­con­tested in the Repub­li­can pri­mary.

And while the Demo­cratic can­di­date is typ­i­cally all but as­sured vic­tory in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion — the last time Mont­gomery vot­ers elected a Repub­li­can to the top job was in 1978 — Floreen this year is mount­ing a se­ri­ous in­de­pen­dent bid that she hopes will up­end that nar­ra­tive. Floreen, who is heav­ily backed by busi­ness and de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ests, is po­si­tion­ing her­self as a mod­er­ate against her op­po­nents, whom she has called “flawed ex­tremes.”

On a ques­tion about af­ford­able hous­ing, El­rich said that much of the new hous­ing in the hot Bethes- da mar­ket was one-bed­room units, not suit­able for fam­i­lies. He ar­gued that the county should be en­cour­ag­ing home­own­er­ship.

“I think you have to look at the will­ing­ness some­times to zone for less den­sity that al­lows for more af­ford­able hous­ing,” he said.

Floreen said in­creas­ing af­ford­able hous­ing means mak­ing it eas­ier for builders.

“The an­swer to more af­ford­able hous­ing is more hous­ing,” she said. “Not fight­ing against hous­ing, as Mr. El­rich has done, but in­creas­ing the sup­ply.”

Still, El­rich and Floreen agreed on sev­eral is­sues. Both said they would over­haul the county’s pro­cure­ment of­fice to en­sure more lo­cal busi­nesses can con­tract with the county. Both agreed that the stu­dent achieve­ment gap needed to be ad­dressed through giv­ing fam­i­lies more eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. El­rich said the county’s move to in­crease the min­i­mum wage, a cause he cham­pi­oned, would help do so, while Floreen said it could be done by fos­ter­ing eco­nomic growth in the county.

Ficker pro­posed mak­ing the In­ter­county Con­nec­tor free dur­ing rush hour to help al­le­vi­ate con­ges­tion and said he would fo­cus at­ten­tion on traf­fic and other is­sues that af­fect parts of the county out­side the Belt­way. And he pledged to work closely with the county board of ed­u­ca­tion on in­creas­ing school safety.

Ficker, the force be­hind pass­ing term lim­its, beat that drum sev­eral times dur­ing the fo­rum, ar­gu­ing that vot­ers de­sired new blood in gov­ern­ment.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion about sup­port­ing his­toric preser­va­tion, he quipped, “I get the feel­ing that my op­po­nents feel that his­toric preser­va­tion is keep­ing them­selves in of­fice for a life­time.”

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