Josh Kurtz: ‘Groundhog Day’ in Montgomery County

By Josh Kurtz

Now that Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) has announced that he’s planning to seek a third term, let’s take a quick look at the options facing county voters so far in 2014:

• Leggett, 68, who was first elected to the County Council in 1986, served there for four terms, took time off to be Maryland Democratic chairman, and now has served two terms as executive.
• Doug Duncan, the former three-term county executive who served on the Rockville City Council beginning in 1982 and as mayor in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, before becoming executive in 1994.
• County Councilman Phil Andrews, who was elected to the job in 1998 after coming up short four years earlier, who ran Maryland Common Cause from 1988 to 1994, and whose political antecedents in Montgomery County, rooted in the county’s civic associations, are, well, dead.

In other words, more of same, more of same, more of same.

Leggett, Duncan and Andrews have distinguished records of public service and are deserving of respect. Although they have different strengths, each would be a fine steward of county government between 2014 and 2018.

But with the rapid demographic and economic changes underway, with the county in an intense regional competition on a variety of fronts with vital and innovative neighbors, with a whole generation of Montgomery voters barely aware of Duncan, let alone Andrews mentors like Neal Potter and Idamae Garrott, is it wrong to suggest that the county may be crying out for fresh leadership at the top?

Montgomery County looks a whole lot different than it did even half a decade ago, but its leaders – and not just elected officials, but business, civic and thought leaders – don’t. You go to staple events around the county – like the Committee for Montgomery annual legislative breakfast, or fundraisers for leading social service organizations, or the county executive’s annual arts ball, or the county Democratic Party’s annual spring ball – and you’ve stepped into a time machine, where it’s 1997 all over again.

A battle between Ike and Doug for county executive? Well, that puts some of these people in an uncomfortable position, because they may have to take sides. But in the end, it’s an internal squabble, and the county establishment can live with either result, because neither Duncan nor Leggett in Rockville for the next four years will provide any surprises.

County leaders have already put together a task force to examine the lack of sizzle in Montgomery nightlife. They ought to expand the committee’s portfolio to examine the lack of sizzle in the county’s political life. It’s a problem that desperately needs addressing.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Republicans At the Starting Gate

Gansler Hires Campaign Manager

Will 2014 Be a Republican Year Nationally — and in Maryland?

Back to the Future

Conviction Politics