Friday, April 10, 2009

Spy Roundtable on Leggett’s Hiring of Silverman

MPW’s far-flung spy network was quite excited this week over County Executive Ike Leggett’s appointment of former County Council Member Steve Silverman as the new Director of the Department of Economic Development (DED). Let’s find out what our super-connected informants had to say about that.

Spy #1:

There was little difference on issues between liberal Democrat Ike Leggett and liberal Democrat Steve Silverman In the 2006 Democratic primary. To persuade voters that there was a distinction between them, Leggett embraced the cause of anti-growth activists (even though his 16-year voting record on the County Council had never reflected an anti-growth perspective). He will never admit it, but by appointing his 2006 primary opponent, Leggett is conceding that the anti-business rhetoric of the 2006 campaign was a mistake. Montgomery County must pursue an aggressive and effective economic development strategy if we are to achieve our other public policy goals (world-class education, support for the needy, investment in infrastructure, etc.) Managing our growth is a challenge, but the current economic crisis has shown us that not having growth is worse.

Spy #2:

Steve Silverman is a smart guy and a dealmaker. He has gained experience as a manager with the AG's office. I question, however, whether there was someone else out there with greater experience in economic development. For Steve, it's a better commute. For Ike, at least it didn't take 6 months to fill a vacancy.

Spy #3:

It is welcome news for the business community in Montgomery County. Steve is pro-economic development, understands the politics of the county and has a demonstrated record of bringing people together to get things done. Given the current economic climate in the county, and the frustration many business leaders have with County leadership, Steve will be seen as welcomed relief. It is an interesting decision by Ike to hire his former adversary. It shows either strength on his part or concern about the future tax base of the county that he brought in a bright light like Steve. Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Spy #4:

It’s very obvious that Ike is practicing that old adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.”

Spy #5:

It’s a good move. It keeps a potential rival out of the exec or council races, and will make Steve more circumspect in his comments. The co-authors of the wreckage that was Doug’s regime will have one less defender. I think Steve could be good at this and certainly has promotional skills. The business community should feel comfortable with him. His weakness is his lack of analytical skills involving development. Any deal is not a good deal and Steve is used to a world where you either give away the store, or bend over and say “screw me.” His staff will have to be the ones to pay attention to the details and make sure that the deals are good for the county, not just the fish we’re trying to lure here.

Spy #6:

I was never a Silverman fan. I think he has lots of business contacts whom he can bring into the Leggett fold. Of course this can also defuse him as a possible opponent in 2010. Can he do a good job? If he so chooses. He is not known for a quiet and gentle manner, nor as one who takes direction well, so we’ll see what happens.

Spy #7:

Choosing Silverman - head of the End-Gridlock County Council - isn’t too much of a surprise.

Ike Leggett has been quietly letting people see his real side since his election. He ran on a platform of slow growth and of addressing inequities of county government. But for many reasons - the budget most prevalent - he could not achieve these goals and there is a question whether he really wanted to in the first place. Ike is a seasoned politician. During the election he realized the winds had changed and people were not happy with Doug Duncan and his pro-growth End-Gridlock team.

For the last two decades Ike never took a hard stand on anything that had any controversy. Ike has always been known for flip-flopping and fence sitting. He flipped on the Purple Line when the time was right and sat on the fence on the ICC for years. When Ike was on the council he would wait until he knew where the popular vote was and then he would champion it. He always stayed close enough to both the developer and the civic to know where to vote. Remember Ike supported Pay and Go and people don’t change their spots that easily. If Ike does not get political capital on an issue he usually sits on the fence.

After he was elected he started right off pandering to the development communities by appointing Bob Metz from the land use law firm Linowes and Blocher as his transition team leader. It’s rumored that Jerry Pasternak is a regular on the second floor at 101 Monroe Street. Three guesses why that is. Ike has been making a lot of noise about Royce Hanson, but I am sure quietly he is saying to himself “You Go Royce!” as Mr. Hanson is promoting and approving project after project of high-density development. I am sure Ike is hearing the sound of ChaChing with every project that Park and Planning approves.

Ike learns real fast. He knows that he needs to support growth to placate the Chamber of Commerce, so he talks the Smart Growth game - the new pro-development, popular, environmentally sensitive pro-growth marketing mantra. The Shady Grove Smart Growth Development is a prime example. The community wanted no more than 3000 residential units and Ike pushed for 6000, bet he lands big campaign contributions there.

Ike knows getting to the top is only part of the battle. He still has to stay there and so far he’s not doing a great job of building community confidence. Laying off 400 County Employees hasn’t helped in the realm of making him very popular. Now that Ike has had to lay off those county employees he needs to mend fences with the unions. Ike also knows who still has clout in Montgomery County. He owes his political career to Sid Kramer so it’s no surprise he would help Sid’s son get his own start in county politics. And besides Kramer will round out Ike’s Pro-Growth team nicely on the Council. Ike claimed he supported “managed growth” but he hasn’t done anything to increase roads, transit or schools. With Silverman on his team, Ike is trying to follow in the footsteps of Doug Duncan and build a pro-growth political powerhouse that will bring big campaign dollars for either a re-election bid or maybe the governor’s house. Only time will tell.

Spy #8:

Appointing Steve Silverman to head Montgomery County’s economic development efforts is a good move on many levels: First, Steve’s appointment will be seen as a confidence booster among local business leaders who, up until now, have been underwhelmed by both the leadership demonstrated by the executive branch and the Council on anything related to our business climate. Second, it underscores the fact that the Leggett administration understands the body blows our local economy has taken in recent months and now sees the need for much stronger leadership in this under funded and (until now) spectacularly poorly led “unwanted step-child” of an agency. The next question is, will the Council ever get it, and will they ever start acting accordingly? Third, Steve Silverman has the ability to inspire and re-energize the DED staff, which is beyond demoralized by most accounts, and bring more focus to their efforts. Finally, it shows that Ike Leggett is secure enough in his political standing to appoint a former rival to a key position in his administration. As the appointment of a “Team of Rivals” was seen as a measure of the political genius of President Lincoln at a moment of profound crisis in our nation’s history, perhaps Mr. Leggett’s choice in this case (albeit on a slightly smaller scale) will prove equally wise in this time of economic crisis. In any case, this is clearly a good move and will be well received in most quarters.