Friday, June 12, 2009

Whispers of the At-Large Race, Part Five

In our final part, we examine the last three potential at-large contenders.

Hans Riemer, Silver Spring

Riemer moved into Montgomery County in December 2004 and ran unsuccessfully for the County Council District 5 seat in 2006. He has lots of experience as a national political activist, working against George W. Bush’s social security privatization plan, running Rock the Vote and working for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as his national youth director. He currently works for AARP.

Riemer has a number of important strengths. He was a maniacal door-knocker in 2006, has a knack for making a good impression, has quickly developed a network of friends across the county (including your author, who supported him last time) and has participated in numerous political and advocacy campaigns. He raised over $130,000 for his last council race and that was before he went to work for Obama. His weakness is that he does not have a long history of activism in the county. His service on Action Committee for Transit’s board was interrupted by his employment with Obama. Still, Hans Riemer will be a major contender for an at-large seat because of his progressive background, campaign experience and ability to raise money.

Spy: Can’t see him winning, but he is politically immersed and was gracious after losing to Valerie Ervin. He would be a dark horse candidate. I believe he will run.

Spy: He is someone that can be a progressive consensus builder in Rockville.

Spy: Hans also works for the AARP so he should be able to deliver credible messages to the “Obama Generation” as well as Seniors. He will have to work against the potential “Downcounty” heaviness on the Council (Marc, Valerie, Nancy, Hans and George). To do this, he’ll have to work hard to prove to the UpCounty folks that he can represent them too and that he’s able to relate to their concerns. He is a good fundraiser and will be able to fundraise a lot of money, which is necessary for an At-Large bid, and if done early, could scare some others out of the race. He would be an asset to the council as a new, young voice in contrast to the status quo.

Spy: Young - experienced, smart and multi-ethnic appeal as his wife is minority. Cute child. Said to be exploring a run as an at large candidate. Ran against Valerie and is rumored to be supported by her for the at large spot. Don't know his politics or his alliances. With experience in Rock the Vote, AARP and the Obama campaign - could be a formidable candidate especially if he can still draw on some of that West Coast money.

Spy: I think Hans will be a strong candidate. You can’t even count the number of friends this guy has made over the last few years. A talented, fresh face to shake up an underwhelming council. While he lost in 2006 his campaign was quite well run and this is the type of guy who learns from experience. Of all the names, only Hans seems strikingly different than the same-old tired list of Council candidates. He’s a proven money-raiser and knows how to campaign. He’d be appealing to new, younger voters and senior citizens alike, and is well positioned to be the strongest voice on sustainability issues.

Spy: Smart and likeable. Could be a dark horse. Claims to have the ability to mobilize young voters - but didn’t do so when he ran against Valerie Ervin in the 2006 District 5 primary.

Spy: Hans Riemer would be a great at-large candidate, who could bring in younger, progressive Democrats and minorities. His run (and loss) in the District 5 Council race a couple of years ago was good preparation for a second try, and I think it’s a sign of his political talent that he and Valerie seem to have a good relationship now.

Spy: He’s been planning to run since he lost. He is much more established than he was a few years ago and is a logical additional vote for the Floreen/Ervin/Knapp/Leventhal side of the council. He has the organizational know-how to run countywide and can raise the money.

Spy: Hans Riemer is one of the more frequently mentioned serious at-large candidates. Though Valerie Ervin handily defeated him, Riemer seems to have smartened from the loss and has built strategic alliances since then. The key fact in his favor is that he raised a large wad of cash for his first run for office, both proving that he can raise money and also that he must have built serious name recognition in D5 after having spent so much money there three years ago. Since branching out to serve on the brain trust of Obama for America, AARP and ACT, he should be a fundraising juggernaut compared to the other challengers. His youth also gives him both a fresh image and makes him harder to tie to the older battle-lines (ie: End Gridlock). Keep an eye on Hans Riemer. He is likely to gain the support of perhaps some incumbent councilmembers, as well as Obama volunteers, progressive activists, labor, business, and more.

Steve Silverman, Silver Spring

Prior to County Executive Ike Leggett’s hire of Silverman as his new Director of Economic Development, a possible comeback by the former at-large Council Member was one of the hottest rumors in the county. That was probably part of the reason why Leggett brought him in. Few people believe that Silverman will run again now. But what happens if he figures out that Leggett will not give him the resources he needs to do his job?

Spy: Can’t see him doing that, but he does burn to win and loves wielding power. Enough with the retreads. Let’s develop a new bench.

Spy: This rumor doesn’t pass the credibility smell test. No way in hell he’s going to trade in his cozy $180,000 County job for the right to go back to the Council and make 50% less. “Been there, done that” saying certainly applies here.

Spy: Steve Silverman is the other all-star (along with Becky Wagner) on your list. He is already getting rave reviews from inside and outside DED and he’s only been on the job a few weeks. He is “A-list” material, without a doubt, with a proven track record from his previous service on the Council and a practical, no-nonsense approach to local government that is focused more on results and helping people than ideology or political correctness. He would instantly be a leading candidate for any office in the County, if he wants to run in 2010. That is the only question. He knows how to get along with others, even those whose views differ from his, and the County would benefit from more true leaders, like Steve, at the helm right now in these very difficult times.

Spy: Steve is making much better money than Council Members. Been there, done that.

Spy: Not sure he would run, but if he did, he surely would round out the leadership team. This man is a leader. Steve is honest, practical, effective, and respected by residents, community groups, labor, business and other elected officials. Indeed, his former rival, Ike Leggett, has called on him to serve.

Spy: He burned too many bridges in his last campaign. Leggett is too smart to have brought him on if he thinks he would be a rival. He has been a state official, and tried for county exec, - wouldn't another run for at-large be a come down?

Spy: I’ve never heard of him as a potential candidate for council. I had heard rumors of him running if Leggett didn’t (a big rumor a few months ago), but hopefully he settles into his new post.

Spy: Interesting to think about Silverman returning to public life. Though I know many a person who now regrets supporting Leggett over Silverman, most of these are knowledgeable political operators. They mostly voted for Leggett because they thought he was more liberal, but now find him to be either an incompetent manager or an intentional waffler. They do not outnumber the much larger group of primary voters who (fairly or unfairly) drank the Kool Aid and started believing Silverman was the devil in developer’s clothing waiting to plow over the Ag Reserve. It is sort of sad, actually, as Silverman seems like a nice guy and Ike seems more like a weasel every day. In any case, Silverman would hurt George Leventhal’s re-election prospects. But, is he really going to run for office after picking up the high-profile post he just accepted?

Spy: Has a much better job now as Economic Development Director. The big surprise would be if he decides the Leggett administration is dysfunctional, resigns and runs for County Executive against Leggett!

Becky Wagner, Bethesda

Wagner has been the Executive Director of Interfaith Works (formerly Community Ministry), one of the county’s most prominent charities, for about ten years. She is one of the biggest names in the county’s non-profit community and is well known by both the political class and the business world. She was named a 2008 Washingtonian of the Year by the magazine of the same name.

Wagner has never run for office before but she did work as an aide to Senator Paul Sarbanes. As a successful non-profit executive, she should know how to raise money. Her organization’s mission of helping homeless people and the working poor should give her plenty of credibility with progressives. Her biggest potential problem is her opposition to the county’s living wage law, part of an effort by non-profits to successfully exempt themselves from the law that ultimately passed. Wagner is a heavyweight contender for an at-large seat.

Spy: Becky Wagner is the standout among the early names surfacing so far. She is the real deal, a true, proven, visionary leader with deep roots and incredibly broad support in the community. She has dedicated most of her life to making the community we live in a better place, especially for those less fortunate, and she is a good manager who knows how to run a tight ship. She has earned lasting respect and admiration from everyone who has ever gone through Leadership Montgomery, run a local business, had any interaction with Community Ministries or dozens of other major non-profit organizations she has helped in the County, or basically anyone who has ever met her. She is the kind of serious, dedicated community leader (and I use the term “leader” deliberately here) who you’d hope in your wildest dreams might be persuaded to run for public office one day. She is on everyone’s “A-list” and would be a huge asset to Montgomery County as a member of the Council. Just let me know when she launches her campaign committee and where to send the check. As leaders go, it doesn’t get any better than Becky Wagner.

Spy: Runs a very professional, respected non profit. Has political experience working for former Sen. Sarbanes. Can’t see her having the patience for the B.S. required for running and serving as an at-large council member in Montgomery. However, if she does, she could be a very strong candidate. Already has a built in network with her non-profit and has a track record of serving others.

Spy: She knows the non-profit worlds but is there money there for her campaign? Does she have her feet on the ground and is she grounded enough to hit the trail running? I have my doubts - and do not see her on the circuits, nor have I heard her speaking forcefully on any cause that could rally the faithful.

Spy: Becky Wagner is the new Jane De Winter, meaning people are floating her name quite a bit right now as a potential serious at-large challenger. Unfortunately, she suffers from the same problems as Jane De Winter - no name recognition, no demonstrated fundraising ability, and nothing particularly exciting or different about her, except that she is a woman whose name is not Duchy Trachtenburg. This seems like a real long-shot, even with incumbent support. Putting gender aside, the fundamentals of her candidacy are little different than that of Chris Paladino, who has no chance.

Spy: I know a lot of people who will drop everything to support Becky Wagner… I see Hans and Becky as the only two on your list who will be able to excite people enough that they will open up their checkbooks to give generous contributions.

Spy: The strongest possible non-incumbent (other than Silverman). Wide reach across the county, strong base in the religious and non-profit communities, impressive fundraising potential. Excellent speaking skills and knowledge of the issues. If I were an incumbent at-large member, I’d be very worried about Becky. She needs to make amends with labor for her opposition to the living wage legislation years ago, which she should be able to do, given labor's antipathy to Trachtenberg and desire to back a winner in 2010.

Final comment:
At the moment, we see Becky Wagner, Hans Riemer and Jane De Winter as the most likely and viable at-large challengers. But it’s still very early. Each of them needs to start running hard, raising money and gaining visibility SOON. Whoever slacks off will fall behind in the early contest for surrogates, endorsements and the critical Apple Ballot. And don’t forget that all four incumbents are in the race. So, to all the candidates, we say this – start showing us some hustle and run!