Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Whispers of the At-Large Race, Part Two

Believe it or not, the County Council at-large race is almost upon us. And of course we have the inside scoop on the incumbents, the prospective challengers and their chances. But there are a number of factors that influence the outcome of any race. Here are the questions we are asking in assessing what 2010 will look like.

1. Who can raise enough money?
A successful at-large campaign will require a full-time campaign manager, a combination of paid and volunteer staff, disciplined use of a voter tracking database, multiple mailings and other ads, a press operation and multi-media outreach (including to blogs!). All of that will take money – lots of it. Our political consultant sources tell us that just one county-wide mailing could cost up to $50,000. We are advising at-large challengers that they must have $100,000 in the bank by January 2010 in order to be taken seriously by the county’s power brokers and should plan on spending $300,000 by the end of the campaign. There are a very limited number of contenders who can raise that kind of money on their own.

2. Will there be any slates?
At the moment, there are no slates. But that may change by next year. There are three good reasons to form slates: mutual protection, knocking off enemies and money. The escalating cost of campaigning is making that third reason especially important since slates can do joint advertising. We may see incumbents – possibly together with one or more challengers – forming at least one slate even if they have to hold their noses to do it. And the creation of one slate may very well stimulate the creation of a rival slate. The current 5-4 split on the council (Nancy Navarro, Valerie Ervin, George Leventhal, Nancy Floreen and Mike Knapp vs. Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg and Roger Berliner) may offer a rough starting point here but nothing is guaranteed. Former County Executive Doug Duncan organized a slate in 2002 and used it evict his greatest adversary, incumbent at-large Council Member Blair Ewing. Would Ike Leggett participate in any slate?

3. What will the unions do?
Last time, the unions went their separate ways more than once. In the County Executive race, MCGEO endorsed Ike Leggett, SEIU supported Steve Silverman and MCEA stayed neutral. In the at-large race, the Police, Fire Fighters and SEIU supported Nancy Floreen but the other unions did not. Labor was relatively united in supporting George Leventhal, Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg, who non-coincidentally finished first, second and third in the at-large race.

This time, the public employee unions have a common priority: getting rid of Duchy Trachtenberg. They are split on whether to support Elrich, who rubbed some of them the wrong way in voting to hold up the FY 2009 budget because of his disagreement with the structure of the property tax increase. Moreover, the unions may have differing opinions on the challengers.

Labor is always at their best when they stick together. The Apple Ballot, union member canvassing, independent expenditures and PAC contributions are a powerful combination if employed in concert. If labor rallies around one or two at-large challengers, they will maximize their impact on the race.

4. Who can attract support from the business community?
Many activists have two misconceptions about the county’s business community: first, that they are monolithic, and second, that they care only about encouraging development and building the ICC. That is far too simplistic an analysis.

Developers will always contribute to county candidates because their livelihoods depend on land use. But the rest of the business community mirrors the diversity of the county. Check out the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. It includes representatives of multi-national corporations, real estate firms, law firms, hospitals, banks, IT firms, utilities and even the Gazette and Montgomery College. And there are countless more businesses – especially small businesses – who are members of the local chambers. Two issues unite most of these businesses: transportation and tax policy. Both apply to the state level as well as the county level. Candidates who hope to draw support from business outside of the development community must emphasize how they would successfully deal with these issues.

In 2002, the business community gave substantial support to Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock County Council slate. These days, the Chamber of Commerce is more focused on promoting transportation and pro-business tax policy than it is on promoting politicians. But business money can still be had, and a challenger probably will not be able to win without it.

5. What will be the hot issues?
Education, development and traffic are perpetual issues in Montgomery County. In 2006, a strong economy, crowded schools and congested roads gave slow-growth candidates the edge. Next year, job creation won’t look like such a bad thing. Ben Kramer and Nancy Navarro both prioritized it in the 2009 District 4 race and together grabbed 88% of the primary vote. But the sleeper issue may be crime. Will incumbents who supported cutbacks in the police department pay a price?

Dear readers, we will be seeking answers to all of these questions throughout primary day. But enough! Now we will proceed to what you really want to know. Besides the incumbents, who is running at-large? Who could run? Who has the best chance of winning? Who should avoid embarrassing themselves? Our spies tell all, starting tomorrow. Don’t miss it!