Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Marc Elrich's Message for 2010

At-large County Council Member Marc Elrich is holding his first fundraiser of the season on Sunday. There is nothing newsworthy in the mere act of a candidate seeking money. But the message used by Elrich to market the fundraiser says something about where the politics of the county are headed next year.

Marc Elrich is not an ordinary politician. He is a leader of the old-school, slow-growth wing of the county’s divided progressive community. When he runs for office, he does not campaign. He crusades, from living room to Metro stop to street corner to bar-room. He is followed, as ever, by his anti-development, socialist legions from Takoma Park. (They work for granola.) Their message has always been that developers have corrupted the county with excessive political contributions, thereby spawning unsustainable growth that passes on a legacy of crowded schools and gridlocked roads to overburdened taxpayers. Elrich gained more fame from his four consecutive County Council losses than most politicians do from their wins. In fact, due to Elrich’s refusal to accept developer contributions, those losses may have been necessary to build up his base enough so that he could finally get over the top in 2006.

Marc Elrich’s famous campaign symbol is a declaration of independence from developers.

In his younger days, the finger-pointing, pony-tail-sporting Elrich was a hellraiser. In 1998, he ran a tough campaign against District 5 incumbent Derick Berlage, calling him a “total hypocrite” for refusing developer contributions in his first run for office but accepting them later. In 2002, Elrich teamed up with incumbent Blair Ewing to fight Doug Duncan’s End Gridlock slate. He minced no words about his views on growth policy, blasting away on his website against “Unbridled Growth.” Here’s a taste of vintage Elrich:

Our beleaguered middle-class is told that the County can no longer afford to provide the quality of life that made this place so attractive at the same time it throws millions in subsidies into the pockets of millionaires. We make great claims about ending welfare, but we’re really only changing the beneficiaries. What we’ve done is to recast developers as the new poster children of the Nineties. This blind devotion to growth is great - if you’re a developer or a tumor - but it doesn’t work so well for the rest of us who are better served by priorities that strengthen our communities and our schools.
Interested in removing the tumor of development? Vote for Dr. Elrich!

That’s not Elrich’s message today. In his fundraiser solicitation, he does not cast any deep-pocketed developers as “welfare beneficiaries,” but instead says that he “brings both sides to the table to craft win-win solutions for the county.” Is one of those sides the business community? He also says that while he “stands up to uncontrolled development, Montgomery County will prosper with well-planned sustainable growth.”

This is not mere rhetoric adjustment. The irony of Elrich’s tenure on the council is that his BRT system proposal may be the only way to enable more growth without crippling congestion. And despite his praise for the higher impact taxes on development levied by the County Council in 2007, he has introduced a bill to suspend their increase because of the poor economy. He still refuses development contributions, but he is treading close to the edge by including developer Ben Kramer and Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, a principal of development advisor Rodgers Consulting, on his host committee.

Marc Elrich is a more complicated politician now than most of his friends or his enemies appreciate. He may not have enough money to send out more than one countywide mailer during the campaign. But he has an interesting message and he deserves the voters’ attention.

His solicitation appears below.