Thursday, October 01, 2009

Montgomery County’s Most Influential People, Part Four

Our respondents collectively nominated 158 individuals as the most influential non-elected people in Montgomery County. Of these people, 101 received just one vote and 19 received two. To make it onto the upper reaches of our list, it was not enough for a person to be well-known in one local area or in one sector of the community. A person needed wide recognition across multiple segments of our sample to get near the top. Today, we begin presenting the leaders, along with some commentary from myself and our voters, in reverse order of the number of votes.

14 (tie). Doug Duncan, Former Montgomery County Executive
7 Votes

Reader: Watching Doug Duncan since 2006 has been like watching Whack-a-Mole. He keeps popping up briefly and then disappearing again, all the while we know he’ll eventually emerge yet again. Now we hear he’s weighing a return to the campaign trail. But the fact that what he’s planning is being watched so closely simply underscores his influence, even when out of office.

Reader: Seriously, could make a comeback. Just waiting for the opportunity. The whole depression episode seems to have tempered some of the opposition he had accumulated through so many years of doing whatever developers wanted.

Reader: Whether next year is a pretty calm election year with a few primary flare-ups or a knock down drag out fight that could lead to a Republican governor is up to this man.

Reader: Because of his recent remarks in the Post blasting O’Malley, Duncan makes the top 10 list because with over 300k in the bank, he could mount a strong (although probably unsuccessful) primary challenge to O’Malley next year.

Adam: The dominant political figure of Montgomery’s modern era. Cast a long shadow over the county’s politics for twelve years. Part of today’s dysfunction stems from the fact that many people are struggling to find their place in a post-Duncan county landscape with no single leader. That includes Duncan himself.

14 (tie). Glenn Orlin, Deputy Chief of Staff, Montgomery County Council
7 Votes

Reader: The single most knowledgeable resource about transportation in the County and maybe in the State. Glenn has the memory of an elephant and is not afraid to play tough with Council Members when he believes they are headed in the wrong direction. I believe Council Members trust Glenn more than any other person on the merit staff.

Reader: I heard him referred to as the tenth Council Member. Who sets the county’s transportation priorities? It is more likely Glenn than any of the nine Council Members who have served for a far shorter period of time. His influence is huge. Every candidate for state and local offices in 2010 will have to formulate opinions on projects he has put or kept on the table. He makes the election almost meaningless since he will remain no matter who wins. The rise of powerful legislative staff at the state and county level are one development of the past 30 years little understood, noticed, or appreciated by the public. How could such nice, hardworking people have anything but the best in mind for the county? However, if Glenn likes rail more than buses, his passion will be what drives decisions more than the elected Council Members or County Executive. It is sad and undemocratic.

Adam: He is the tenth Council Member, like it or not. Orlin has a long memory, a nose for detail, a facility for numbers and a quiet but shrewd style. He is the most influential transportation planner in the county, period. He also has one of the largest minor league baseball program collections in the United States.

14 (tie). Jerry Pasternak, Former Special Assistant to the County Executive
7 Votes

Reader: The former Duncan fixer still has access to and influence over various elected officials.

Reader: After three years out of County government, Jerry has largely shed the label of the Duncan administration but still has a huge rolodex of great relationships. Even though he works as a lobbyist, many influential people in County government still seek his advice on political strategy, and on that topic, there is nobody better.

Reader: Might be out of sight, but he is still behind every corner of important policy in the D.C. suburb side of Maryland. He knows what you did last summer. But he’s not necessarily telling.

Adam: Almost every rumor in the county goes through Darth Vader at least once before you hear about it. Still knows all the cards on the bottom of the deck.

12 (tie). Gigi Godwin, President/CEO, Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce
8 Votes

Reader: The Chamber’s CEO is warm and welcoming with a bubbly personality and a great smile. Don’t be fooled though - her policy knowledge is very deep and elected officials rely on her for guidance and advice. She is the consummate professional and her grace always helps the cause of the business community, even in difficult circumstances.

Adam: Leads a whip-smart team of super-women (including Vice-Presidents Barbara Ashe and Lisa Fadden) who give business a respected policy voice. Worth every penny of their members’ money.

12 (tie). Jackie Lichter, Political Director, SEIU Local 500
8 Votes

Reader: Helped coordinate the SEIU effort for Obama in VA. Helped elect Nancy Navarro. Now, rumor is, may get hired out by DLLR. Definitely continuing the meteoric rise.

Reader: Everyone has had a crush on her for years. (Lucky Alan!) Smart, funny, and she’s advising half a dozen upstart candidates for state office.

Reader: Should run in the future.

Reader: Can’t find anyone who will not rave about her. Unlimited upside. What she ends up doing will be entirely up to her.

Adam: Fastest rise in local politics since Valerie Ervin.

10 (tie). Blair Lee, Chief Executive Officer, Lee Development Group and Gazette columnist
9 Votes

Reader: Blair continues to be an insightful analyst of Montgomery County and Maryland state politics.

Reader: Like a crazy old uncle locked in the attic, Blair drips with frustration and sometimes incoherent musings. But his analysis of political culture in Montgomery and his regular skewering of the press and liberal politicians is still a must read. Here’s a prediction of his next column: Montgomery is getting steamrolled because it doesn't stand up to the Governor and the press will elect Obama to a second term.

Adam: MoCo’s old bull continues to snort and stomp on liberals and Baltimorons. Knuckleheads beware!

10 (tie). Gustavo Torres, Executive Director, Casa de Maryland
9 Votes

Reader: Executive Director of CASA de Maryland, his work has significantly and positively impacted the lives of many Montgomery County residents who have little influence or voice.

Reader: Most important voice in the Latino community in the state and will play an important role in the immigration reform debate next year.

Reader: Gustavo is a widely-respected strategist and advocate for the Latino community. CASA de Maryland is the go-to organization for the press, which makes them visible and effective on issues of concern.

Adam: Undisputed leader of MoCo’s immigrant community.

9. Doug Prouty, President, Montgomery County Education Association
10 Votes

Reader: As the MoCo political establishment has become increasingly disenchanted with Jon Gerson, the locus of political influence in the county's most powerful union may shift. Prouty is smart, well known to both older activists (because his parents were active in the NAACP) and younger (because of his work with MCEA), and charismatic. He is also unflinchingly dedicated to education, with no ambitions to elected office, which will serve him well.

Reader: He’s president of the county’s teachers union, which is one of, if not the, strongest political player in the county. I’m only putting one person per union, the President. While Tom Israel and Jon Gerson are certainly influential in the endorsement process and other decisions, at the end of the day, Prouty is MCEA president and Gerson is just staff.

Reader: The new MCEA President will play a huge role in the 2010 election. His support is one part of the Holy Grail of local endorsements - the other being Chris Van Hollen. Look for this county native to play an even bigger role than his powerful and much respected predecessor Bonnie Cullison. Prouty’s local roots make him less dependent on advice from Jon Gerson as well. However, he may focus MCEA’s efforts on County Council and Board of Education elections next year since their membership will have a greater impact on teacher salaries over the next decade.

Adam: Brand new MCEA President. Few people know him now. EVERYONE is going to know him a year from now. Has equal roots in the labor and educational communities and has the word “Leader” written all over him.

6 (tie). Tim Firestine, Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer
11 Votes

Reader: The buck stops somewhere on Firestine’s desk. It’s gotta be tough being the budget guy when times are so bad. Cutting salaries for teachers, firing a few county employees, talking about furloughs. But, hey, at least we have enough money to get Ike’s Helicopter Adventureland off the ground. Free rides for kiddies and campaign donors.

Reader: Handles the nuts and bolts of the county.

Reader: A calm overseer of daily operations of Maryland's largest jurisdiction.

Reader: No one knows the county government as much as the CAO. He has more institutional knowledge than anyone. He knows where the money comes from and where it goes.

Reader: Shapes the running of the government, shapes the form of Ike’s arguments.

Reader: He’s got his hands in everything MoCo and is very effective.

Adam: Still the most powerful man you’ve never heard of.

6 (tie). David Moon, Former Campaign Manager for Jamie Raskin and Nancy Navarro
11 Votes

Reader: Quiet political mastermind behind Jamie Raskin and Nancy Navarro, now a force feared by several incumbents.

Reader: Now has quite the reputation for winning campaigns. As regards electoral work, any pol in MoCo worth their salt will be seeking his help. We’ll have to see whether influence at the polls can translate into influence over policy.

Reader: At least everyone seems to have a political crush on him right now.

Reader: Talented political strategist and organizer.

Reader: Political and policy guru.

Reader: With several successful campaigns under his belt, Moon has become the go-to political operative in Montgomery County. But only as a staffer to Nancy Navarro can we see the full extent of his influence, leading some to wonder if he’s playing puppet-master.

Reader: Played the David Plouffe role in the Navarro special election, but what will he do for an encore?

Adam: Growing fame is matched only by his deviousness.

6 (tie). Steve Silverman, Montgomery County Director of Economic Development
11 Votes

Reader: Like a previously caged bobcat, Silverman has leapt back into Montgomery looking for fresh game.

Reader: A team of rivals? Ike’s decision to appoint Silverman to run Economic Development for the County should be seen simultaneously as one of the better decisions he’s made, but also a sign of his own weakness. The fact that so many people were thrilled to have someone in the Executive Branch to turn to other than Ike cannot help but underscore the buyer’s remorse so many people I have spoken to have mentioned.

Reader: Incredibly well-connected and well-liked in various sectors around the County. Many who are disappointed in Ike’s leadership are eager to see Steve succeed in his new role and appreciate his ability to get things done (not a strength of the Leggett administration).

Adam: Ike Leggett made the political move of the year by making Silverman the new Director of Economic Development. That appointment simultaneously placated the business community and neutralized a potential opponent. The problem is that Silverman’s success depends on Leggett’s willingness to fund his department and allow him to use the money as he sees fit. The jury’s still out on that one.

We’ll present the Fabulous Five tomorrow!