Thursday, October 08, 2009

Who Will be the Next Council President? Part Three

If the County Council operates by long-standing precedent, Vice-President Roger Berliner will be elected President in December. But one Council Member may be willing to challenge that precedent and make a try for the office:

Nancy Floreen.

Floreen, Chair of the council’s critical Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment (T&E) Committee for the last seven years, is nearing the end of her second term. Before she came to the council, she served eight years on the Planning Board and two years as Mayor of Garrett Park. Only decades-long Takoma Park City Council Member Marc Elrich can match her experience in local government on the current council. Floreen finished first in the at-large general election in both 2002 and 2006 and we believe she will be a strong contender in next year’s race.

How would the claims of Berliner and Floreen on the Presidency stack up?

The current Vice-President can argue that occupants of his office almost always become President, and he would be correct. There have been only two occasions in council history when the Vice-President did not move up.

In 1986, an election year, Neal Potter was Vice-President and William Hanna was President. Both men were re-elected, but the election of three freshmen (Ike Leggett, Bruce Adams and Mike Subin) shifted the balance of power and Rose Crenca edged out Potter for the Presidency in 1987. Potter got the last laugh, however, as he had already served three years as President, became County Executive in 1990 and served a record six terms on the Council overall.

In 1998, another election year, William Hanna was Vice-President and Ike Leggett was President. Hanna was due to become President for a record fourth time in 1999, but he was defeated by insurgent Phil Andrews. Because there was no Vice-President available to move up, Leggett served a second consecutive year as Council President after the election, the only time that has happened in the county’s history.

Neither of the above circumstances exactly resemble today’s situation because they did not occur in the middle of a council term. On every other occasion during mid-term, the Vice-President moved up.

Additionally, violation of precedent can be disruptive. In 2008, after Marilyn Praisner passed away, Council President Mike Knapp considered reorganizing the committees. While a President can change committee assignments, they are typically set at the beginning of a term and remain stable. Mrs. Praisner’s death created two committee vacancies and some movement was necessary, but Knapp also publicly pondered removing Duchy Trachtenberg as Chair of the Management and Fiscal Policy Committee. That prompted Trachtenberg to complain to the Gazette that Knapp was “marginalizing” her and she kept her chair.

Finally, it is not unusual for freshmen like Berliner to become Council President. Twelve Council Members were named President in their first term. The most recent such Presidents were George Leventhal (2006), Tom Perez (2005), Steve Silverman (2002) and Blair Ewing (2001).

Nancy Floreen also has some arguments for the President’s chair. First, her seventeen years of service on the Planning Board, in Garrett Park and on the County Council far surpasses Berliner’s three years in office. Additionally, she has chaired one of the council’s most important committees, Transportation and Environment, for seven years while Berliner has never served as a Chair. There is a significant gap in experience between the two.

Since 1970, only three other Council Members besides Floreen have served two terms or more without being named Council President: Howie Denis (2000-2006), Betty Ann Krahnke (1990-2000) and Nancy Dacek (1990-2002). All three were Republicans. The only Council Members who have waited longer than Floreen to serve as President have been Rose Crenca (who served in her ninth year), Esther Gelman (tenth year) and Phil Andrews (eleventh year).

Also, in the twelve-year period starting in 1998, there has been only one female Council President: Marilyn Praisner in 2007. There has never been another comparable dry spell for women since the council’s current structure began in 1970.

But Floreen may have the edge on Berliner for one more reason: she supported the winner of the 2009 District 4 special election. She is now part of a new majority that has repeatedly challenged the County Executive and still harbors unpleasant memories of being in the minority for more than two years. We believe that while the outcome is not yet final, Floreen can make a strong run for the Presidency if she chooses.

We have long known that elections have consequences for the voters. Clearly, they have consequences for politicians too.