Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Becky, Duchy and Marc

At-Large County Council challenger Becky Wagner is making the rounds of an important Montgomery County constituency: the developer community. And she has a powerful ally opening doors for her. That may have consequences for incumbent at-large Council Members Marc Elrich and Duchy Trachtenberg.

MPW intercepted the following email from James Soltesz, President/CEO of planning and engineering firm Loiederman Soltesz Associates.

From: Lee Alexander On Behalf Of Jim Soltesz, P.E.
Sent: Friday, December 11, 2009 3:10 PM
To: Jim Soltesz, P.E.
Cc: Becky Wagner; [Other email addresses withheld]
Subject: Montgomery County Council Race

I had the outstanding opportunity to meet with a very qualified and energetic person who is running for Montgomery County Council At-Large seat. As you know, the upcoming elections could be pivotal in finally getting a council who understands that economic growth and job creation is not a problem, but a benefit for Montgomery County.

Becky Wagner has declared her candidacy for the At-Large position. She comes highly recommended by numerous people in the County including several current Council members.

I am not asking you for any donation at this time, but instead I am inviting you to meet with her in a small group setting (10 to 15 people) for a breakfast at my office.

You can hear for yourself first hand her views regarding economic growth, job creation, taxes, and other related issues which are of critical importance to us.

Outlined below are four dates with the meetings beginning promptly at 8:00 AM, and we will have everyone out the door by 9:10 AM.

Thursday, January 14th
Thursday, January 21st
Thursday, February 11th
Thursday, February 18th

If you have interest, please let me know. I am trying to balance out the number of attendees with the dates. Therefore, if there is more than one date that works, please indicate that as well.

Thanks, hopefully you will accept this opportunity to meet with an outstanding individual who can become a very key political leader in the future of Montgomery County.

Thank you.


James A. Soltesz, PE
President and CEO
Loiederman Soltesz Associates, Inc.
2 Research Place, Rockville, MD 20850
301.948.2750 fax 301.948.6321
Jim Soltesz is a very influential figure in the Washington suburbs’ development community. His company has performed planning, engineering and consulting services on many high-profile projects, including Downtown Silver Spring, King Farm, One Bethesda Center, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and White Flint North. He was also a member of Montgomery County’s Affordable Housing Task Force along with a who’s-who of political players and activists.

Soltesz, his firm and his wife have given a combined $63,989 in state and county political contributions over the last ten years. Those who received the most money include Comptroller Peter Franchot ($4,250), the Community Coalition Advocacy Slate ($4,000), a slate of incumbents in Prince George’s County including Senators Ulysses Currie and Nathaniel Exum, the Vison for 2006 Slate ($3,450), a slate of Prince George’s politicians including Jack Johnson, former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan ($3,000), Montgomery County Council Member George Leventhal ($2,950), Governor Martin O’Malley ($2,500), the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce Business PAC ($2,500), Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett ($2,500), Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson ($2,500) and former Montgomery County Council Member Steve Silverman ($2,500). With his personal resources and his business contacts, Soltesz is the kind of sponsor that almost any County Council challenger would be overjoyed to have.

But we are most struck by this statement in Soltesz’s email: “She comes highly recommended by numerous people in the County including several current Council members.” That means the development community, some on the council and their associated insiders may be coming together around Wagner. Since all four incumbents are running again, supporting Wagner means knocking a sitting Council Member out. There are only two possible targets.

Marc Elrich

The former Takoma Park City Council Member is an ancient foe of developers, once famously comparing them to “welfare beneficiaries.” But Elrich has given the development community something extremely valuable: his proposal for a county-wide bus rapid transit system. Developers understand that a genuine, affordable mass transit system will be both politically palatable and profitable for them as it would generate new building opportunities. When new Council President Nancy Floreen recently speculated that planning funding for the system might have to be cut, several developers called the council building in the project’s defense and that idea was dropped.

“I’ve crossed swords with Marc in the past and I don’t agree with him on very much at all,” says one powerful developer. “But his BRT system is the best idea I’ve seen come around in a long time. I wish the other Council Members would put aside their differences with him and support it.” Statements like these indicate that many in the development industry no longer see Elrich as a blood enemy and he is not their primary target.

Duchy Trachtenberg

Trachtenberg has more problems than a toad has warts. First, she is actively disliked by a majority of the other Council Members, in part because of her prickly personal behavior. Second, she ran on a slow-growth platform in 2006 and has done nothing for the business community since. Third, she has no chance of making the Apple Ballot, still the WMD of MoCo politics. As a former public school teacher and MCEA member, Elrich has a much greater chance of gaining the Apple than does Trachtenberg, who acquired it last time and has betrayed the public employee unions ever since. And all of this can be added to her growing problems with progressives.

The at-large council race is still in its early stages and the field is likely not complete. But if an incumbent-developer alliance builds around Becky Wagner, it can only mean one thing: such a movement will probably evolve into an anti-Trachtenberg consensus among most of Montgomery’s power players. Trachtenberg will have to wage the campaign of her life to keep her seat, and she may well have to do it alone.