Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I Watched for in 2009, Part One

By Marc Korman.

At the start of 2009, I took a look at “What to Watch for in 2009.” I asked five questions and speculated as to how they might be answered during the year. In two parts, I will take a look at what has actually occurred.

1. Who is Raising Money?

I asked this question in terms of who might retire and who might challenge an incumbent.

So far, there have been no official retirement announcements. Speculation continues to swirl around Delegate Hank Heller in District 19 and Councilman Mike Knapp in District 2. There may be some announcements following the legislative session, but I probably jumped the gun by thinking more people would make their intentions clear by now.

One potential retiree I did mention was Councilman Don Praisner, who passed away earlier this year. His successor, Nancy Navarro, is a definite candidate for reelection.

As for challengers, of those I mentioned only Dana Beyer is making definitive moves to run in District 18. But there are many other challengers out raising money, primarily for the at-large Council race, District 17 senate race and in District 19. A long list of candidates has emerged based on fundraising efforts including: Cheryl Kagan, Becky Wagner, Jane DeWinter, Sam Arora, Tom DeGonia, and Hoan Dang. The January campaign finance reports will reveal or confirm many more names.

I also suggested that Councilwoman Valerie Ervin might run for an at-large seat, which would have allowed 2006 candidate Hans Riemer to run for her vacant seat. Councilwoman Ervin appears to be sitting tight, but Riemer may still jump into the at-large race.

2. What Are the Republicans Doing?

The answer is nothing. Robin Ficker ran in the County Council Special Election and was blown out. Despite Ficker’s high profile, his 35.26% of the vote was just slightly better than the Republican’s share the previous year of 33.44%. Ficker is likely to run again, but there is little evidence that his message is effective in Montgomery County beyond the 2008 Charter Amendment he championed to passage (though I still maintain that was a fluke victory).

Outside of Ficker, there is little evidence of Republican candidates around Montgomery County. They will likely field challengers in many seats, but they will primarily be non-entities in these races.

The one exception is the potential candidacy of former Governor Bob Ehrlich. He continues to flirt with the possibility of a comeback.

3. Is the County Council Doing Anything?

Yes and no. The Council has had a full plate in 2009 of budget cuts, the growth policy, and some transportation issues I will discuss in Part Two. They have also spent a lot of time discussing White Flint and Gaithersburg West/Science City, with final action deferred until next year.

But one of the dominant issues in the growth policy, how to reform Policy Area Mobility Review, was deferred until the County Executive sends his recommendations. Another important issue, school capacity, was dealt with by rejecting the Planning Board’s recommendation to increase from 105% of capacity to 110% the threshold for a facilities payment by developers. But the Council did not address the need for better capacity projections. Overall, the growth policy did not make the transformative changes the Planning Board had promoted.

The Council also spent a lot of time on its internal politics, bucking tradition and not electing the 2009 Council Vice President as the 2010 Council President. The vote demonstrates that the 5-4 split on the council, primarily premised on growth issues, is still alive and well despite the economy slowing the rate of growth.

Questions 4 and 5 will be considered in Part Two.