Friday, June 04, 2010

The Apple Drops, Part Two

Here’s what the Apple means for the County Council races.

District 1 Endorsement: Incumbent Roger Berliner

This is a mild surprise as Berliner and MCEA have not been on each other’s Christmas card list. MCEA supported Republican incumbent Howie Denis over Berliner in 2006 and Berliner voted for “labor savings” in the 2008 budget debate.

But two factors operated in concert to bring the parties together. First, Berliner is not ideologically anti-union. He has never emphasized his opposition to the unions as have Council Members Phil Andrews and Duchy Trachtenberg. Second, there is a growing sense that Berliner is going to win his race against challenger Ilaya Hopkins. So MCEA faced a choice: make no endorsement, thereby ensuring continuous up-and-down relations with Berliner, or endorse him and hope that things will be better. The teachers are a pragmatic group so they chose the latter option. We will see if it pays off.

This is a serious blow to Hopkins. She was hoping for union support to help her uphill race, but now the most electorally influential union has thrown in with the incumbent. Berliner is on a roll now. He started out with a big chunk of cash in the bank. Then he rolled out a huge supporter list and a boatload of incumbent endorsements. Next came the revelation of Hopkins’s recent entry into the Democratic Party. Did we mention that Berliner is running his third race in the district while Hopkins is running for the first time? If the Washington Post endorses Berliner, this race is totally over.

District 2 Endorsement: Craig Rice

Incumbent Mike Knapp did not complete a questionnaire or report for an interview. Rice did both and did so as a council candidate. Dooley’s lopsided loss in 2006 affects perceptions of her as a candidate and Rice has done a good job as Delegate, so this endorsement was expected.

District 3 Endorsement: None

Incumbent Phil Andrews has been an opponent of the unions for many years, but he has no challenger. Even if he did, he would be certain to return to Rockville.

District 4 Endorsement: Incumbent Nancy Navarro

Former school board member: check. Past MCEA endorsee: check. No declared opponent: check. Woman of color: check. Apple Ballot: check.

District 5 Endorsement: Incumbent Valerie Ervin

Former school board member: check. Past MCEA endorsee: check. No declared opponent: check. Woman of color: check. Twenty-five years in the labor movement: check. Apple Ballot: check!

Additionally, we hear that Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman will not be running against Ervin. An easy re-election will position Ervin for a County Executive run or maybe something even higher up.

At-Large Endorsements: Incumbents George Leventhal and Marc Elrich, challengers Becky Wagner and Hans Riemer

This is the most fateful set of endorsements on the Apple Ballot and will have a very large impact. Following is our assessment of the implications for each candidate.

George Leventhal: The two-term incumbent is now firmly in the driver’s seat. Leventhal will have all the money he needs, almost all the big endorsements (except possibly the Post’s) and will wage a solid campaign. We expect him to finish first in the at-large race for the second election in a row. If that happens, Leventhal will be a top contender to be the next County Executive.

Marc Elrich: Looks stronger every day. Elrich won last time with a dual base in the civic and labor communities. He has lost none of that support and is only adding to it. Elrich always has money problems due to his rejection of developer contributions, but he also has more ground troops than any other at-large candidate. We now believe that he will be going back to Rockville.

Becky Wagner and Hans Riemer: The conventional wisdom once was that only one of them would get the Apple, and that person would be in the best position to oust an incumbent. Now both have received the Apple. That means that each will be getting more endorsements, more money and more momentum. Could both of them win?

Duchy Trachtenberg: She was never going to be endorsed by MCEA or any other county employee union as she has done nothing but vote against them despite their invaluable aid to her in 2006. In fact, Trachtenberg told the unions to take a hike before they could tell that to her! The new wrinkle for Trachtenberg is that two challengers, not just one, now have the Apple and all the prestige it brings. Trachtenberg has tons of money and is certain to flood the county with tons of positive mail about herself, but she will have few endorsements and almost no ground troops. Is that enough for her to come back?

Nancy Floreen: Until this year, Floreen had been voting with the public employee unions almost every time this term. We still expect at least some of them to support her. (The police, fire fighters and SEIU backed her last time.) But what changed this year was that Floreen was the Council President, and she was responsible for the budget.

The overwhelming majority of our informants – and not just in labor – knocked Floreen’s handling of the budget. Most people close to the process say she did not do a good job in regularly touching base with the other Council Members, finding out what was acceptable to them, coordinating action with the schools and the Executive Branch and communicating effectively with the public. One influential official said, “Those who worked with Floreen on budget issues were confronted with nothing but platitudes and little willingness to actually engage on the specifics. As Chair of the Council, this was Floreen’s opportunity to provide leadership, yet leadership is the last descriptor that would come to anyone’s mind in this case.” Another high-ranking player described her as a “deer in the headlights” and advocating positions in negotiations that had not been vetted with the rest of the council. Floreen has her defenders and some of this criticism may be unfair. What other Council President has ever had to close a billion dollar deficit? But many Rockville players found Floreen’s performance to be disappointing and that helped edge her out of the Apple Ballot.

There is an element of Shakespearean tragedy here. Floreen wanted to be Council President so badly that she shoved aside former Vice-President Roger Berliner to get the job. If Floreen had been a back-bencher this year and was not saddled with the budget disaster, she may have squeaked through for an Apple. Now Berliner, of all people, has the Apple and Floreen has problems. Sometimes in life, you get what you want and it hurts you.

But Nancy Floreen is a female incumbent with money who has won twice before without the teachers. She is FAR from through.

Jane de Winter and Fred Evans: De Winter has been running since last summer and has not gained any traction. Evans just got in. No one sees either as likely to win.

That’s all for now, folks!