Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Scramble, Part One

By Marc Korman.

At least since the special election to replace Councilman Don Praisner, conventional wisdom has held that the County Council was divided into two coalitions. Those coalitions rallied around separate candidates in the Council President selection at the end of 2009. But now, with the 2010 election looming, those coalitions have been scrambled.

In the United States, there is a general tendency to think of politics in a binary fashion, whether it is Federalists v. Jeffersonians, Whigs v. Democrats, or Democrats v. Republicans, third parties tend to: 1. Be swallowed by another party, those crazy Free Soil Party members all became Republicans; 2. Become one of the two primary parties, like the Republicans in the 1860s; or 3. Disappear entirely, what happen to all those Ross Perot supporters? Since 2006, the Montgomery County Council has been made up of nine Democrats, so instead of two parties we had two coalitions.

Speaking very generally, one coalition made up of Nancy Floreen, Valerie Ervin, George Leventhal, Mike Knapp, and Nancy Navarro gave stronger favor to the unions and development. The other coalition, again speaking very broadly, gave stronger favor to civic interests and was less supportive of the unions. The second coalition was made up of Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Duchy Trachtenberg, and Phil Andrews.

There is a fair argument to be made that these coalitions never really existed when it came to actual Council votes and were just a simple construct created by people like me. There is some truth to that. Most Council votes are either unanimous or involve strong majorities such as the Purple Line, White Flint or the Great Seneca Science Corridor. Even on close votes, the coalitions are not always clear cut. The ambulance fee was approved 5-4, but the opponents included two Councilmembers who voted for Berliner and endorsed Ben Kramer and two who were on the opposite side.

That said, at least politically these two coalitions lined up against each other in the Council 4 special election and the Council President selection.

But now, those political coalitions have been entirely scrambled. It started when Nancy Navarro and Marc Elrich traded endorsements. The trend continued when Nancy Navarro and George Leventhal endorsed Roger Berliner, who they voted against elevating to Council President. It is affecting challengers as well, with folks like Hans Riemer and Becky Wagner not making plays to support one coalition over the other but seeking broader support from incumbents.

There are probably a few reasons the coalitions have been scrambled. First, many incumbents would likely deny they really existed at all as discussed above. Second, the incumbents look more focused on policy and less on politics if they are seen allying themselves in ways that counter expectations. Third, based on my very broad characterization of them, their perceived policy differences matter a lot less when there is little growth due to the economy and a need to dramatically cut budgets.