Monday, July 19, 2010

In Defense of George Leventhal

In its 2010 County Council endorsements, the Washington Post did not merely inform its readers as to the virtues of its picks; it also attacked Council Member George Leventhal. The Post said:

The one at-large incumbent we do not endorse is George L. Leventhal. A two-term council member, he has prodded the county to extend primary health care for uninsured and low-income residents and pushed other worthwhile initiatives involving transit and job growth. However, by pandering to public employee unions, he has also played a key role in fostering a culture of entitlement that led directly to unbridled spending, outrageous perks and irresponsible budgets. He was not alone in coddling the unions, but he led the charge.
The accusation that Leventhal bears primary responsibility for the county’s budget problems is both grossly unfair and breathtakingly hypocritical. Here’s why.

Montgomery County certainly has a record of substantial spending. Following is the total tax-supported spending of the county government since FY 2004, which was the first budget on which Leventhal voted.

But MANY people had a role in these increases, not just Leventhal. The key players on budget decision-making are:

1. The Superintendent of Schools, who negotiates the three school union contracts and proposes the public schools budget to the Board of Education. The current Superintendent is Jerry Weast, who has served since 1999, not George Leventhal. The Post has long been a cheerleader for Weast.

2. The Board of Education, which approves the union contracts negotiated by the Superintendent as well as the overall school budget. Leventhal has never been a school board member. Most sitting school board members have at some point been endorsed by the Post.

3. The County Executive, who negotiates non-school union contracts and proposes the overall budget to the council. Leventhal has not served in this position. Both Executives in recent years, Doug Duncan and Ike Leggett, have been endorsed by the Post. In fact, the Post called Duncan “the fifth, and best, county executive” immediately after his final term spending spree.

4. The Chair of the Education Committee, who reviews, changes and passes out the school budget. Since 2002, the occupants of this position have been Mike Subin, Mike Knapp and Valerie Ervin, all of whom have been endorsed by the Post. Leventhal has never served in this position.

5. The Council President, who bears overall responsibility for passing the budget. Since 2003, the Presidents have been Mike Subin, Steve Silverman, Tom Perez, George Leventhal, Marilyn Praisner, Mike Knapp, Phil Andrews and Nancy Floreen. All except Perez were endorsed by the Post.

To the extent blame must be assessed for the county’s budget problems, it cannot fall on Leventhal alone. He was one of many people – including the executives, school board members, Council Members and committee chairs – who backed the contracts and budgets of prior years. Those who bore greater responsibility were invariably supported by the Washington Post. And so the Post has told its readers to vote for a large group of politicians who have collectively spent more than it would like, but rather than accept its own responsibility, the Post pins all the blame on one Council Member merely because it is seeking to make an example of him in its feud with the teachers union.

Has the Post no shame?