“When we start allowing billionaires. . . to circumvent the law and the process to buy their way into what they want, I think there is a problem,” said Caroline Taylor of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance.
The planning board’s decision does not bind the County Council, which will begin a review of the issue Thursday and could vote later this month. The administration of County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has endorsed Rales’s proposal. Ultimately, it will have to be approved by the state Department of the Environment.
As Rales has sought the sewer line, the reclusive billionaire has begun to introduce himself to the community. In addition to last fall’s party for the school superintendent, Rales held several “meet and greets” at Glenstone with 650 neighbors. Leggett has visited; so has Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).
Since 2010, Rales has contributed $4,000 to O’Malley, $4,000 to Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D); $4,000 to Leggett and $1,000 to council member Valerie Ervin (D-Eastern County). Equity Group Holdings, a company affiliated with Rales, gave council members George Leventhal (D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) $500 each since 2010, according to Maryland campaign finance records.
Rales recently granted The Post the first interviews he has given in 27 years. (He has shunned the media since Forbes published an unflattering profile.)
It is a deliberate strategy to gain ground in unfamiliar territory, he said.
“I have never really had to engage politicians,” Rales said. “In my business, we have just been able to do what we had to do and forge ahead. Here, it is a very different process. If we don’t educate people and at least put our best foot forward, I would say, we have not served our foundation properly.”
He added: “The governor has been here. He is a huge fan.”
Several weeks ago, e-mails went out to those who had visited Glenstone, including guests at the party for Starr.
“Please help,” one of them began. “We are planning to further our mission by expanding our galleries and landscape, increase our hours, and offer more visitors the option of spending time with us — always free of charge. In order to facilitate this expansion, Glenstone is seeking to connect to public sewer.”
Within days, the County Council was flooded with letters of support — a three-inch stack in all, many of them using identical language. One was from Starr, the guest of honor at Rales’s September party.