Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett defeats two challengers in Democratic primary


Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike"Leggett poses for a photo in his office in Rockville in May. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who asked voters for a chance to govern in better times after two terms of recession-spawned austerity, was victorious Tuesday in the Democratic primary.

With more than 80 percent of the county’s precincts reporting, Leggett beat his two challengers: former county executive Doug Duncan and County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville). He will face Republican James Shalleck in November, but a primary victory is generally tantamount to reelection in Democrat-dominated Montgomery.

The six council incumbents with primary challengers — all Democrats — also appeared likely to retain their seats. Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Hans Riemer and George L. Leventhal were the top vote-getters for the four at-large seats as of Wednesday morning.

District 1 council member Roger Berliner (Potomac-Bethesda) and the council president, Craig Rice (Upcounty) in District 2, easily won their primaries, with each capturing more than three-quarters of the vote. Council member Nancy Navarro (Midcounty) ran unopposed.

In one of two Democratic primaries for open council seats, Maryland Del. Tom Hucker led Silver Spring activist Evan Glass by several hundred votes in the District 5 race in eastern Montgomery, with three other challengers lagging far behind. In central Montgomery’s District 3, Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz beat Rockville City Council member Tom Moore, Gaithersburg City Council member Ryan Spiegel and Derwood business consultant Guled Kassim.

In the nonpartisan contest for two at-large seats on the Montgomery County Board of Education, Shebra Evans and Jill Ortman-Fouse led their two opponents.

Leggett, 68, campaigned for a third term on what he depicted as a record of prudent, tough-minded management during the recession and its aftermath, when he froze wages, slashed jobs and opted out of labor contracts. He asked voters for a chance to govern in a recovering economy so that he could help upgrade transportation and launch signature developments such as the proposed White Oak Science Gateway,

He faced challenges from two long-time Montgomery figures who argued that the county had lost its ability to compete for jobs in the region and its fair share of money from the state government in Annapolis.

Duncan, 58, a former three-term executive (1994-2006), sought a political comeback after withdrawing from the 2006 gubernatorial race, when he was diagnosed with depression. He said Leggett’s passive leadership had afflicted the county with “paralysis by analysis.” As Exhibit A, he cited the Silver Spring Transit Center, three years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget because of design and construction flaws.

Andrews, 54, a four-term council member who took virtually no money from developer or union sources, ran a thinly financed, grass-roots campaign that framed Leggett and Duncan as conventional Democrats beholden to special interests. He promised tax relief, a harder line in contract talks with public employee unions and a more muscular approach to the State House in Annapolis.

Neither was able to make a compelling case to Democrats for ousting Leggett, a soft-spoken former law professor and Montgomery’s first African American county executive.

Leggett also enjoyed a significant fundraising advantage throughout the campaign. He began the final two weeks of the contest with just over $800,000 in cash on hand, compared with $260,000 for Duncan and $85,000 for Andrews, according to campaign finance reports.

The at-large council incumbents faced just one serious challenger, Upcounty activist Beth Daly, who contended that overcrowded schools and congested roads were the result of land-use policies that favored developers. She was mentored and endorsed by Elrich, who is often the council’s lone voice against high-density construction.

Daly enjoyed union support and invested $55,000 of her own money. But Montgomery Democrats, bucking a tendency to dump one of the four at-large incumbents, appeared to be supporting them all this time.

Two races for district council seats generated sparks in the spring. In western Montgomery’s affluent District 1, former at-large council member Duchy Trachtenberg contended that two-term incumbent Roger Berliner was unresponsive to constituents and hypocritical because he voted for a council pay increase (effective after the November election) but opposed a provision to tie the county minimum wage to inflation.

Trachtenberg, once a “slow growth” advocate, enlisted support from developers unhappy with Berliner’s role in limiting development in Ten Mile Creek.

The District 5 race, for the seat held by Valerie Ervin before her resignation in January, was expected to be a three-way fight between Hucker, Glass and school board member Christopher S. Barclay, who was endorsed by the influential Montgomery teachers union and a number of elected Democrats. Barclay’s campaign imploded after poor fundraising reports and disclosures that he had reimbursed the school system for inappropriate expenditures on his school-board-issued credit card.

Glass, a former CNN producer, benefited from a late surge of money from a business community uncomfortable with the prospect of Hucker, a hard-charging state lawmaker with deep ties to labor.

Rice, seeking his second term in District 2, encountered only token opposition from Neda Bolourian, a lightly financed lawyer.

Voting was light throughout the county. Election officials estimated the final turnout at between 12 percent and 20 percent of registered voters.

Jo Michaux, 76, a Democrat who lives at Leisure World in the Aspen Hill area, said she was worn out by what she saw as too much negativity. “We need some kind of change,” she said. “These people have rested on their laurels too long.” She cast her ballot for Andrews, she said. Dane Stalbaum, 60, said he believed that “it’s time to get Leggett out. I think it’s time for a change.” Citing the behind-schedule, over-budget Silver Spring Transit Center, he said: “That one, I’m tired of hearing about. I wish they’d just straighten it out. It’s so past due and past budget.”

Jenna Johnson and Donna St. George contributed to this report

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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