Almost 55 percent of Montgomery Democrats decided Tuesday that they didn’t like Ike. County Executive Isiah Leggett defeated former executive Doug Duncan and council member Phil Andrews handily, but his challengers held him to 45.6 percent of the vote.
Not exactly a resounding mandate for a third term. But Leggett said Friday that given the austerity measures that he and the County Council imposed during the recession — combined with the caliber of his competition — 45 percent was fine.
“Keep in mind what’s happened in the last eight years. Tough decisions take their toll,” he said on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, referring to cuts in basic services such as library hours, along with furloughs of county employees and cancellation of cost of living increases. Most of those reductions have been slowly restored as the recovery moves forward.
Leggett, who initially said he would not run again after his 2010 reelection, also tipped his hat to Duncan and Andrews for running strong campaigns.
“I like both of them,” he said. “They’ve both done well for Montgomery County. They’re very good public servants.” But in the end, he said, incumbents across the board seemed to have an advantage.
“People had difficulty making a case that you had to have major change,” he said.
Leggett, who will face Republican James Shalleck in a November general election that is all but pro-forma, said in an interview this week that education will be at the top of his agenda over the next 90 to 120 days. He was short on details, but said he was working on a series of proposals to more directly target the needs of at-risk students, especially in the form of after school and Saturday programs.
He said he was also focused on the White Oak Science Gateway master plan for eastern Montgomery, which comes to the County Council for approval next month. The plan is an attempt to catalyze the economy in the long-neglected eastern sector by creating a hub for medical and life sciences research around the FDA campus off New Hampshire Avenue.
But Leggett said decisions have to be made on a means to fund the bus rapid transit line that is considered an essential part of the project. He also said he is concerned that the plan calls for too much density in areas beyond the FDA campus.
“Right now, the plan in my opinion has too much density in locations where I’m not sure we need it at this time,” he said, referring specifically to the White Oak shopping center at New Hampshire Avenue and Route 29.
For Duncan, who drew 32.3 percent of the vote, Tuesday’s loss ends an attempted comeback after depression led him to withdraw from the 2006 gubernatorial race. Publicly available polling suggests that he was unable to expand on his initial base of support. A June 2013 poll conducted by Fred Yang for then-council member Valerie Ervin — who was considering a run for executive — placed Duncan at 33 percent. That was ahead of Leggett (25 percent) but with a significant number of undecided voters.
In an interview Friday, Duncan deflected questions about strategy and results.
“I had a blast. I had fun,” he said. “It was great being back out there again. I enjoyed very much being in the middle of the debate about the future of the county. We had a low turnout and it was the year of the incumbents.”
Duncan had little to say about what comes next, either in politics or private life, where he was most recently working as a consultant to developers and construction companies. He said he planned “to stay in the thick of things” politically but wasn’t sure what form that would take.
Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) finished third with 22 percent of the vote, but clearly beat expectations. The same Yang poll showed him at 9 percent a year ago. Running on a shoestring budget, he demonstrated that there is an appetite for his message of tax relief, spending restraint and reform to diminish the power of special interest money in county campaigns.
“I think we really moved the needle,” he said earlier this week, as he was out retrieving yard signs. “The message was resonating with the people we reached.”
Andrews, who will leave the council in December after four terms, said his priority is to secure passage of his bill to establish partial public financing of county campaigns. It would allow candidates to leverage small individual contributions of up to $150 with a system of matching public funds. The goal is to draw more small donors into the political process and enable candidates with limited resources to mount competitive campaigns for council or county executive.
Perhaps a candidate such as himself in 2018?
“That remains to be seen,” he said. “I haven’t really though about that yet. At this point, I’m going to take a break and focus over the next few months on getting the financing bill passed.”