MoCo’s Elrich, a development skeptic, “made peace” with realtors and their money

Montgomery Council member Marc Elrich (D-At-Large) likes to proclaim his independence from a county campaign finance system thick with largesse from the development industry.

“Marc does not accept campaign funds from developers,” he says in one of his campaign pieces mailed to Montgomery Democrats this month for Tuesday’s primary.

That’s true, by and large, for most of the $103,000 he’s raised since 2011. But his filings also show $6,000 last month from the PAC operated by the Maryland Association of Realtors (MD RPAC), a 22,000 member trade association that describes itself as “dedicated to preserving the vitality of the real estate market.”

Elrich maintains that there’s no disconnect here.

“They’re not developers. They sell houses ,” he said Monday. “They’ve never lobbied me, they’ve never bugged me about big development projects.”

Elrich said he used to refuse money from MD RPAC, but that over time he concluded that realtors were interested in the same quality-of-life issues that animate him, including overcrowded schools, traffic and other threats to the stability of established neighborhoods.

“We kind of made peace with each other,” he said.

There are other smaller exceptions to Elrich’s “no developer” policy. For example, attorney Jack Garson, of Garson Claxton, a firm that represents developers, has given small amounts over the years.

Elrich calls Garson a friend from college who has “zip, zero influence.”

“He’s probably lost every case I’ve voted on,” he said.

But the MD RPAC money links Elrich to one of the groups trying to defeat a council candidate he supports, Del. Tom Hucker, who is running in District 5.

Filings show a late surge of developer money to Hucker’s principal opponent, Silver Spring activist Evan Glass. It includes $6,000 from MD RPAC.

Over the weekend Elrich sent an e-mail to his supporters urging them to help Hucker.

“I’m sure the development community looks at Tom’s history of community activism and is worried that he might actually stand up to them...That is reason enough to support Tom.”

Again, Elrich sees no disconnect. Glass’s backing, he said, is part of a “concerted effort” by the business community to defeat Hucker.

“Evan got a whole bunch of money. Tom’s got nothing to compare to it,” Elrich said.

Hucker, who holds a significant cash advantage over Glass, according to recent finance reports, has received a handful of developer contributions, including the Chevy Chase Land Company (as did Glass) and Aris Mardirossian.

In a statement today Glass responded to Elrich:

I have spent this campaign talking about my ideas and plans to improve our community, rather than tearing down other campaigns and candidates for personal gain. My campaign has always been about how to answer the needs of Montgomery County and residents of the 5th District – not about answering the demands of special interests.”

In Elrich’s e-mail, he also mentions support Glass that has received from a “right-wing lobbying group that endorsed Mitt Romney for President.”

That would be the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national construction industry trade association. One council candidate they’ve endorsed is at-large challenger Beth Daly, who Elrich has enthusiastically backed. (Daly’s husband specializes in construction litigation for a D.C. law firm.) ABC has also endorsed Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac and Bethesda) in District 1.

Once again, Elrich said, it’s all a matter of context. The big picture is that Daly has also been endorsed by many groups that also endorse him, including the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO Metropolitan Washington Council, Progressive Maryland and CASA in Action.

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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