Montgomery Council members take exception to ‘minor league’ knock

There’s been much opining among Montgomery’s elected officials about the anemic primary turnout last month, when just 16 percent of registered voters came to the polls. They cited, among other factors, the inconvenience of the new June 24 election date, the lack of urgent issues, and a less-than compelling primary race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination at the top of the ballot.

Center Maryland blogger Josh Kurtz suggested someplace else the county’s political class might look: the mirror.

“For all the political talent residing in Montgomery County, it often seems as if a minor league squad is taking the field at election time,” Kurtz wrote Monday, in a piece called “Montgomery County’s Shame.” “A county executive race featuring Ike Leggett, Doug Duncan and Phil Andrews may have been worthwhile in, say, 1998 — but in 2014, it was a dud.”

While at-large council races often produce some heat, Kurtz asked: “Was anybody excited this time — particularly about the prospect of granting Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal 16 years in office? These are dedicated public servants with estimable survival skills, but no one is suggesting they are transformational figures. The Council does have some energetic younger members like Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, but are they going to grow into true leaders, or will they prove to be, as some people fear, finger-in-the-wind careerists with their eyes on the next political prize?”

Kurtz’s broadside came up as the County Council heard recommendations Tuesday from a task force looking at ways of increasing voter registration and ballot access in Montgomery. The group, chaired by Takoma Park City Council member Timothy Male, compiled a long list of suggestions that include broadened opportunities for residents to register and creation of an app with sample ballots and polling locations. But discussion drifted back to Kurtz’s broadside.

“Well, I guess Josh Kurtz wants my feelings to be hurt because I’m not transformational,” said Floreen (D-At Large) “Frankly, I’m not sure voters want transformational. So take that, Josh Kurtz.”

Not everyone was as defensive. Leventhal said the poor turnout required more soul searching.

“I do think elected officials need to reflect on their role in this. There is much for the political class to ponder,” he said.

Kurtz spread blame among other local institutions, including civic associations, chambers of commerce, union leadership and the news media. He said The Washington Post had “abdicated its responsibility” to cover state and local affairs.

Floreen and Rice, the council’s president, lined up with Kurtz on this one, complaining that when the press paid attention at all, it was relentlessly negative.

Asked Rice: “If the reports are always about the failures of government and not the successes of government, how do you expect people to be engaged?”

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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