Montgomery County Council races shape up

It was business, not politics, that Gaithersburg Mayor Sid Katz said drew him into the June 2014 Democratic primary for the District 3 Montgomery County Council seat.

Katz, 63, shuttered Wolfson’s Department Store, the family business since 1918, in late October after learning that neither of his adult children was interested in taking it over. At the same time, supporters urged him to consider running for the council seat being vacated by Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg), who is running for county executive.

“I didn’t close it to run for office, but I started getting more calls about it,” said Katz, mayor since 1998, who thinks the council could benefit from his small-business background.

With the holidays over and a February filing deadline drawing closer, the 2014 field of aspirants for the Montgomery County Council is filling out, featuring both familiar figures and newcomers. For Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 3 to 1 in Montgomery, a primary victory is often tantamount to election.

As it stands now, there are contested races for three of the council’s five district seats and its four at-large seats. There are also nine applicants to fill the 11-month unexpired term of former District 5 council member Valerie Ervin (D).

Katz’s candidacy is unwelcome news for Gaithersburg City Council member Ryan Spiegel, 35, who had hoped to go into the primary without the sudden entry of a well-known competitor.

“It’s a free country, but I would have hoped and preferred to get some advance notice, given that he was well aware of my plans for a while,” said Spiegel, a Bethesda lawyer in his second term. He said he wants to see Montgomery get more of its money back from Annapolis and that he is better suited to the task than Katz, who has held the largely ceremonial, nonvoting mayor’s post.

Derwood activist and former Marine Guled Kassim, who could not be reached for comment Monday, has also announced a run for the seat. Rockville council member Tom Moore said he is considering a run and will decide in the next couple of weeks.

In northern Montgomery’s District 2, first-time candidate Neda Bolourian will challenge the incumbent council president, Craig Rice (D-Upcounty). Bolourian, 32, a Bethesda lawyer, is critical of the substantial pay raise, effective after the election, that council members approved last year. She said she is “dismayed” by Rice’s lack of leadership on environmental issues, especially the debate over the future of the Ten Mile Creek watershed near Clarksburg.

“I’m running because I think it is time to shake things up,” Bo­lourian said.

Two candidates with long civic résumés have already announced for the eastern Montgomery District 5 seat that covers Silver Spring, Takoma Park and White Oak: communications consultant Evan Glass and Terrill North, a management consultant for Alion Science and Technology, a defense contractor. They are running in the primary and are not applying to fulfill the remainder of Ervin’s term.

The person chosen by the council to finish the term would do so on a “caretaker” basis, council members have said, and agree not to run in the primary.

Three players who are looking seriously at getting into the primary could alter the dynamic dramatically: Board of Education member Christopher Barclay, Montgomery Planning Board member Casey Anderson and Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery). Each would have potentially significant fundraising bases: Anderson from portions of the business community and the “smart growth” movement, Barclay from the Montgomery teachers union and Hucker from other sectors of organized labor.

In the at-large race, the top four vote-getters win the seats. The incumbents, Nancy Floreen, Marc Elrich, George L. Leventhal and Hans Riemer, face just two challengers so far. Beth Daly, 51, of Dickerson, an Upcounty activist and director of political ad sales at Telemundo, maintains that the county has failed to provide the schools and other infrastructure necessary to keep up with growth. Vivian Malloy, a retired major in the Army Nurse Corps and member of the Montgomery Central Democratic Committee, could not be reached for comment Monday.

One familiar name who said she may enter the field is former council member Duchy Trachtenberg, who lost her at-large seat in 2010. Trachtenberg, who lives in District 1, had previously considered challenging incumbent Roger Berliner buts says that is now off the table. She said she will make a final decision next week or the week after.

In District 4, which includes Wheaton, Sandy Spring and Olney, incumbent Nancy Navarro is so far unopposed.

A more immediate issue is Ervin’s District 5 seat, which opened up when she announced her resignation last month to head up a New York nonprofit group. The council will choose her replacement. The filing deadline is Wednesday, and at least nine candidates have applied so far.

They are Alan Bowser, a former deputy assistant secretary of commerce; Cherri Branson, chief oversight counsel for the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security; Jeanette Dixon, former principal of Paint Branch High School; Ronald Galvin Jr., executive director of Impact Silver Spring, a community action group; Arthur Jackson Jr., a retired D.C. police captain; Andrew Kleine, former acting chief financial officer for the Corporation for National and Community Service; Timothy Male, a Takoma Park City Council member; Harold McDougall, a Howard University law professor; and Daniel Wilhelm, an East County activist and engineer for Mitre.

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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