Purple Line concerns derail CASA endorsement for Leventhal, Floreen

Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal and CASA de Maryland go back a long way. He was an early board member of what is now the state’s largest Latino and immigrant advocacy organization. He even met his Brazilian-American wife, Soraia, at a CASA fundraiser in 1987. Among other legislation, he sponsored a bill requiring that employers of domestic workers on the job at least 20 hours a week negotiate a written contract.

As long time chair of the council’s Health and Human Services committee, he oversees much of the funding CASA receives from the county to help operate three employment centers around the county for low income immigrants.

But when CASA de Maryland’s political arm, CASA in Action, released its 2014 endorsements Thursday, Leventhal and Nancy Floreen, another of the council’s four at-large members were missing. They were both endorsed in 2010.

CASA in Action director Kim Propeack called both “long time friends of the Latino community,” but said CASA ‘s biggest priority in Montgomery at the moment is the Purple Line’s potential threat to affordable housing and minority-owned small businesses in communities such as Long Branch. In CASA’s assessment, they weren’t there with them.

The $2.2 billion light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton, scheduled to begin construction in summer 2015, will have three stops in Long Branch, the predominantly Latino eastern Montgomery community between Silver Spring and Langley Park. CASA and other groups are worried that gentrification, triggered by escalating real estate values along the route, will price Latinos out of the community.

“George’s perception is that any discussion of equity around the Purple Line undermines its chances of going forward,” Propeack said.

Leventhal said it is true that he does not support rent stabilization, which is one of CASA in Action’s proposals to ease the effects of gentrification. But then neither do council colleagues Craig Rice, Roger Berliner and Nancy Navarro, all of whom got the CASA endorsement this week. He also voted along with the rest of the council last year not to upzone three Long Branch garden apartment complexes to help preserve affordable rents.

“My impression is that they’re trying to insult me,” Leventhal said. He added: “I do think CASA sometimes loses sight of the fact that the primary beneficiaries of the Purple Line will be Latinos. It will be of enormous benefit to workers who will have greater access to jobs. I guess they think transit is bad for communities.”

Floreen said she couldn’t say what happened.

“I have no idea. These are folks with their own agenda. They’re all advocates for something or other.”

In the at-large races, CASA in Action endorsed incumbents Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer amd challenger Beth Daly. In the two open council seats, the group chose Tom Hucker (District 5) and Ryan Spiegel (District 3).

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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