Trachtenberg backer calls Sierra Club country’s ‘most vicious’ anti-growth group

The Sierra Club Maryland’s endorsement of Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) last week prompted a searing response from one of the development community figures raising money for his challenger, former council member Duchy Trachtenberg.

Jim Soltesz heads an engineering firm that has worked on numerous major building projects in the region, including the Peterson Companies’s unsuccessful plan for a major retail project near Clarksburg Town Center. Berliner was a major opponent of the project, as was the Sierra Club.

In an e-mail this week to potential Trachtenberg donors, Soltesz called the club “the most vicious anti-development, anti-growth organization in the country.”

Soltesz, who is co-hosting an April 10 fundraiser for Trachtenberg at the Congressional Country Club, went on to say that Berliner is “clearly extremely proud of the ‘anti-economic growth’ badge that was given to him by the Sierra Club.”

Soltesz did not return phone calls Friday. Trachtenberg said she didn’t know about the e-mail before it went out, and that she’s counseled Soltesz to choose his words more carefully.

“Someone showed it to me. I knew nothing about it, obviously,” she said. “I spoke to Jim and told him to tone down the rhetoric.”

Trachtenberg, who received the club’s endorsement for her 2006 and 2010 council races, was asked if she felt comfortable aligning with someone who held the view that the club was “viciously” anti-development.

“When you’re in a campaign and people offer to support, you don’t always agree with them 100 percent ,” she said. “Jim is somebody I have known for quite a while, and obviously his enthusiasm got the better of him.”

Trachtenberg also said she was confident that when the next campaign finance reports are released in late May, they will show that Berliner “has far more support from the development community than I have.”

She added that she was never interviewed or even given a questionnaire by the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club political chair Betsy Johnson said it has been long-standing policy that when the group is prepared to endorse an incumbent, it doesn’t interview challengers.

As to Soltesz’s description of the club, Johnson said: “I think it speaks to his view of the environment.”

She said that while the club opposed Peterson’s Ten Mile Creek proposal, it has supported smart growth and transit oriented development projects, including White Flint and the Purple Line.

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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