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Duncan Faces County's Mixed Image

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page GZ02

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is discovering what political analysts have known for decades: The rest of the state doesn't always understand the county he leads.

As he prepares to run for governor by broadening his outreach to voters across the state, Duncan (D) appeared on Baltimore's WBAL Radio station Tuesday morning and was interviewed by host Chip Franklin.

"Why is Montgomery County so weird?" Franklin asked in one of his first questions to Duncan.

Duncan, who at first seemed taken aback, responded, "We do some strange things, but some good things, too."

Duncan conceded it was "strange" for the Kensington town council to decide in 2001 that it didn't want Santa Claus to attend the lighting of the town Christmas tree. He said he also disagreed with the County Council's attempts to regulate smoking in private homes.

He then went on to describe what he said were Montgomery's good qualities, such as its perceived high quality of life, including top-rated schools and an expanding job base.

"There has been tremendous change that has happened over the last 10 years that I have been county executive," Duncan said. "With all the successes, I think Maryland could use some of that success."

But Franklin's question demonstrates the challenge a candidate from Montgomery County faces when addressing an audience in Baltimore or other parts of the state.

Although Duncan eagerly takes credit for the county's school system, job growth and relatively low crime rate, he tries to distance himself from some of the more progressive -- or some would say radical -- ideas that originate in the county.

One particularly aggressive line from Franklin and some of his callers focused on Duncan's position about immigration issues. Though many elected officials in Montgomery recognize the strength of the area's growing immigrant community, Franklin and some of his callers appeared somewhat alarmed by it.

In response to a question from Franklin, Duncan endorsed the idea of allowing immigrants in the country illegally to obtain a Maryland driver's license. Even so, Duncan knew he was talking to a Baltimore talk-radio audience.

Initially, Duncan made it appear as if his support for the concept stemmed from his concern that police officers would have trouble identifying an illegal immigrant if he or she didn't have a license.

"We need some way to say, 'who are you' and then follow up on that," Duncan said.

But after Franklin and some of his callers didn't buy Duncan's first argument, the county executive appeared to grow bolder in his thinking.

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