Scenes of a Political Sea Change

At the Montgomery County Executive's Ball, newly sworn-in County Executive Isiah Leggett greets Jessica Warnick, center, and Isabel Delapyente.
At the Montgomery County Executive's Ball, newly sworn-in County Executive Isiah Leggett greets Jessica Warnick, center, and Isabel Delapyente. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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By Miranda S. Spivack and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Montgomery County this week marked the change in its top political leadership for the first time in 12 years with an air of celebration, a huge inaugural ceremony and of course, parties.

The inauguration of Montgomery County Executive Isiah "Ike" Leggett (D) and the swearing-in of the new County Council midday Monday was notable for many reasons -- among them several firsts. Leggett is the county's first African American county executive, and Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) is the first African American woman on the County Council.

It was the first county inaugural ceremony in the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda. Previous inaugurals had been in the auditorium of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

And Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, of B'nai Tzedeksynagogue in Potomac, who gave the invocation, said Leggett's election also showed something else: "Nice guys can finish first . . . and even can be elected county executive." Weinblatt also likened Leggett to his biblical namesake, the prophet Isaiah, who "summoned us to preserve justice . . . to work for justice and fairness. When God asked for help, Isaiah said: 'Here I am.' "

The scene Monday must have been bittersweet for departing County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), who served 12 years and spearheaded efforts to get funding for the Strathmore facility, coming back to the fiscal well at the council and the General Assembly several times as the cost of the project ballooned to $96 million, almost double early estimates.

But Duncan did learn Monday night at the annual county executive's ball that a Strathmore box would be dedicated to him, and that he would have a lifetime membership and free tickets to the concert hall.

For much of the inaugural ceremony, Duncan sat with a serious look on his face. But he smiled when he was singled out for praise by speakers such as council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), Strathmore's executive director Eliot Pfanstiehl and Leggett, whose words prompted three standing ovations. At one point near the beginning of the event, Duncan's wife, Barbara, stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled to show her support for her husband, who ended his bid for governor last summer after announcing he was undergoing treatment for depression.

Down to Slowing Growth

Leggett's 25-minute inaugural speech, delivered before nearly 1,400 people, was interrupted by applause at least 15 times. The most applause came when he spoke of his intention to answer voters' desire to slow growth.

On Tuesday, the County Council, now with the wonkish Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County) at the helm, discussed Praisner's proposal to place a moratorium of about six months on approvals of large residential and commercial developments while the council and the Department of Park and Planning reevaluate key elements of the county's growth policy.

The bill will be the subject of a 7:30 p.m. public hearing Jan.16 at the council building in Rockville.

A View From the Council

The remaining council members from the End Gridlock slate, which had backed Duncan's efforts to encourage development and in 2003 voted to lift restrictions on growth, had muted reactions to Leggett's speech.

Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty), whom Duncan had helped win a council seat four years ago, said Leggett "hit all the bases. There is a lot of work to do. . . . I am confident we will all be working together."


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