Democrats' Montgomery Council Primary Too Close to Call; Ficker Leads GOP Race

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Board of Education member Nancy Navarro and Del. Benjamin F. Kramer were locked in a tight race in Montgomery County last night for the Democratic nomination to serve out the term of late County Council member Don Praisner in District 4. The contest was too close to call, with hundreds of absentee ballots to be counted starting tomorrow.

Republican tax activist Robin Ficker won his party's nomination in the three-way GOP contest. Ficker received 58 percent of the vote, defeating nonprofit executive and entrepreneur Louis August. In the six-person Democratic race, Navarro was leading by fewer than 80 votes with all precincts reporting. Kramer's campaign manager said the contest would come down to the more than 750 absentee and provisional ballots.

The winners of the primary contests will go on to compete, with Green Party candidate George Gluck, in the general election May 19. Democrats have a wide advantage in voter registration in District 4, which includes Aspen Hill, Burtonsville, Olney and parts of Silver Spring. The district's residents are more diverse, older and less affluent than the county as a whole, according to census data.

Voter participation was light yesterday, with 11 percent of voters casting ballots in the Democratic primary and 8 percent in the Republican primary.

Kramer and Navarro had the advantage of name recognition in the Democratic contest to succeed Praisner, who died in January after surgery for colon cancer. Praisner served less than a year on the council; he was elected last spring to replace his wife, Marilyn, who died in office after 17 years on the council.

Navarro, who narrowly lost to Don Praisner in last year's special election, had support from four of eight council members who have become increasingly united and vocal in pressing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on various issues. She was also backed by a long list of labor unions, which contributed thousands of dollars to her effort. Kramer, the son of former county executive Sidney Kramer, largely financed his own campaign. He was backed by Leggett; the Praisners' daughter, Alison Klumpp; council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large); and several business groups.

In the final days of the campaign, Navarro and Kramer exchanged a series of hard-hitting mailers. Navarro pointedly questioned some of Kramer's votes in the General Assembly; he said she was distorting his record. Kramer responded with a mailer featuring Praisner's daughter that criticized Navarro's tactics as "gutter politics."

The other Democratic candidates were funeral director Michael L. Bigler; lawyer Robert Goldman; information technology developer Thomas Hardman; and Cary Lamari, a former president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation. Last night, Lamari was in third place, followed by Goldman, Hardman and Bigler.

On the Republican side, Ficker, a former state legislator, appeared to capitalize on his success from the fall in pressing for a ballot measure that made it more difficult for the council to exceed the county's charter limit on property tax revenue. Ficker and August pledged to serve as the ninth vote on the council to block attempts to surpass the property tax limit. The third Republican on the primary ballot was musician Andrew L. Padula.

The election comes as Montgomery's elected leaders are struggling to close a potential budget shortfall of more than $550 million.

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