Democrat Wins Special Council Election in Montgomery, Md.

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Board of Education member Nancy Navarro easily defeated low-tax advocate Robin Ficker yesterday to win an open seat on the Montgomery County Council, retaining an all-Democratic lineup on the nine-member panel.

With all precincts reporting, Navarro led Ficker, the Republican candidate, by 63 percent to 33 percent. Also on the ballot was Green Party candidate George Gluck, a software consultant.

Navarro pledged in a written statement to hold a series of town hall meetings to reach out to "all members of the community" and to provide "steady, responsive representation."

Voter turnout was light yesterday in District 4, in the eastern part of the county, with about 10,500 voters, or 9 percent of those registered, casting ballots. Election officials are scheduled to begin counting at least 1,380 absentee ballots this week, but spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said the review was unlikely to affect the outcome.

Navarro replaces Don Praisner (D), who died in January after surgery for colon cancer. He joined the council last spring after a special election to choose a successor for his wife, Marilyn Praisner (D), who also died in office.

The contest was closely watched because of its implications for the balance of power on the often divided nine-member council.

In the Democratic primary, Navarro was backed by four of eight council members -- Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), Nancy Floreen (At Large), Michael Knapp (Upcounty) and George L. Leventhal (At Large). Those four members have become increasingly united and outspoken in taking on County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), and Navarro's election could lift them to a narrow majority.

The county executive backed Navarro's rival, Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, in the Democratic primary. But by the general election, Leggett was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Navarro and lending his name to her campaign literature.

The election campaign coincided with the council's struggle to close a projected budget shortfall of more than $550 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Leggett has recommended eliminating hundreds of jobs, reducing local bus service and wiping out scheduled cost-of-living raises for public employees.

Throughout the campaign, Navarro emphasized her familiarity with the school system's budget, which accounts for about half of all county spending. A native of Venezuela, Navarro also stressed what she called her ability to bring together a diverse coalition of supporters from labor unions, businesses and minority communities.

Ficker, a former state delegate, tried to tap into residents' frustration over the fiscal policies of elected officials. Last fall, Ficker sponsored a ballot measure to prevent property tax revenue from being increased beyond a certain limit, tied to inflation, without the votes of all nine council members. The measure passed.

The vote came after the council signed off on a budget that raised residential property taxes by an average of 13 percent. Ficker called himself a "champion for homeowners" and said he would use his vote on the council to block future increases.

Gluck, a mathematician, said he would bring a creative approach to solving government problems, as he has in business. He proposed restructuring the county's property tax system so that the rate would vary based on the value of a home. Under his plan, without any change in overall revenue, 86 percent of homeowners would pay less in taxes, he said.

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