Correction to This Article
This article misquoted a sign being carried by a man at a Takoma Park festival the day before primary elections. The sign read, "Don't Save the Bay, Have Babies Instead," not, "Don't Save the Bay, Save Babies Instead."

Takoma Park festival's a stop for Democrats running for Montgomery's at-large seats

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 13, 2010

The food was chickpeas and chicken. The soundtrack was reggae, acoustic guitars and the shaking shin bells of old English dancers. And the politics was everywhere.

A women's gun group set up in a tent beside Peace Action Montgomery, and a man walked near an anti-death penalty booth carrying a yellow sign that read: "Don't Save the Bay, Save Babies Instead."

In an afternoon that went from spitting rain to patches of blue, on the last weekend day to troll for votes before Tuesday's primary, there was no place a slew of leading Democrats running for at-large spots on the Montgomery County Council would rather be Sunday than at the 33rd staging of a folk festival in diverse, but deeply liberal, Takoma Park.

"These are my people," said Hans Riemer, one of the top challengers in the at-large council race. He walked a couple of blocks from his Silver Spring home to Takoma Park Middle School and hit up voters from Bethesda to Germantown. "A lot of politicians go to church on weekends before an election. This is comparable."

Incumbent George L. Leventhal was there, coming in for a handshake wherever one might be possible. He even tried a guy pushing a wheelbarrow full of trash with gloved hands. On Saturday, he had been at a fire station ribbon-cutting in Germantown, the Silver Spring Jazz Festival and a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) in Potomac -- and those were fewer than half his stops.

"It's mostly to work out my own nervous energy. Four years ago, I got 52,000 votes. There's nothing I can do to meet that many people," Leventhal said. "I'm shaking hands here. Why not? What else am I going to do?"

'Vote For ME'

Incumbent Marc Elrich, a former fifth-grade teacher sporting a "Vote For ME" sticker, was on the Takoma Park City Council for 19 years and spent time at Sunday's festival schmoozing with former students and connecting with longtime supporters.

"This is a lot like home base," Elrich said. He was also reminded, even at the height of his reelection bid, of the ever-present task of constituent problem solving.

"It just burns me up," fumed Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams, a friend and campaign supporter. "They put a new traffic light on Cherry Hill Road. It blocks a chunk of sidewalk."

"These are the frustrating things I hear about," said Elrich, who's looking into who's responsible and how to fix it.

Elrich -- who gave his son Joshua the middle name Che -- came into office four years ago to askance looks from many in business. While he still has critics, this time around he has endorsements from a Realtors group and the Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.

"I come out of different era," Elrich said. "I wanted to change my dynamic with the business community. I know people made assumptions about what I would be like and what I would do."

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