Tuesday, October 26, 2010;
IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY, the watchword in local elections this year is austerity. The county is struggling to plug projected budget deficits, meet generous contractual obligations to public employees and steel itself for the likelihood of steep cuts in state funding. Among local candidates as well as voters, the impression is widespread that neighboring Fairfax County is eating Montgomery's lunch when it comes to lower taxes, good jobs and business climate.
Voters will elect nine members of the county council to grapple with those issues -- five of them in districts, four at-large. County Executive Isiah Leggett, a Democrat, is facing Republican Doug Rosenfeld.
The strongest of the incumbents, Democrat Phil Andrews, is unchallenged for a fourth term in District 3. Three other generally solid first-term incumbents -- Democrats Roger Berliner (District 1), Nancy Navarro (District 4) and Valerie Ervin (District 5) -- face weak Republican challengers. In those races, we hope the incumbents' absence of tough competition will not muddy the message that many voters are unhappy with county government's budgetary profligacy.
In the only contest for an open district seat on the council, Democrat Craig Rice, a bright state lawmaker with a command of local issues, is a more promising candidate than Republican Robin Ficker for District 2. Mr. Ficker has tapped into popular anger over high taxes, successfully pushing a ballot initiative two years ago that requires a unanimous council vote in order to raise property taxes beyond limits set by the county's charter. But he has clouded his own message with clownish antics at sporting events and an antagonistic personal style.
Countywide, four Democrats and an equal number of Republicans seek four at-large seats on the council. We recommend Democrats Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen and Hans Riemer and Republican Robin Uncapher. Mr. Elrich and Ms. Floreen are pragmatists with track records as deal-makers. Mr. Riemer is a newcomer who has shown energy, intelligence and organizational acumen in his campaign. And Ms. Uncapher, who has a strong background in banking and human resources, is a calm, clear-eyed centrist with a sensible approach to moderating spending -- although she remains a political neophyte with a low-energy campaign.
County voters will also elect four members to the Board of Education, which has the critical task of hiring a superintendent to replace outgoing Jerry D. Weast. Incumbents Patricia O'Neill (District 3), Judy Docca (District 1) and Shirley Brandman (at large) received our endorsement before the nonpartisan primary, and we hope voters will give all three another four-year term. They are able leaders with a keen understanding of the challenges facing the system.
In District 5, incumbent Mike Durso is the better choice over Martha Schaerr, a stay-at-home mom and PTA activist. Mr. Durso possesses valuable insights as a former high school principal; as for Mrs. Schaerr, we are troubled by her involvement in a group hostile to gay rights. She is also member of the board of the Family Leader Network, one of the groups that sued Montgomery school officials in an unsuccessful effort to block a new sexual education curriculum that dealt forthrightly with sexual orientation.