Montgomery Race Gets More Crowded
By Manuel Perez-Rivas
With one, and maybe two, of the council's four at-large seats becoming vacant this fall, the promise of turnover on Montgomery's key legislative body yesterday attracted a former state senator and a top County Council aide to a field that already includes several up-and-coming politicians.
Some county political observers believe this election is shaping up to be a popular vote on Duncan (D), the county's most prominent politician, with development and its impact on quality of life and county services as a central theme for several contenders.
"The issue by Election Day will come down to should we give Duncan a majority on the council or not," said Blair Lee IV, a Montgomery developer and a former county lobbyist in Annapolis.
So far, Council President Isiah Leggett and Michael L. Subin -- at-large Democrats who are likely to win Duncan's endorsement -- are seeking reelection to the council. But Gail Ewing (D-At Large), who has had her battles with Duncan, has said she will not seek a third term on the county's legislative body. Neal Potter (D-At Large), who also has sparred with the county executive, is debating whether to run or not.
The speculation over Potter's plans intensified yesterday, as his top aide, William B. O'Neil, officially kicked off his own Democratic campaign for an at-large seat with an announcement on the steps of the Council Office Building in Rockville. Last Wednesday, Potter did not attend a candidates forum in Olney, but he said later that his absence was not an indication that he had decided not to run.
Former state senator Howard A. Denis, who represented Montgomery County in Annapolis for 18 years, said in an interview yesterday that he will try to become the first Republican elected to an at-large seat on the council since the 1960s. Denis plans to announce his candidacy this evening at the Lincoln Day Dinner, the annual gathering of the county GOP.
The field of likely challengers is jammed already. The Democratic field alone includes school board member Blair G. Ewing, who has criticized Duncan's education budget proposals, former school board Member Fran Brenneman, planning board member Patricia S. Baptiste, Silver Spring civic activist and lawyer Steven A. Silverman, and county businessman Ben Kramer, who is the son of a Duncan ally, former county executive Sidney Kramer.
Lee, the developer and political commentator, said he thinks specific issues such as the county's "pay and go" development law -- which reduces developer fees and lifts existing building bans in certain parts of the county -- will fade by autumn as candidates focus on Duncan's general policy direction. "In many ways, this election is going to be a referendum on Doug Duncan," Lee said.
Duncan responded that his own bid for reelection -- not the at-large race -- will provide a referendum on his policies.
But Duncan, who faces only token opposition, added that the at-large race could be a referendum on his views about the role of the two branches of government.
"The major question is which candidates favor the old style of doing business, and which favor the new style of doing business, which is about getting things done instead of micromanaging," he said.
Gail Ewing said Duncan could wind up with a council that will reject his policies. "He feels that he has a chance to get a rubber stamp, but he also has the potential for total disaster," Ewing said in an interview. "But chances are that you're going to have something in between."
So far, Duncan has not endorsed any challengers. But sources said he is likely to back Kramer, because of the support he received in his 1994 run for county executive from Kramer's father.
A Duncan endorsement matters less to candidates who say that voters are unhappy with the county's direction. O'Neil is one those, and he cited the council's recent apparent willingness to reconsider the pay-and-go development law as a sign that residents are not satisfied.
"The only endorsement that matters is the one at the ballot box," O'Neil said.
Other candidates who have filed or announced plans to run for an at-large seat include Republicans Maria Pena-Faustino, of Gaithersburg, and Joseph T. Dollar, of Silver Spring.
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