Return to Key Players
Duncan Brings New Look To County Executive Post
By Karl Vick
In Douglas M. Duncan, Montgomery County finally has a chief executive who looks as prosperous as Montgomery County.
He stands tall, catches eyes and, taking the oath of office Monday afternoon, left his double breasted suit open to accommodate the sweep of his midriff -- a great, strapping bear of a man stage right from the reedy intellectual Neal Potter.
And hours later Duncan was every inch the party animal, dancing into the night at an Executive's Ball that in its relative abandon -- women dancing with women, a bottomless glass of Chardonnay -- suggested it was once again all right to admit to robust appetites.
"I don't know if it's a political movement, but people are having more fun -- drinking more, eating more," Al Rakowski said from behind the bar at the Indian Spring Country Club in Silver Spring. The party was a couple of hours along at this point, with nary a break for the barman.
"I guess somebody made some money," he said, and poured another scotch.
The ball is an annual event, staged for the benefit of county arts organizations. It cleared about $50,000 Monday night. Attendance climbs when the event doubles as an inaugural bash, and this year about 1,000 revelers paid $50 and up to rub elbows with freshly sworn officials.
Through the steaming haze of chafing dishes and the glare of a million sequins, some could make out political significance.
"This is like the repeal of Prohibition," said Clyde "Rocky" Sorrell, a Bethesda lawyer and former Montgomery Chamber of Commerce chief who helped elect Duncan. "Four years ago, people were putting both feet on the brakes. You could hear the tires screeching. People weren't looking ahead, they were looking behind them."
Now, Sorrell said, business and government stand poised to work together. After the slow-growth principles of the Potter years, folks are ready to broaden the tax base and start developing again. Testimony to that sentiment clung to the satin lapel of Sorrell's tuxedo -- a little gold angel indicating his law firm, Hogan & Hartson, had ponied up $1,000 for the inaugural ball.
"I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm in Montgomery County for years," he said.
Everybody likes a winner, and the reception line to greet the Duncans and the newly elected County Council snaked all the way around the main lobby of the 1960s-vintage country club.
"Keep him in line," Barbara Duncan told the women filing by with their husbands before moving on to the islands of tortellini and Chinese dumplings, and Rakowski's bar.
In the ballroom next door, the air was cool and the Gene Donati Orchestra was swinging into "April in Paris." But the denizens of Montgomery County politics preferred hollering cheerfully at one another in humid close quarters.
"You feel like you're in the middle of the tropics," said state Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen (D-Kensington). "The rain forest."
The formula was spelled out earlier in the day at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. In the classroom lab facing the auditorium where the officeholders were sworn in, guidance posters summarized the basic science of schmoozing: "Chemistry in Careers. Careers in Chemistry."
In the hubbub at Indian Spring, you could almost hear the molecules bonding.
"Oh, you've got your developers. You've got your real estate lawyers," said Anthony M. Schore, with a sweep of the arm. "Well, your arts patrons, let's face it."
Schore, executive director of the county's revenue authority, spied significance in the high ratio of party-goers who opted for black tie: "The better the economy, the more tuxedos," he said.
At 9:15 p.m., attendants banging chimes herded the crowd into the big room and, beneath lush tapestries and huge Asian vases, the real revelry commenced. Emcee Barry F. Scher, of Giant Foods, directed the spotlight around to the newly elected. Outgoing county executive Potter graciously bid his successor, "Carry on," and his successor's wife, "Thank you."
Then, to people who had been doing double-takes all night, Scher pointed out that the man who looks just like Doug Duncan is his younger brother, Glenn. The resemblance is so striking that when they were courting, Glenn's wife, Ellen, used to mistake one for the other at church, she said.
Glenn Duncan, who works in accounting for Chevy Chase Bank, said he never embarrasses people by telling them who he actually is. An older woman had approached him after the swearing-in earlier in the day.
"I haven't been to an inauguration since the Eisenhower administration," she said, "and yours was just as good."
"I just said, 'Thank you,' " Glenn Duncan said.
"Thankfully," said Douglas Duncan, "my sisters look nothing like me."
And that, essentially, concluded the evening's remarks.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to be county executive," Duncan said, before taking his wife onto the dance floor.
"I feel like I've been pregnant for two years with this campaign, so I'm ready to party," said Barbara Duncan, fingering a long strand of pearls at her first Executive's Ball. "I'm usually car-pooling or going to basketball practice or something."
Behind her, a man took two steps sideways and twirled his partner into the gap between banquet tables. Claire Funkhouser grabbed Montgomery County's First Lady and started in beside them.
"When you go to a women's college, you dance with women!" cried Barbara Duncan, who attended Trinity in the District, as her neighbor spun her away.
The orchestra played "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," thumped into a Bob Seger rock-and-roll number, then produced an Electric Slide before returning to romance.
As 11 o'clock approached, the revelers accepted bars of gold-wrapped chocolates from the young women at the door and filtered into the night. There was work in the morning, positions to be filled, and a County Council meeting at 9 a.m.
But now, in the parking lot, the rain had stopped, leaving the world a-shimmer beneath the streetlights. The song in the distance was "When I Fall in Love."