He lives in house made of logs in the northwestern corner Montgomery County - an area of few houses and sprawling farmland that many county residents never see. There's no air-conditioning in the house: in the winter the thermostat stays down in the low 60s.
He does not own a TV, has never owned a new car.
Yet, in this predominatly affluent county where almost all voters are suburbenites with close ties to the city, John L. Menke won a surprise victory in the County Council race in 1974 and now is a contender in the close Democratic race for country execut-[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Many see in his record and his platform in the current race a reflection of his own frugal and rustic lifestyle. He proposes limiting the annual growth of the county budget, putting a two-year freeze on hiring. He opposes the construction of new highways, and favors the upgrading current roads and expanding the mass transit system. He stresses energy conservation in county buildings as a cost-saving device; and wants to preserve the county's rural districts.
As far as Menke is concerned, "raising the issues," and letting people know about his beliefs is all that is required of a political campaign. In fact, he shows some distain for the organizational nitty-gritty of political campaigning.
Unlike his opponents, State Sen. Charles Gilchrist and Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson, Menke has set up only the most skeletal of campaign organizations, has appointed no campaign manager, and has showed no interest in obtaining the support of the county's Democratic organization.
Even in the course of his day-to-day work as a councilman, Menke spends most of his time by himself; eating along at a Rockville lunch counter at mid-day and rarely socializing with his fellow council-members after hours.
Over the course of the last four years, Menke has won a good deal of respect from his fellow council members and from other county politicians, some of whom tried to persuade him to run for another term on the County Council and not to seek the county executive's post.
Menke declined and pressed on with the county executive's race, maintaining that he alone among the candidates in the race has "worked intimately" on the full range on issues currently facing county government.
As a Council member, he has devoted a large portion of his time to the county's environmental problems, having worked intensively in the last four years at finding a way to end the various sewer moratoriums in the county, moratoriums that virtually stifled development in the county since the early 1970s and to the area's unstable water supply.
He consistently has voted to keep Montgomery's rural northern and western regions largely undeveloped. Reflecting the frugality he practices at home, he often has argued for more budget cuts than the rest of the council would go along with.
"He really demands that if you want to spend the public's money, you'd better have a damned good reason," said Charles S. Poteat, a county environmental planner who's also Menke's friend and neighbor.
A physicist by profession, Menke, 38, had never held political office before he was elected to the County Council in 1974. Yet his technical and scientific expertise, his exacting, often agonizing analysis of key issues, his even-temper and his willingness to make unpopular decisions won him the respect of his colleagues on the council and in the rest of county government, according to retiring council member Dickran Hovsepian.
Menke's entry into politics four years ago actually was a fluke. In the early 1970s, while still working at the National Bureau of Standards, Menke and a group of other up-county residents became concerned about the county's plans to build a $400 million sewage treatment plant at Dickerson, in the western tip of the county.
Menke said he was concerned about the effect a huge sewage treatment plant would have on the environment, but he opposed the plant most of all because he believed it was "four times as big as the county needed and six times as expensive" as the county could afford.
Hovsepian remembers how Menke, then president of the Sugar Loaf Mountain Citizens Association, impressed council members with his rational, factual approach to the Dickerson question whenever he would testify before the County Council. "He was very thorough and factual and hardworking. . . He wasn't just critical. He'd come with data, recommendtions and suggestions."
Eventually, the county had to scrap its plans for Dickerson. After Menke joined the County Council the group worked out a plan whereby a smaller, less costly facility can be built.
It was his experience fighting the Dickerson plan as a private citizen, Menke says, that got him interested in government.
He had to quit his job as a nuclear systems engineer at the Bureau of Standards, whose employes are prevented by the Hatch Act from running for office when he filed to run for the County Council. "You only live once. . . It was something I wanted to do. I had a reasonable chance (of winning). I went ahead and took the risk," said the soft-spoken boyish-looking candidate.
Menke often has been associated with "no growth" movement in Montgomery, a group of activists who opposed continuing development in the county. That, he says, is a misconception resulting from his opposition to Dickerson plan, which other people opposed, he said, simply because the plant would have encourage widespread development.
Menke says he supports the general plan the county has adopted that scheduled most development to occur along the I-270 corridor, along Rte. 29 and in the existing urban areas. This, he says, will prevent "leap-frog developments."
Menke failed to get the endorsements of the Montgomery County teacher's union and the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization. He missed getting the endorsement of the police political action committee by only one vote.
The county employes were offended by Menke's stand against public bargaining, which he says, causes employes to "place a great emphasis on dollars and less emphasis . . . (on) giving the public service."
The teacher complained the Menke consistently has voted to cut the school budget, and is the man responsible for lowering the temperatures in school buildings as an energy-saving measure.
Menke says the teachers have never forgiven him for being the sole council member to vote against the cost-of-living increase they sought in 1975. To fund that increase, which was only one percent higher than what Menke recommended, the council used two year's worth of federal impact aid, which Menke says, in turn triggered "three years of budgetary crisis."
Still, he says, as executive, he would work to ease the traditional friction between the school and school employes and the county administration, "instead of just sitting there until the (school) budget come over once a year and them complain it's too high."
Menke so far has raised $20,000 for the campaign, most of which are contributions mailed in to him as a result of a fund-raising drive. "There were one or two $1,000 contributions. Most were $100 or so. But there were many $10 and $20," Menke said. "My wife and I also loaned a couple of thousand dollars to the campaign."
Menke has no paid employees and has about five full-time workers, he says. One of these is his wife, Sue, who mans the phone at Menke headquarters in Rockville Mall every day along with the couple's two young sons.
On his financial statement, Menke lists his $22,000 council salary as his main source of income. His assets include a one-third interest in two houses and 30 acres in land his late father deeded to him and his brother, the total value of which is $42,000.