Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist has been making lots of news lately.
He held a press conference before the primary announcing a new task force to combat arson; he announced a crackdown on liquor law violators two weeks ago in front of a county liquor store; shortly after that came his announcement that Montgomery had been awarded state funds under the "Gateway II" project for home care to the elderly.
Most recently, he announced the winner of the county's long-awaited cable television franchise decision. And next week, he has tentatively scheduled a drunk driving press conference.
The task forces, the announcements and the press releases are all the daily routine of county government. But for Gilchrist, who is seeking a second four-year term, that routine of government points up the advantages of running for reelection as an incumbent.
"There are things that are orchestrated, but I'd hate to be quoted saying that, because I'm one of the conductors of this orchestra," says Charles Maier, the county's information officer.
"It's the power of incumbency. It's the same thing as when Gov. Harry Hughes arrives here and announces a new highway . . . ."
Says special assistant Edmond F. Rovner, unapologetically, "We have an on-going government. If it's frustrating to his rivals that he does this, so be it."
The crackdown on liquor stores, and an accompanying public relations campaign on the evils of drunk driving, were recommended this summer by two task forces.
Gilchrist claimed he was not being "political," but merely implementing those recommendations.
But his Republican opponent in the Nov. 2 election, banker Joseph C. McGrath, disputes that. McGrath, who has been struggling for attention and name recognition, yesterday called his own press conference, in front of that same county liquor store on Rockville Pike, to accuse Gilchrist of playing election-year politics.
McGrath chided Gilchrist's announcement of $50,000 in overtime money to allow more liquor store inspections, saying the money was promised for only this election year.
He said that Gilchrist blocked a 1980 request by the board of license commissioners for five full-time inspectors. As for the drinking awareness publicity campaign, McGrath said, "It's not nonpolitical because of the timing. Why did it take him from July to October to implement this program?"
Gilchrist, in return, said the new funds were added for the 1983 fiscal year. He said inspectors would be better assigned through the police and health departments, which have enforcement powers, and that he implemented the publicity campaign recommendations as soon as he could.
"These last-minute charges are an attempt to gain publicity," Gilchrist said.
There are other advantages to incumbency that have proven even more frustrating to McGrath. Gilchrist has an army of troops in his traveling entourage, often including his two top special assistants and the county's Annapolis lobbyist. Also, Gilchrist has a wider array of facts and figures at his fingertips, and has a working familiarity with all the intricacies of county programs and budgets.
At another recent debate, aired Sunday afternoon on radio station WTOP-AM, Gilchrist confidently chided McGrath on several key points by saying, "You don't know what you're talking about."
"That's the luxury of being the incumbent," said McGrath's campaign manager Carole Plante. "It's hard because you can't get the press out for the challenger. And you can't get information. It is frustrating."