As an earnest college sophomore two decades ago, Philip Andrews ran for Bucknell University student body president with a simple vow to make government more relevant. He branded the student council a "debating society," and undaunted by his relative inexperience, he won an office usually held by seniors.
Twenty years later, Andrews has become an assertive freshman on what some say is merely a more formalized debating society: the Montgomery County Council. He plans to introduce "living wage" legislation today that, more than any initiative to date, encapsulates his unapologetically liberal view of government as a force for social good.
That approach has put Andrews, a New Deal Democrat in an era of New Democrats, squarely at odds with the business community and more conservative members of his party. Even before its introduction, the bill essentially froze the $321 million Silver Spring redevelopment project as tenants and developers feared its potential effect.
"This placed the financing at risk. It placed the tenants at risk," said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). "And we have a freshman council member dictating economic development policy to the rest of the county."
In Montgomery's sometimes unruly yet locally revered political process, a novice council member answers to no one but voters. It is not like Congress, where rookies are expected to stay quiet, follow orders and filter legislation through the elected leadership. As council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) says, "Everybody has a right to introduce what they want."
The system is tailor-made for Andrews, who for years has operated within its confines as a seasoned good-government lobbyist in Maryland's advocacy community. He has never held a job in the for-profit world, but Andrews balanced budgets as director of Common Cause Maryland for six years and then ran the federal AmeriCorps program--a domestic version of the Peace Corps--in Montgomery until his surprising council election last year.
"I come to this with the notion that those who need the most representation have the least representation," Andrews said. "I came here to make a difference. I didn't expect to make everyone happy. And I have been right about that so far."
Andrews, 39, is the only council member raised in Montgomery. Watergate provided his formative political memories, gleaned each morning from the newspapers he delivered for six years. He explains his interest in good government as coming from "seeing Richard Nixon, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman every day before breakfast."
His parents were Democrats, though more concerned about process than ideology. His mother was a Montgomery librarian, his father an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency. They gave him a membership to Common Cause, the government watchdog group, for his 18th birthday when some friends were getting cars.
But Andrews is far from the stereotypical long-hair liberal. Mild-mannered, with trim blond looks that suggest Chevy Chase Country Club, he speaks in perfectly rounded paragraphs as if reading from an invisible TelePrompTer. He filled the No 1. singles spot on the Albert Einstein High School tennis team and was recruited to play for Bucknell.
"He looks like he could be the frat pledge chairman," said Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Montgomery, the coalition of unions, anti-poverty groups and members of the clergy pushing for the living wage.
The idea has come of age in the three years since welfare reform began expanding the demographic known as the working poor. Andrews's bill would require most businesses that receive county contracts or economic development incentives to pay employees more than double the minimum wage, or $10.44 an hour.
The bill makes some exceptions for small businesses and those that can prove they would be harmed by the bill. Also, after a recent uproar in advance of its introduction, the bill excludes businesses within the Silver Spring urban renewal area, though several council members say that exclusion does not go far enough. Andrews also would allow companies that provide employees with health benefits to pay a minimum of $9 an hour.
The measure rewards labor activists and anti-poverty groups that supplied hundreds of door-knocking volunteers last year to the Andrews campaign. He turned the living room of his Gaithersburg town house into campaign headquarters and knocked on more than 13,000 doors with a pledge to improve schools and slow development.
During the race, Andrews and five other candidates now on the council promised to support living wage legislation, a vow that brought out Progressive Montgomery on his behalf. He stunned many Democrats when he soundly beat longtime Democratic incumbent William E. Hanna Jr. in the primary, then won 61 percent of the vote in November.
Gino Renne, president of the 4,500-member Municipal & County Government Employees Organization, said hundreds of union members staffed phone banks, knocked on doors and helped get out the vote in his Rockville district on Election Day largely because of his support for the living wage.
"That was an important component," said Renne, whose union is a member of Progressive Montgomery.
Even in Montgomery, the term "liberal" has evolved into a political epithet. Its less freighted substitute is "progressive," and Leggett does not hesitate to call his new council colleague "very, very progressive."
But Andrews has provided Leggett with the votes he has needed on several big issues, including a ban on smoking in restaurants and a cut in the monthly fee paid by cellular telephone users. Andrews did not vote to lower income tax rates permanently this year, favoring instead a one-year reduction to guard against recession. The permanent cut eventually passed.
"He's got great concern for the poor, the working poor and other members of the Montgomery County community who aren't faring as well," said Cleonice Tavani, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers League. "But it would seem to me that he is very in line with the New Deal. I don't know if we're ready to go back there."
CAPTION: Philip Andrews, a Rockville Democrat, has made a quick transition from lobbyist and liberal Montgomery County activist to liberal activist member of the Montgomery County Council.