Montgomery County residents will notice two names adorning the soon-to-be-distributed prescription drug cards that will provide discounts at participating pharmacies: County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large).
That has several council members irritated by what they say is a piece of shameless self-promotion by two officials running all-but-announced campaigns for higher office in 2006: Duncan for governor and Silverman for county executive.
For one thing, members say, neither Duncan nor Silverman took a leading role in establishing the program, which is open to all county residents regardless of income. Adding to their frustration, Silverman won't even be council president by the time most residents receive the cards. His term as president expires Dec. 7. Other forms of county identification, including library cards, do not carry Duncan or Silverman's name.
"I don't think elected officials should be using things like that to get their name out," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg). "I have not seen this kind of thing before in Montgomery County."
"It seems totally inappropriate to put it there," said council member Marilyn Praisner (D-Eastern County), a co-sponsor of the drug card legislation. "These are permanent cards, but those are temporary people."
Democrats have been stepping up their criticism of the decision of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to feature himself in taxpayer-funded tourism commercials. Democrats in Montgomery also took note last month when the state sent county residents a slick six-page brochure with Ehrlich's picture and a message promoting the benefits of the intercounty connector.
James Browning, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said Duncan is now "doing the same thing Ehrlich has been criticized for."
"It is taking a bit of state business and turning it into a campaign commercial," Browning said. "It is like the unofficial campaign between Duncan and Ehrlich has begun, with Ehrlich using the tourism cards and Duncan using the health cards."
In an interview, Silverman said he did not know why his name was placed on the cards. "We just got a call saying the card was going to be sent out and my name as council president and Duncan's name as county executive would be on there," Silverman said. "I had nothing to do with this."
David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman, would not respond specifically to a question about why Duncan's name was on the cards. "We are focused on saving people money on their prescription drugs," Weaver said. "It is disappointing to hear that anyone would have a problem with saving residents money."
The idea for the cards originated in the County Council. In July, Praisner and council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) introduced a bill to establish the drug discount card.
Before the council could act, Duncan announced in September that he would implement the discount drug program. The announcement took place one day before the council went against his advice and decided to allow county employees to receive lower-cost Canadian drugs.
At the time, Duncan's critics on the council said he was merely trying to shift the focus away from his resistance to the politically popular idea of importing drugs from Canada.
As for the decision to include Duncan's name on the drug cards, Perez joked that Duncan might start a precedent. "Perhaps we should put their names on our tax bills and parking tickets," he said.