Development was the central focus of a debate Monday night in the heated Montgomery County executive’s race, with Democrat Marc Elrich saying the populous county already has most of the roads it needs, and independent Nancy Floreen stressing the importance of boosting private investment and economic development.
The event’s moderators — WAMU radio host Kojo Nnamdi and political journalist Tom Sherwood — questioned Elrich, Floreen and Republican Robin Ficker on topics including the state of their health, their positions on redrawing school boundaries, and how Elrich and Floreen — both longtime Democratic at-large council members — differ.
Elrich, who won the Democratic nomination in a six-way June primary, said his main point of difference with Floreen has been on the need for infrastructure — such as more transit and school space to support new housing.
“What I’ve argued about is the density in master plans without the infrastructure,” Elrich said. “The real problem is, how do you get the businesses in here? . . . We need another approach.”
“I’ve not been an outstanding opponent of business,” he said, in response to a question about criticism levied at him by The Washington Post editorial board when it endorsed Floreen. “I haven’t voted for anything that Nancy hasn’t voted for that the business community’s been upset about. We have an identical record on upsetting the business community.”
Sherwood asked Floreen, who dropped her party affiliation and entered the race after Elrich won the Democratic nomination, about a super PAC supporting her candidacy that is called County Above Party. It is chaired by developer Charles Nulsen.
“The folks who have supported my campaign are folks across the county far and wide,” Floreen said. “It’s nothing to do with building buildings.”
All three candidates supported the idea of Amazon.com building its next headquarters in Montgomery, one of the most affluent and heavily Democratic counties in the state. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Post.)
At the debate, which was hosted by Montgomery Community Media, Sherwood asked Floreen whether she thought Amazon executives were waiting for the outcome of the November election before making a decision on where to build.
“I’m not so sure it’s going to be the county executive race,” Floreen said. “They may be looking at the gubernatorial race.”
Elrich referenced the July letter he had written to Bezos, assuring him that he would support the county’s promises to the company should it choose to build there.
In response to a different question, Floreen declined to say whether she would support redrawing school boundaries — a thorny issue for residents who purchase homes in the county based on what schools their children will attend.
“Communities, particularly on the eastern side of the county, feel they do not get the right resources, they do not get the support they need, and schools on the other side of the county do,” she said. “This is a really important conversation that Montgomery County has never had for a long time, and it needs to go forward.”
Ficker said he wouldn’t disrupt school boundary lines, while Elrich said one solution to school overcrowding could be relocating students to adjacent, less-crowded schools.
“I’ve looked at the maps, and there seem to be lots of opportunities where you’ve got schools that have capacity very close to schools that are over capacity, and I think there are creative ways of doing that,” he said.
Ficker declined to rate President Trump, a fellow Republican, on a scale of 1 to 10, instead saying he has “never met the man.”
Asked about a comment Ficker made in an earlier debate, in which he called Floreen “nasty,” the GOP nominee explained himself by saying, “I think that she was unpleasant that particular day.”
“And perhaps I could have used a kinder, gentler word,” Ficker added. “I’m going to have half my cabinet female, so we have a kinder, gentler, smarter county.”
Both Elrich and Floreen lauded outgoing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) for bringing more inclusiveness to the county. But Elrich said he “differed with Ike . . . occasionally on some of the dealmaking,” referencing the county’s multimillion-dollar deal to bring the Fillmore venue to Silver Spring.
“There’s a difference between a success and a good deal,” he said.
Floreen said she would have gone further than Leggett on economic development.
“What we learned during the recession is we had to understand economic development and prosperity was not going to come from federal contracting and federal jobs but was going to come from us — our people, our business and private-sector investment,” she said.
Invited by the moderators, Floreen and Elrich queried each other on their records at the end of the debate, while a frustrated Ficker waited for his chance to jump in.
“I’d like to know what my radical ideas are, that I keep getting accused of having extreme views. What have I done?” Elrich asked Floreen.
“Marc has consistently found reasons to oppose things, to say no, as he alluded to with Mr. Leggett — ‘I didn’t like the deals he cut,’ ” Floreen said. “At the end of the day, the county executive has to lead, has to cut deals, has to move us forward.”
Floreen, who got her start on the council in 2002 as part of the “End Gridlock” slate that supported building the Intercounty Connector, then turned toward Elrich and asked: “Why do you always oppose roads?”
“Because most of the roads that are needed in the county have been built,” Elrich answered. “We’re in an era where we need to move toward transit, and I think most people generally recognize you’re not going to knock down global warming, you’re not going to make space on these roads unless you move toward transit.”