If Doug Duncan regains the Montgomery County Executive’s office in 2014, General Services Director David Dise would be well-advised to polish his résumé and line up references.
Duncan (D) didn’t mention Dise by name during his Monday evening appearance before Democratic activists at the Paladar Latin Kitchen off Rockville Pike, but his meaning was clear: Someone in county government needed to answer for the troubled Silver Spring Transit Center project.
“Who’s accountable for this fiasco?” asked Duncan, decrying the construction flaws and delays that have placed the project more than two years behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget. “They’ve delayed and delayed it. We need to hold someone accountable for this. We need to fix the Department of General Services. The Department of General Services is broken.”
The invitation to the event, sponsored by the politics blog Maryland Juice in celebration of its one million page views, seemed to say that Duncan and incumbent Isiah Leggett (D) would be appearing jointly to take questions, which sounded a lot like a debate. But they ended up speaking back-to-back rather than head-to-head.
Leggett, who appeared first, was not asked about the transit center. But he ended his stint by quizzing himself, although he confused people for a second by first referring to the “Silver Line.”
“I accept responsibility,” he said, contending that the delay was a product not of lax oversight but his insistence that all questions about cracking in the concrete and other issues be fully answered before it was opened to the public.
“I said I wanted to investigate that further. I had a full-scale investigation into what some deemed to be a minor problem,” Leggett said. It was a not-so-subtle slap at general contractor Foulger-Pratt, which advocated for a patching procedure that was ultimately rejected by KCE, the consulting engineering firm brought in by the county to review the project.
At one point, Leggett said repairs would be concluded “in a couple of months.”
“We’re at a point where all we have to do is pour the special cement,” he said, referring to a new two-inch layer of latex-modified concrete to seal cracks. What he did not mention was that Dise disclosed last week that the pour was postponed until spring because designer-engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff didn’t complete plans before cold weather set in. It pushes the opening of the facility to mid-2014 at the earliest.
Questions from the audience drew a few nuggets. Talking about incarceration rates among young African Americans, Leggett said the state should long ago have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. He also said that while the state needed to step up and finance new construction to address public school overcrowding, MCPS leadership could have done more on its own to mitigate the impact of unprecedented enrollment growth. One approach, he said, could have been to spread its capital dollars around more broadly, with an emphasis on renovating rather than completely rebuilding schools.
Duncan said the county needed to be more assertive in securing money from Annapolis and “quit being the county that takes the leftovers.” He generally agreed with the central goal of the zoning code rewrite now before the county council, which emphasizes mixed use development in older commercial areas. He cautioned against the county going on its own to raise the minimum wage because it was “not an economic island.”
For the most part, the two candidates (a third, Council member Phil Andrews (D-District 3), was not there) walked through their basic themes.
Leggett said his sound financial management of the county during the Great Recession had earned him the chance for a third term so he could focus on advancing transportation plans needed to grow the local economy.
Duncan said he wanted to change a sluggish political culture of “paralysis by analysis” that had taken hold in the Leggett years, a malaise that has kept the county from aggressively dealing with problems.
One bit of drama toward the end of Duncan’s Q-and-A was triggered by a pointed query from Council member George Leventhal (D-At-Large). Leventhal — who ran with then- incumbent County Executive Duncan on the 2002 “End Gridlock” ticket, but who has said he expects Leggett to win next year — noted reports that Duncan was seeking a new slate of candidates to oust all council opponents.
Leventhal asked how that was going.
“George has misquoted me,” Duncan replied, saying that he never said he wanted to oust all incumbents. (Duncan said in a February interview with the Gazette’s Kate Alexander that he was interested in a slate, but never said he sought to replace the entire council.)
“I do think we need new faces on the council,” Duncan added. “This county council is known for their bickering, their fighting. We need a change.
But Duncan then recognized Council member Roger Berliner (D-District 1) as someone he would be happy to see continue. But when asked about Leventhal, Duncan said he had no comment.
Leventhal said Tuesday morning that he wasn’t sure why Duncan would kick him in the shins like that, except that he might have resented his prediction that Leggett will win.
“I thought we were on good terms,” Leventhal said, adding: “He doesn’t take criticism well.”