Doug Duncan’s breakfast for campaign volunteers Wednesday at the Marriott Conference Center had the feel of a class reunion, with name tags, hugs and a median age of about 60. But Duncan, running to reclaim the Montgomery County Executive’s job from Isiah Leggett, kept the focus on the future in his brief comments.
“We need new ideas to meet our challenges and the leadership to bring people together,” he told the gathering of about 70.
Duncan pledged to strengthen the county’s influence in Annapolis to secure more funding for school construction and transportation improvements. Citing projections that Montgomery public school enrollment will grow by 10,000 over the next six years — the equivalent of an entire high school added to the student population each year — Duncan called for “a crash construction program.”
“We are nearing a classroom crisis,” he said, adding that the county needed a funding package similar to the $1 billion Baltimore city received for school construction this year — money secured in part by Baltimore lawmakers’ support for an increase in gasoline taxes, needed to fund transportation projects in the Maryland suburbs.
Montgomery received $28 million in school construction funds from the state this year. The county scheduled to update its six-year capital improvements plan in 2014. Superintendent Joshua Starr is expected to propose a major initiative to address overcrowding.
Duncan said the county also needs a broader transportation program that goes beyond construction of the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway and that commits to more road lane capacity. He pledged to take advantage of a new state law designed to encourage more public-private collaboration on big infrastructure projects. Virginia recently worked with two private companies to finance and build the Interstate 495 express lanes on the state’s portion of the Capital Beltway.
The Maryland Transit Administration, already attempting to utilize the new law, recently issued a “request for information” to private companies for “best practices and innovative approaches” to finance and build the line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, via Silver Spring and College Park. The agency also is asking for ideas for the proposed $2.57 billion light-rail Red Line in Baltimore.
Duncan said he would be releasing detailed proposals in the coming months.
Before his public comments, Duncan met privately with a smaller group of key supporters, including Michael Novelli, former Maryland director for the 2008 Obama campaign; Richard Parsons, former head of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and a possible member of a Duncan slate as a County Council candidate; Jim Russ, president of the Maryland Transportation Builders & Materials Association, and Ken Cook, president and vice-chairman of Revere Bank in Laurel. Cook was part of group of local business executives who made recommendations to Duncan about the county economy when he was in office.
For those in the larger group, it was a chance to show that their support for Duncan has not waned, even though he left office seven years ago. They’ve been asked by the campaign to set up “meet-and greets” at their homes.
“Ike Leggett is soft,” said Manuel Juarez, who lives in Silver Spring and works at Washington Adventist Hospital. “Duncan is more visionary, let’s get it done now,” he added, mentioning his role in the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring.
Judy Greenberg, co-founder of Rockville Arts Space (now VisArts at Rockville), said Duncan’s help was invaluable when he was mayor of Rockville.
“He has an amazing vision,” she said. “Strathmore [the arts center build on Duncan’s watch] is an amazing institution.”
Jim Kelly, an insurance representative for Mutual of Omaha, said he’d never been politically active until he ran into Duncan recently and discovered that they’d been classmates at St. John’s College High School. Kelly said the handling of the Silver Spring Transit Center project disturbed him.
“I’d like to see a little bit more accountability,” he said.