“I want to assure you that I stand 100% behind the commitments that our current County Executive, Mr. Leggett, has made to Amazon,” Elrich wrote to Bezos (who also owns The Washington Post).
The letter touted the county’s “unique set of assets,” including transportation, schools and workforce talent, with Elrich ending by saying: “I see the long-term mutual benefit to the County and Amazon should you choose Montgomery County for HQ2.”
In an interview Friday, Elrich — who is favored by progressive groups and unions even as he is viewed with trepidation by some in the business community — said he wrote the letter in part to combat rumors that he might not honor the deal.
The state’s plan, spearheaded by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), included up to $8.5 billion in incentives if Amazon locates in Montgomery County, including $2 billion in transportation improvements and $924 million in local tax credits. Montgomery is on a shortlist of 20 jurisdictions across the country — including Northern Virginia and the District — that Amazon is considering for its next headquarters.
“There are certain people who suggested that I might do something to this deal, and I wanted him [Bezos] to know that I was going to stand behind what Ike and the state had put together, and he should expect continuity,” said Elrich, a 12-year county council member.
An Amazon spokesman declined to comment Friday, and Hogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield said county government was “totally unaware and surprised” by the letter, but declined further comment.
Elrich said as a member of the county council, he received a briefing about the county’s commitments to Amazon. He said while the $2 billion in transportation funding will include four bus rapid transit lines near the site — which observers expect to be White Flint — and a third track for the MARC train, he remained concerned about how to pay for the increased pressure on the county’s school system from the expected influx of Amazon employees.
“One of the first things I’m going to do is go to whoever’s governor and say you gotta make sure you backstop us on schools,” Elrich said. “Schools is the thing where we’re going to need help.”
In Montgomery, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, the Democratic primary often determines the winner in the November general election. But this year, longtime Democratic council member Nancy Floreen announced she would run as an independent for county executive after it appeared Elrich was going to be the Democratic nominee.
Floreen, whose fledgling bid is being supported by top business and development leaders, is in the midst of collecting signatures to qualify to appear on the ballot. Attorney Robin Ficker is the Republican nominee.
Meanwhile, a recount in the Democratic executive’s race — which Elrich won by 79 votes — is slated to begin on Monday, although neither he nor David Blair, the runner-up who requested the recount, said they expected the outcome to change as a result.
While Elrich has been dogged by a perception that he is anti-business, he has said it’s an unfair caricature, adding that he recognized the need for a strong commercial tax base to pay for county services.
Council president Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said it was good for a county executive candidate to reaffirm the county’s commitments, but added there was concern that Montgomery has “slipped out of the top tier” of jurisdictions vying for the next headquarters.
“The leadership in the county has to be a strong partner to business. You have to be progressive and business savvy,” Riemer said. “And you have to be willing to step up to the plate and get the job done putting up 20 new office buildings or more and just as many apartment buildings and so you have to be willing to embrace development.”
Bob Buchanan, chairman of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation — and who is supporting Floreen’s independent bid — said he thought Elrich’s message was one that Amazon executives needed to hear.
“I think Marc is being proactive, which is good,” Buchanan said. “You’ve got a recount going on, you’ve got Nancy Floreen indicating she’s going to run. If you’re Amazon, you’re saying, ‘okay, who am I dealing with and is everyone on board and what’s going on over there?’”
Robert McCartney contributed to this report.