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Tom Hucker elected president of Montgomery County Council

Tom Hucker, who represents District 5, said he hopes to use the momentum behind the county’s pandemic response to solve long-standing problems in the liberal suburb. (Cheryl Diaz Meyer/For The Washington Post)

The Montgomery County Council elected new leaders Tuesday — an annual tradition tinged, like most events this year, by the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of speeches and photos on the dais, the nine lawmakers met remotely over Zoom to choose outgoing vice president Tom Hucker (D-District 5) as president, succeeding Sidney Katz (D-District 3).

Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) was appointed vice president of the all-Democratic legislative body, becoming the first of the four first-term lawmakers elected in 2018 to take on such a leadership role.

Hucker, who lives in Silver Spring, is a former state delegate and a well-established voice in Montgomery politics. In 1999, he helped found Progressive Maryland, a grass-roots organization that campaigns for liberal causes and candidates.

On the council, he has positioned himself as an ally to unions, tenant groups and transit advocates. He spearheaded a bill last year mandating air conditioning in all rental properties and has asked for state permission for the county to install cameras that catch motorists who drive and text.

Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) said Hucker’s long-standing relationships with state lawmakers and activists will be helpful. “We need to have the ability to bring people together,” he told Hucker during the Zoom session, “and I’m confident you’ll have the ability to do that.”

Hucker and Albornoz will help to define the council’s priorities and set weekly agendas. Both said they are sobered by the challenges that lie ahead.

Amid the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 33,000 in Montgomery, the council has to manage hundreds of millions in projected revenue shortfalls, shepherd relief programs that have struggled to get off the ground and revitalize an economy that had slowed even before the pandemic. Residents in the suburb of 1 million are divided over how to move forward on a slate of progressive issues, from police reform and school boundaries to affordable housing and climate change.

Hucker said the coronavirus, while devastating, has pushed officials to solve long-standing problems in new ways. “We’ve changed more in one year than we ever thought possible,” he said in his acceptance speech. “If we continue to challenge our old assumptions, we can build a county that’s healthier, more equitable and more sustainable in just one year.”

Hucker shares some of the same base as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and is close to him. As president, he could help repair the council’s relationship with Elrich, which has frayed over fiscal decisions and several ethics scandals.

“Tom has a good relationship with Marc, so hopefully he can get the executive branch to actually collaborate with the council,” said council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large), a frequent Elrich critic.

Albornoz, a child of immigrants from Ecuador and Chile, directed the county’s recreation department under former county executive Isiah Leggett. As chair of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, he played an outsize role in leading the pandemic response and advocating for the hard-hit Latino community.

If tradition holds, he will become council president in 2022.

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