Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett is punching up his stump speech as he raises money for the 2014 Democratic primary, adding a vivid anecdote about being under enemy fire as an Army captain in South Vietnam.
Leggett did not name his challengers, former county executive Doug Duncan and Count Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), as he spoke to about 200 supporters at El Golfo restaurant in Silver Spring on Sunday evening. But he drew on his military career in an attempt to make a distinction between leadership under challenging conditions and truly difficult circumstances.
He described his sense of confidence after easily crawling under barbed wire and live fire overhead in a North Carolina officer school training exercise. But facing artillery fire in South Vietnam for the first time was different, he recalled.
“I stood there for like five seconds, in panic,” Leggett said, before his training kicked in.
At that moment, he said, he realized, “The sergeant in America wasn’t trying to kill me. I just had to pass the test.”
Leggett said leading the county government through the recession has demonstrated his capacity to lead “under live-fire situations.” He cited investments in affordable housing and the county’s solid financial footing (a recently renewed Triple-A bond rating and high cash reserves) as evidence of progress despite economic conditions. Although he was not specific, Leggett said that if he wins a third term, transportation improvements, the public school achievement gap, environmental protection and continued work on affordable housing would be priorities.
As he has in past speeches, Leggett likened the Montgomery government he inherited from Duncan to a handsome but troubled ocean liner, appearing seaworthy on the outside but plagued by a bad engine and other less visible woes. He said that after eight years of leading through adverse conditions, he was not prepared to leave the ship.
“This is the ship of Leggett, and I want you on it,” he said.
A slew of Democratic candidates for other offices joined Leggett’s supporters at El Golfo. They included Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a candidate for governor, and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (Prince George’s); Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, running mate of gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown; and state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (Montgomery), a candidate for attorney general.
Organizers said the event, which asked for contributions of $25, $50 or more, will bring in about $7,000.