County Executive Isiah Leggett said Tuesday evening that he will seek a third term in 2014, citing goals in transportation improvements and job creation left unmet because of the Great Recession.
“Under very difficult circumstances, we achieved a great deal,” Leggett, 68, said in an interview in his Rockville office. “But there are things we didn’t do as much of that I wanted to do.”
His bid for a third act sets up a June 2014 Democratic primary against at least two challengers: the man he replaced in 2006, former County Executive Doug Duncan, and County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville Gaithersburg). The announcement also culminates a gradual change of heart by Leggett, who was leaning strongly against another term as recently as last summer.
Leggett said he was originally inclined against running again because his wife, Catherine, wanted him to step down. But over the last six or seven months, Leggett said, her sentiments changed.
“I think she sort of embraced the idea of unfinished business,” he said. Another major factor, he said, was what he heard from constituents, who said they were enthusiastic about a third term.
Leggett will make his case to voters as a steady hand who was willing to make difficult financial decisions to steer the county through the recession. Faced with budget gaps totaling $2.7 billion over the last seven years, he eliminated more than a thousand county jobs (some through attrition) and froze raises and cost of living increases for government employees. He generated new revenues by pushing through an unpopular ambulance service fee and an increase in taxes on business and residential energy use. He is likely to remind residents that on his watch the county has retained its Triple-A bond rating, which keeps borrowing costs low and expands the reach of the capital improvements program.
Aided by an improving economy, Leggett has slowly restored some of the recession-era cuts. This spring he negotiated pay increases averaging 7 to 10 percent with the county’s police, fire and nonuniform unions. Library hours and other services have been gradually expanded.
With passage of a gas tax increase this year by the state legislature, the county will have access to hundreds of million of dollars in revenue over the next few years to underwrite new transportation projects, such as the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway amd the Watkins Mill Road interchange on I-270.
Leggett said he wants to see these projects successfully launched. He also wants to take advantage of the economic recovery to enhance the county as a destination for employers.