A veritable phone book of candidates has filed to run in the primaries for Montgomery county executive and County Council, buoyed by open seats created by voter-approved term limits and the promise of public campaign financing.
At the Tuesday night deadline for filing, the number of candidates seeking the seat held by outgoing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) held steady at six Democrats and one Republican. Three of those candidates are term-limited from their own council seats: Roger Berliner, who represents Potomac and Bethesda, and at-large members Marc Elrich and George L. Leventhal. State Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow and Bethesda business executive David Blair round out the Democratic candidates, while Robin Ficker, an attorney and the main force behind the 2016 passage of term limits in the county, is the sole Republican running.
More dizzying is the number of hopefuls — 38 — who have filed for the four at-large council seats. There are 33 Democrats, four Republicans and one Green Party member, up from a total of 11 candidates who filed for those seats in 2014.
Some individual districts are seeing crowded races, too.
Eight Democrats and one Republican are seeking Berliner’s District 1 seat. The up-county District 2 race has three Democrats and three Republicans. Districts 3 and 4 each have two Democrats, while down county’s District 5 has three Democrats.
The coupling of term limits and public financing of political campaigns created “sort of a perfect political storm this year,” said Keith Haller, a pollster and political analyst. Four of the nine incumbent council members and Leggett were term-limited this year, although Leggett said before voters approved term limits that he would not seek a fourth term.
“With term limits passing by a huge margin and substantial public funds being available to finance upstart campaigns . . . it’s sort of like a huge dam burst in the county,” Haller said.
Phil Andrews is a former County Council member who was the architect of public financing, which the council passed in 2014. “One of the goals of the law is to increase the number of candidates who can run viable campaigns for office — and it seems to have accomplished that,” Andrews said. “It’s better to have a lot of choices than too few choices.”
Steve Silverman, a consultant and former County Council member, said the sheer volume of candidates running in the June 26 primary is “unprecedented in the history of Montgomery County.”
But how the plethora of candidates can get their messages to voters — and whether overloaded voters will be receptive — is another story.
“At end of the day, what’s the challenge here for all of them is how to break through the clutter,” Silverman said, suggesting that when voters see dozens of pieces of campaign literature drop through their mail slots in the long march toward June, their only question will be “How fast do you get to your recycling bin?”
And just imagine what the ballot will look like.
Silverman predicted that candidates who are “alphabetically challenged” — that is, whose last names don’t start with letters at the beginning of the alphabet — will be at a slight disadvantage among the cluster of at-large candidates, as Maryland ballots list candidates in alphabetical order.
“It’s advantageous if you are at the top of the ballot,” Silverman said. But, he added, “you still have to have a mechanism to get people to know who you are, even if your names start with an ‘A.’ ”
The Montgomery County Board of Elections has shifted resources around to help with processing the onslaught of candidates, said Christine Rzeszut, operations manager at the board.
“We’ve had to pull in extra staff to help with the nuances, the collecting of financial disclosures and processing, because we have several more people going through the system,” Rzeszut said. “It’s been an interesting cycle for us.”