The Washington Post

MoCo teachers endorse five Council incumbents but drop Leventhal

The union representing Montgomery County’s 12,000 teachers rounded out its list of County Council endorsements Wednesday for the June 24 Democratic primary, retaining its 2010 recommendations of Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty), Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Hans Riemer (D-At-Large) but dropping George Leventhal (D-At-Large).

The endorsement by the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) is one of the most coveted because it comes with a spot on the Apple Ballot, which is mailed to Democratic voters and distributed at the polls.

The announcement follows earlier endorsements of candidates for open council seats: Ryan Spiegel in District 3 (Rockville-Gaithersburg) and Board of Education member Christopher Barclay in District 5 (Silver Spring-East County). The union has also endorsed County Executive Isiah Leggett for a third term.

But the union held off decisions on council incumbents until it saw how schools fared in the fiscal year 2015 budget tentatively approved last week. They fared well, receiving the entire “ask” of $51.7 million over the state-mandated minimum. A final, pro-forma vote is scheduled for Thursday morning. The union responded by recommending all four district and two of the four at-large incumbents seeking reelection. (At-Large member Nancy Floreen did not receive a 2010 endorsement.)

For Leventhal, removal from the Apple Ballot is the latest high-profile rejection by a key group that was with him in 2010. Casa in Action, the political arm of Casa de Maryland, and Service Employees InternationalUnion (SEIU) Local 500 also parted company with him.

Casa in Action contended that he was not sufficiently concerned about the fate of affordable housing and minority-owned small businesses in the path of the planned Purple Line light-rail project. The SEIU, which represents support staff at public schools and Montgomery College, was unhappy about Leventhal’s opposition to displaced-worker legislation that the council passed in 2012.

Leventhal has also been hurt by displays of short temper in recent forums. His exchange with Montgomery Office of Management and Budget Director Jennifer Hughes can be seen here. There were also reports that Leventhal was confrontational or belligerent in his recent candidate interview with SEIU, a charge that he denies.

In its announcement Wednesday, MCEA did not directly address Leventhal’s exclusion. But it did say that union members “considered the temperament of each candidate and how he/she interacted with the interview teams and with school system leaders during the recent Montgomery County budget discussions.”

“School system leaders” is a reference to a May 12 hearing designed to be a show of unity between council members and school officials on the 2015 budget. Union officials were displeased that Leventhal used the occasion to grill Superintendent Joshua Starr on an incident in which a child was let off at the wrong bus stop.

Leventhal, who was endorsed Wednesday by the Montgomery Gazette and One Montgomery, an education reform group, said in an interview that he was not fazed by MCEA’s rejection. He attributed it to his refusal to commit to a perpetual stream of future funding increases for schools.

“I think the issue was I didn’t tell them precisely what they wanted to hear,” he said.

“They have the right to support whoever they want to support,” he said. “I think every public employee union has expected incumbents to do whatever the unions ask for. I don’t just work for all the public employee unions, I work for the people of Montgomery County.”

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.

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