Floreen, 67, is marketing herself as the middle point between what she calls two “flawed extremes”: Elrich to the left and Republican nominee Robin Ficker — a lawyer, perennial candidate and former sports heckler — to the right.
And in a county of 1 million, grappling with overcrowded schools and traffic as well as the need to grow the tax base and economy, Floreen is betting that argument will hold sway, even with voters who have elected Democrats to the top political post since 1978.
“They’re going to see in me some experienced leadership, and they’re going to see in me a vision about how we can advance Montgomery County,” the four-term at-large County Council member said. “How we can grow our tax base and create opportunities for everyone, and at the same time fund our priorities.”
Floreen had planned to retire from public life after this year. In April, she said she was “dismayed” that three of her fellow lawmakers were seeking the Democratic nomination for county executive — explaining that she took the 2016 vote to limit elected officials to three terms as a personal mandate.
To her, voters sent a clear message: “You’ve had your time; let’s hear from somebody else,” Floreen said.
She still calls herself a “lifelong Democrat” (she registered as an independent at 18 and then changed to the Democratic Party so she could vote in closed primaries). One of her ads shows her cheek to cheek with Hillary Clinton. In May, the county’s Democratic Central Committee feted Floreen at its annual brunch, showing a video titled “Nancy Floreen: A Montgomery County Legend.” She cringes over that memory.
“I feel a little guilty; yeah, I do,” Floreen said. “At the end of the day, I really did decide that Montgomery County’s future was more important than party affiliation.”
Long record on the council
Floreen is a lawyer and former planning board member who once was an aide to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.). Her civic activism began in the 1980s, fighting a developer who built a four-story building in downtown Silver Spring too tall and too close to the sidewalk. (A court ruled the developer had to reduce the size of the structure.)
She served as mayor of Garrett Park, the town of just over 1,000 she still calls home, and was first elected to the County Council in 2002 as part of then-County Executive Doug Duncan’s “End Gridlock” slate, aimed at building the intercounty connector.
Floreen served two terms as council president, presiding in 2016 when the council approved a controversial 8.7 percent property tax hike and cut negotiated pay raises for its unionized employees. Opposition to both moves was cited as a factor in that year’s election, when voters overwhelmingly approved term limits.
As chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, Floreen has decried what she calls a lack of political will to build road projects included in master plans — such as Montrose Parkway East, a 1.6-mile roadway in the White Flint area of North Bethesda, which is being eyed for the next Amazon.com headquarters. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
It was a point of difference between her and Elrich this spring: Floreen wanted money for the road included in the capital budget, while Elrich advocated diverting some of the millions toward building and repairing schools.
Floreen says she, too, wants to add to the budget for school construction, proposing an increase of $500 million, although she hasn’t specified where the money would come from. She initially opposed raising Montgomery’s minimum wage — an effort championed by Elrich — but backed the bill after it after it was amended to introduce the increases more gradually.
And Floreen recently changed her position on the county’s Department of Liquor Control, saying wholesale alcohol sales should be privatized.
“There’s no reason for government to still be in this business,” she said at a debate.
Defending her donors
After declaring her intent to run, Floreen raised more than $340,000 in a little over six weeks to fund her petition drive to get on the ballot, with almost all of the money coming from real estate and developer interests. She expects to raise a total of $1 million for her campaign.
One of her supporters, developer Charles Nulsen, is chairing a new super PAC, called “County Above Party,” that so far has raised $445,250 to boost her campaign.
The largesse has drawn the attention of the county Democratic Party, which is backing Elrich and issued an open letter this month calling Floreen a tool of “large-donor benefactors.”
The Montgomery Neighbors PAC, whose stated purpose is “voter education,” also is emphasizing the source of Floreen’s contributions. Spokesman Eric Hensal said Floreen did not do enough on the council to address traffic and school crowding that resulted from development projects. He speculated that, if elected, Floreen would be unduly influenced by the “cartel of developers” that has funded her campaign.
Floreen said the charge that she is beholden to developers is “a convenient political ploy, but it has nothing to do with the reality of my world.”
“I don’t dump on other people’s contributors, and I think it’s a shame that businesses are being put on the defensive in this campaign,” she said.
Outgoing County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who supports Elrich, said Floreen could get a boost from some voters because she would be the first female county executive. She was endorsed by the editorial boards of The Washington Post and Washington Jewish Week, as well as the Apartment and Office Building Association Maryland State PAC and former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, a Democrat whom Floreen endorsed in the primary.
“She understands that our county has changed and grown significantly,” Krasnow said in a statement. “In order to provide the best services to our residents we must grow the tax base through new jobs and economic opportunity.”
The county’s labor unions, in contrast, strongly endorsed Elrich, citing his commitment to improving conditions for workers. Floreen said she reached out to those labor groups after she announced her candidacy, telling them that she believes they could work together.
“I already called them all up and said, ‘Do not be afraid,’ ” Floreen said in August. “I’m not going to try to talk them out of their positions. But at the end of the day, I will be successful. And I want them to know, it’s not about me versus them.”
Gino Renne, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO, which represents thousands of county workers, said he recalled receiving a voice mail from Floreen but didn’t return her call.
He said he’s never found Floreen particularly responsive to issues the union has brought forward about government inefficiencies and bad management. Instead, Renne said, she has proffered ideas that could hurt collective bargaining, such as a 2016 measure that would have strengthened the county’s position when negotiating with unions.
“She keeps trying to assure us that if she wins, everything will be fine and we’ll be good friends,” Renne said. “If it’s like the last 16 years of her being on the County Council, it’s going to be a rocky road.”
Next: Democrat Marc Elrich.