Montgomery County’s 19th council convened for the first time on Tuesday, with four new members on a dais that — for the first time since the late 1980s — has only one female member.
That member — Nancy Navarro (District 4) — was elected president of the all-Democratic council, succeeding outgoing president Hans Riemer (At Large).
It is the second stint as president for Navarro, a former school board member who first was elected to the council in 2009 in a special election. On Tuesday, she pledged to continue a theme she began as council president in 2013: embracing the diversity of Montgomery, a majority-minority county that is Maryland’s economic engine and most populous jurisdiction.
“As we witness daily attacks on our core values from the highest office in the nation, we must double down on our resolve to defend the fundamental core values of inclusion, respect and freedom here at home,” Navarro said in her acceptance speech.
Navarro, a native of Venezuela who is the council’s first Latina member, said she wants to narrow the achievement gap in the county’s school system, focus on early-childhood education, increase business friendliness in the county and continue revitalization efforts, especially in the long-neglected East County.
Her colleagues gave her a warm reception.
“Personally I was raised by a strong female, a strong woman, and I look forward to being led by one on the council over the next year,” said Evan Glass (At Large), one of the new council members.
Council member Tom Hucker (District 5), who nominated Navarro for the presidency, lauded her for looking to the county’s future.
“She came here from somewhere else. She’s not burdened by nostalgic, sepia-filtered memories of bygone days of Montgomery County,” Hucker said. “She’s never satisfied with voices that say, ‘That’s how things are here,’ or, ‘That’s how things have always been.’ ”
Council member Sidney Katz (District 3) was elected vice president. If tradition holds, he will be the council’s president in 2020.
In addition to Glass, a nonprofit executive and former journalist, the council has two other new at-large members: Will Jawando, an attorney and former Obama administration official, and Gabe Albornoz, the county’s former recreation director. Andrew Friedson (District 1), who replaces term-limited Roger Berliner, is a former aide to state Comptroller Peter Franchot (D).
The council was sworn in Monday at the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, in a ceremony that also included the inauguration of the county’s new executive, former council member Marc Elrich (D).
On Tuesday, the council also decided on its committee assignments. Riemer will chair the powerful Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, joined by Friedson and Jawando. That committee is the first to review land use proposals and master plans, making it influential on development issues in the county. Riemer has signaled that he plans on advocating for increased housing to accommodate new county residents.
After the pageantry of greeting the new members — “I was teasing them, it’s like the first day of school for some of them,” Katz said — welcoming Navarro’s leadership and rounds of praise for Riemer’s work, the body turned to its normal business of approving minutes and discussing possible state legislation — such as one bill that would require county executive and council candidates to gather petition signatures to appear on the ballot.
That measure resonated with some of the new at-large members, who survived an extraordinarily crowded June Democratic primary that was fueled by the seats opened by term limits as well as the promise of the county’s new public campaign finance system.
“I was number 22 on the ballot” out of 33 at-large candidates, Jawando said. “I can say that it’s a small miracle that I’m up here, that people found my name.”