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Roger Berliner: Council member touts experience, business focus in Montgomery executive race

Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-District 1), a candidate for county executive, shakes hands before a forum in Silver Spring on Feb. 25. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

This story has been updated to reflect the June 15 campaign finance filings.

When Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner talks about his start in politics, he begins with Jerry Springer.

Yes, that Jerry Springer — who, before he was the ringleader of the raucous daytime talk show that bears his name, was a rising Democratic star in 1970s Cincinnati, first as a council member, then as mayor.

Berliner, an Ohio native and one of six Democratic Montgomery county executive candidates, credits Springer with recommending him for his first job in politics: aide to a Cincinnati City Council member.

He went on to work for the Carter administration and as an adviser to a California state legislator, and became an energy lawyer before moving to Potomac and running for office himself.

Berliner lost his first campaign, a 2000 special election for the District 1 council seat left vacant after Republican Betty Ann Krahnke stepped down due to illness. But he tried for the seat again in 2006 and won, unseating a popular Republican.

“It was a surprise to my colleagues on the council,” said Berliner, 67. “They had divided up all the committee chairs before I got there.”

In 12 years on the council, Berliner has taken on big issues, calling for an investigation into Pepco service reliability after the utility’s poor response to outages in the wake of a massive storm in 2010 and — reflecting concerns from business owners — voting to slow the implementation of the county’s $15 minimum wage.

He has chaired the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and worked to get dedicated funding for Metro.

If elected executive, Berliner said, “Funding education is going to be the number-one budget priority. School construction funding will be my number-one capital improvement budget priority.”

Berliner credits his work on the environment, such as reducing the county’s carbon footprint and requiring the government to purchase 100 percent renewable energy, in getting the endorsement of the Sierra Club. He’s added other endorsements, including from former Maryland governor Parris Glendening (D) and state Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery).

He said he would work to attract “the innovation economy,” trying to boost entre­pre­neur­ship and divert the county from being so dependent on the federal government.

“We haven’t attracted a lot of jobs. And we have growing poverty,” he said. “We are not the same county we were 20 years ago, and I think there are a lot of people who are holding onto that vision of who we were 20 years ago.”

Berliner is one of three Democrats in the June 26 primary using traditional fundraising rather than the county’s new public financing system, which provides matching funds but limits candidates to $150 donations — and none from corporations or unions.

He said he supports the public financing system but made “a tactical decision” to raise money the traditional way, aware that his base is in District 1 and that he has never been on the ballot countywide.

“I felt I was at a significant competitive disadvantage, so my hope was to be able to raise enough money to offset that competitive disadvantage,” Berliner said.

He has raised $869,023 since January, 2017, enough to air a controversial television ad in which he compared Democrat David Blair, a Potomac businessman who is self-funding his run for county executive, to President Trump.

Blair criticized the ad as overly negative, and at least one big Berliner donor said she thought it was disparaging of business owners and asked for her money back.

“I have more business support than anybody in this race,” Berliner said later, after he removed the part of the ad in which Blair’s face morphed into Trump’s. “I admire the business community. This was not what the ad was seeking to do.”

Next, David Blair.

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