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Waiting for Leggett: Longtime leader has not endorsed in county executive’s race

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is considering whether to endorse in the primary race that will probably determine his successor. (Jeffrey MacMillan)

Will he or won’t he?

Although Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has endorsed candidates for everything from county council to clerk of the circuit court to Prince George’s county executive, he has yet to throw his support behind one of the six Democrats seeking to replace him in the top elected post in Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction.

And in a crowded, heavily contested race, what Ike thinks could matter.

“The three major endorsements that persuade undecided voters [are] The Washington Post editorial, the teachers’ union and a major political figure,” said Steve Silverman, a consultant and former council member who ran against Leggett for county executive in 2006.

The Post’s editorial board (which is separate from its news operation) has come out for Potomac businessman David Blair, while the Montgomery County Education Association is backing council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large). Observers say various internal polls have shown the two men as front-runners in the June 26 Democratic primary race — which, in largely blue Montgomery, is often tantamount to victory in November. Early voting begins Thursday.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) already have said they don’t plan to endorse in the race. Locally, Leggett is one of the biggest politicians who remains officially undecided.

“There’s a lot of weight on it, and I’m not saying that I will not do it,” Leggett said in an interview. “I’m just simply saying it’s a very tough question, a very tough call. . . . I’ve got friends in virtually every one of the various camps that are out there.”

For example: Barbara Goldberg Goldman, a longtime Leggett backer, is treasurer for the campaign of council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda). Leggett’s former campaign treasurer, Larry Rosenblum, is a booster for Blair. And Leggett has worked for years with nearly all the Democratic candidates, who also include council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery) and former Rockville mayor and county deputy planning director Rose Krasnow.

Leggett, who also served 16 years on the county council, said he’s received “delegations of people, tons of calls,” letters and emails in recent months, all trying to influence his endorsement. One visitor even promised to bring cookies over to Leggett’s Burtonsville home. But it’s going to take more than chocolate chips to sway Leggett.

“People have been pretty principled about it. And they don’t come with what I consider to be political arguments, because that won’t get you in the front door with me,” Leggett said. If he makes an endorsement, he said, it will be based on the candidate’s stance on issues, and what would be in the “best interest of the county, period.”

Longtime friend Sol Graham, who supports Krasnow for executive, said he has stayed away from pressuring Leggett. “I believe whatever he does, he certainly will put a lot of thought into what effect it may have in the overall race and whether or not he will want to be a factor in this race,” Graham said.

Bruce Adams, who ran with Leggett for county council in 1986 and now directs the county’s office of community partnerships, said a Leggett endorsement “could be a difference-maker” in the race — if it goes to Blair or Elrich, he said, it would vault either man to victory, or, if it goes to another candidate, it would become a three-way race.

But he predicts that, in the end, Leggett will stay mum.

“He’s a really thoughtful, careful guy. And he’s listening to all these points of view. And he might just wake up one day in the next week and say, ‘You know what? I’m going for so and so,’ ” Adams said. “I don’t think so, [but] I could be wrong.”

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