The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Post endorses David Blair for Montgomery County executive

David Blair in Chevy Chase on Nov. 15, 2017. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous locality, is home to more than 1 million people whose top elected official has mismanaged its $6 billion budget and workforce, subverted its prospects of attracting jobs and prosperity, pandered to his narrow political base, and set the county up for failure.

County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat who has spent his political career opposing too many job-creating ventures to count, is not the only reason Montgomery has fallen behind other suburban jurisdictions by many measures. But he contributed significantly to that trend in his years on the County Council and, for the past several years, as county executive. If Mr. Elrich is elected to a second four-year term, the results would likely be a quickening deterioration of the county’s tax and employment base, with severe implications for its ability to afford top-notch schools, services, public safety, housing and transportation.

Montgomery deserves better, and voters have two superior options in the July 19 Democratic primary, whose winner is a shoo-in to be the next county executive. Both Hans Riemer, a thoughtful council member, and David Blair, a successful business executive, are superb candidates, and each has a plausible strategy to pull Montgomery out of its tailspin. We support Mr. Blair, who, as a political newcomer, came within a whisker of defeating Mr. Elrich in 2018, when we also endorsed him.

Since then, Mr. Blair has doubled down on Montgomery’s Job No. 1: making the county a destination for new firms and jobs, which for years have piled into Northern Virginia. Mr. Blair is right that unless Montgomery steps up its economic development game, improves transportation alternatives and rebalances its affordable housing supply to meet demand, the county’s prospects are anemic. His detailed, proactive plan is the right medicine to revitalize the county. And his smart approach to rising crime — he would both support and reform the police — would be an upgrade on Mr. Elrich, who bungled the hiring of a new police chief.

We also admire Mr. Riemer, a principled public servant who has challenged many of Mr. Elrich’s wrong-headed and destructive positions, and courageously stood up to bullying by county employee unions whose lavish contracts he sought to moderate. In 12 years on the council, including one as its president, Mr. Riemer has been a progressive leader on housing and land use, transportation, and digital equity.

The stakes are high for the county, a place that businesses shun and where new jobs are scarce. Before the pandemic, Montgomery accounted for a minuscule and shrinking portion of new regional employment. And make no mistake: Mr. Elrich, who has discouraged business creation while lavishing taxpayer dollars on his union allies, is the candidate of continued decline.

Messaging matters, and Mr. Elrich’s has been toxic. He attacked a new transit line as “ethnic cleansing”; threw cold water on a $3 billion project that could provide thousands of jobs in the eastern county, which badly needs them; and said it was no big deal that Montgomery lost thousands of jobs to Arlington County in the competition for Amazon’s new headquarters. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post.) At the same time, Mr. Elrich’s insistence on blaming others, and his venomous relationship with the County Council, have poisoned the public debate.

By contrast, Mr. Blair is upbeat, even-tempered and proactive — good qualities for an executive and exactly what the county needs to lift its flagging fortunes.

correction

An earlier version of this editorial misstated the number of years Hans Riemer served as president of the Montgomery County Council. This version has been updated.

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