Democratic nominee for County Executive, Marc Elrich has not shied away from left-wing politics.
Elrich, who said he got his start in politics by protesting the racial injustice and marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or protesting Apartheid in South Africa, has been outspoken about his beliefs for decades.
But for Elrich, those beliefs that helped launch his career in politics have also drawn criticism and controversy.
Elrich, a school teacher, turned three-term at-large member of the Montgomery County Council has been frequently criticized over the years for being ideological — something he has always contended.
In the Democratic Primary, Elrich received more endorsements than any other candidate from progressive groups, earning support from the Democratic Socialist of America Metro DC, Our Revolution, Progressive Maryland and Maryland Working Families. While many have labeled Elrich a socialist over the years it is not a label he embraces or rejects.
“It’s pretty much nonsense,” Elrich said. “I don’t think people understand that I don’t have any problems with or plans to eliminate business or go after private property. I think that’s silly.”
While Elrich does not describe himself as a socialist, he is a member of Democratic Socialist of America. In a questionnaire in which Elrich filled out seating the DSA’s endorsement, Elrich wrote of his attitudes on socialism versus capitalism. Elrich said he does not agree with every aspect of the DSA platform, just as he beliefs do not fully align with the Democratic Party Platform.
“You can’t look at the kind of work we do through an ideological lens. My job is to look for the best solutions,” Elrich said.
While Elrich does not embrace the socialist label, some of his actions have encourage many to keep sticking the term on him. In 2007, Elrich invited the Ambassador of Venezuela, which was led by socialist president Hugo Chavez at the time, to speak with community leaders about an opportunity to help provide services to the poor. Elrich withdrew the invitation after pushback from many Venezuelan and Cuban immigrants in the County objected.
Elrich clarified that the the invitation was about an offer from Venezuelan government-owned oil company, Citgo, which was offering discounted heating oil to lower-income families.
Last year, Elrich led the charge to pass the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020. For many business owners, and the fiscally conservative, the minimum wage increase is another County attack on private enterprise. During the public hearings on the bill, small business owners testified that they will have to lay people off in order to pay for increased salaries.
Elrich responded that increasing the minimum wage was the moral thing to do, saying people working a full-time job should not have to struggle to feed their kids or provide for their family and raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would help put a dent in the growing poverty problem in Montgomery County.
While Elrich’s independent opponent Nancy Floreen, a fellow atlarge council member opposed raising the minimum wage initially, she, along with every other member of the Council voted for it after a compromise was reached.
Republican County Executive candidate Robin Ficker, has been a longtime opponent of Elrich and anyone else who has served on the County Council. Ficker has labeled both Elrich and Floreen “tax-increase specialist” and blames both of the them for voting to raise property taxes by 8.7 percent in 2016 — a unanimous decision by the County Council.
Elrich contends his positions are not socialist but are within line with what famed Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed.
“My interest is in what actually solves the issue. I am pretty pragmatic,” Elrich said.
Ficker has also attacked Elrich for his union support.
Both Ficker and Elrich are participating in the public campaign finance system for candidate which matches small donations from Country residents with tax-payer dollars. The system is meant to reduce the influence of political action committees, unions and corporations in elections.
But Ficker said while Elrich is not taking large contributions, unions and progressive PACs are lobbying on Elrich’s behalf, which in Ficker’s view violates the spirit of the public campaign finance system.
“He’s really trying to have it both ways,” Ficker said. “He’s trying to benefit from public finance which doesn’t allow union contributions.”
While his biggest challenge for the Democratic nomination David Blair chose not to attack Elrich, others did, attempting to portray the three-term at-large council member as anti-business and anti-development.
For much of his time in local politics, Elrich has been the Council’s biggest critic of the County’s various master plans which regulate growth and development in the County.
While the Council has routinely voted for more growth, more density and increased heights in Bethesda, Silver Spring and other parts of the County, Elrich has criticized the master plans, saying if developers want to build, they need to pay more for schools and roads to accommodate the growth.
While his critics maintain that is “anti-development” Elrich has maintained his positions are not against growth, but for common sense development — which he calls “smart growth,” which potentially includes raises taxes on developers.
Elrich’s stance on development landed him in particular hot-water with Greater Greater Washington, who interviewed him during the primary. After the interview, the group harshly criticized Elrich saying it could not endorse his candidacy because he would be a “dangerous choice for County Executive.”
Greater Washington members David Alpert, Rahul Sinha, Sanjida Rangwala and Sean Robertson wrote that Elrich’s policies for housing and development would hold the County back economically.
“However, his views on land use and housing are also wrong,” they wrote. “His philosophy, if it dominated county planning, would choke off opportunities for younger singles and families to find homes and jobs in the county, or for the county’s finances to remain strong amid nationwide demographic and economic change.”
Among the most contentious comments from the interview, Greater Greater Washington pointed to a quote from Elrich where he said “just go to Frederick,” when talking about the rising housing prices and lack of jobs in Montgomery County.
Elrich contends that the quote is taken out of context and what he meant was that growth in both Frederick and Montgomery counties was good for both jurisdictions and that the more jobs in Frederick, the lesser commute times for Montgomery County residents.
“That was just a hit job taken out of context, and it ignored everything else we talked about,” Elrich said.