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Despite massive developer support Floreen finishes a distant second while Ficker fades
By Neal Earley
SILVER SPRING — Three-term Montgomery County Council member Democrat Marc Elrich won the race for Montgomery County Executive, besting fellow at-large Council member Nancy Floreen (I) and Republican candidate Robin Ficker.
With 255 of the 255 precincts in Montgomery County reporting, Elrich won 225,900 votes, which is 64.3 percent of the vote. Behind Elrich, Floreen won 67,402 votes, which accounted for 19.2 percent of the vote, just ahead of Ficker who won a total of 57,489 votes, which accounted for 16.4 percent of the vote total.
Elrich, a former elementary school teacher from Takoma Park, ran a campaign on making developers pay more for infrastructure and schools, universal early-childhood education, closing the racial achievement gap in Montgomery County Public Schools, and investing more in mass transit to curb the County’s growing traffic congestion.
In his victory speech at the Silver Spring Civic Building, Elrich talked about overcoming a general election challenge from fellow County Council member Nancy Floreen, who switched her party affiliation from Democrat to independent to run against him in the general election.
“My opponent [Floreen] claimed that she was going to unify the County — she probably did. She unified the County behind me,” Elrich said.
In his speech, Elrich, who is replacing outgoing County Executive Ike Leggett, promised to support working people, to fund universal pre-K education, to build a bus rapid transit system, to reduce the County’s carbon footprint, and to find a way to do it without raising taxes.
“I got a $5.5-billion budget; if I can’t find ways to save money in that budget and to repurpose it for things that are really important – then something is wrong with us,” Elrich said.
For three terms on the County Council, Elrich earned a reputation as a dissenter. While County Council votes are often unanimous, Elrich would often be the lone Council member voting against some bills, especially those that pertained to the County’s plans for development.
Elrich has earned a reputation as a union-backing progressive through his years on the County Council. In 2017 Elrich led the effort on the County Council to increase the County’s minimum wage, which drew the ire of business owners, who claimed that it was another burdensome regulation. While Elrich’s progressive reputation endeared him to his base, it angered some centrist residents who wanted fewer taxes and a friendlier business climate.
Elrich, who calls himself an activist, had to fight claims that he was dangerous for Montgomery County. Floreen attacked Elrich as too far outside the mainstream, saying electing him would hurt the County’s already poor reputation for business. Ficker attacked Elrich as having a campaign backed by progressive political action committees and unions while taking public campaign finance.
Elrich said he resented claims that he was dangerous, saying that the people of Montgomery County did not buy the accusations made against him.
The road to County Executive for Elrich was long.
It began in the primary, in which Elrich ran against five other Democrats, including David Blair, a former CEO of Catalyst Health Solution, who spent millions of dollars of his own money in the campaign.
Blair became Elrich’s chief rival during the campaign, spending $5.4 million in the race – most of which was his own money.
Blair’s campaign was much like Floreen’s. While Blair refused to go negative in his campaign, he focused on growing the County’s tax base and streamlining regulations that hinder business.
But on Primary Election night in June, Blair’s lead with Elrich shrunk, until Elrich took a slight lead, by a few hundred votes, with thousands of uncounted ballots.
After more than a week of election workers counting ballots, Elrich came out on top – by just 77 votes over Blair.
“Public financing works; big dollar donors lost,” Elrich said.
During the campaign, Floreen ran on a platform of appealing to independent and center-left County voters, people who traditionally leaned Democratic, but worried the County’s taxes were too high and that the strongly progressive and left-wing Elrich, would turn businesses away — but those fears did not turn into votes against Elrich.
Democrats also worried about Floreen’s candidacy.
A lifelong Democrat, Floreen switched her party affiliation to unaffiliated after the Democratic Primary to run in the general election. Many Democrats feared that Floreen’s candidacy could split the Democratic vote, making room for something that was previously thought as unthinkable – a Ficker victory and a Republican County Executive.
“We have made history,” Floreen told supporters.“It looks like Mr. Elrich has a clear majority. I wish Mr. Elrich and Montgomery County the best.”
For Elrich, Floreen’s campaign was another attempt by the money interests in the County to take him down. While Floreen received only 67,402 votes, she said her short-lived campaign made waves.
During the campaign Floreen had to resist calls that she was “bought” by developers, who heavily contributed to her campaign. While Elrich and Ficker opted to use the County’s new public campaign finance system, Floreen’s late entry into the race in July meant that she could not use public funds to run her campaign – and she had to rely on big donors she said.
“It’s been an incredible time. We touched a lot of nerves,” she told her supporters. “In 120 days, we made a campaign,” gathering more than 700 volunteers and $930,000. “We unleashed a lot of excitement.”
For Ficker, the campaign was about one thing – change.
Ficker, who is a lawyer and political activist, has made a habit of being a thorn in the side of the County’s political establishment. While Ficker has run many times unsuccessfully for office, during the campaign, he touted his success in getting two referendums passed: one limiting Council members to three consecutive terms and one requiring unanimous approval for a property tax increase above the rate of inflation.
While Ficker hoped to capitalize on an unpopular 8.7-percent property tax increase the County Council approved in 2016, it was all for naught, as he finished in third behind Elrich and Floreen.
His campaign was marked by colorful trash talk, calling both Elrich and Floreen “couch potatoes” who were incapable of brining change to Montgomery County.
At his party in Potomac, Ficker did not give a concession speech, but did make himself available to the media.
After the results came in, Ficker noted that Elrich would not keep his promise to not raise taxes.
“I would say that we’re doomed to be getting a tax increase very soon because that’s been his history, and I don’t see that County revenues are going to be increasing under his watch, and I see that County expenditures are going to be increasing under his watch,” Ficker said.
Kathleen Stubbs and Suzanne Pollak contributed to this story.