CHEVY CHASE, Md. — The six Democratic candidates for Montgomery County executive faced off in a 90-minute debate Wednesday night, their first in a long campaign that ends at the June 26 primary.
On a stage before an audience of Montgomery County business executives, all the candidates seemed to agree the county government must do much better to attract businesses and jobs.
“None of us could say, with a straight face, that, right now, Montgomery County is [a] stable, business-friendly environment,” said state Del. William Frick, a Democrat representing Montgomery County.
Former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow charged that the county doesn’t seem to be proud to have a business community, saying, “We keep trying to get in the way of business succeeding in our county.”
The criticism struck a dull note with Council member George Leventhal.
“I don’t think that our business climate improves by constant bad-mouthing of our business climate,” Leventhal said, who then offered ideas for making the county a more welcoming place for job-producing, taxpaying businesses.
“There are many, many ways that we can improve the ability to do business here. We can cut the energy tax, we can streamline our processes … but constant poor-mouthing and complaining about our business climate is not going to improve the likelihood of businesses wanting to locate here,” Leventhal said.
The debate at the National 4H Center was co-sponsored by the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce and Bethesda Magazine. Debate moderators were Steve Hull of Bethesda Magazine/Bethesda Beat and Andrew Metcalf of Bethesda Beat.
Current council members Roger Berliner and Leventhal both said they see no need for tax hikes over the next five years — a promise not lost on Robin Ficker, a Republican seeking the nomination for county executive, who was seated in the audience.
“We don’t need more tax increases and we have a number of tax increase specialists here whose record belies their promise of not raising taxes,” Ficker said.
The council unanimously approved a nearly 9 percent increase in the property tax for the 2017 fiscal year to help fund the school system, while also hiking the recordation tax that buyers and sellers pay in real estate transactions.
The candidates were asked their top transportation priorities if they were elected county executive.
“The single most important transportation item is Metro … we need to fix Metro,” said Berliner, who is also council president. He backed dedicated 10-year funding of the regional transit system by area governments.
Many of the candidates added their voices in support for Metro, and they also agreed that major changes are need to reduce gridlock on Route 270
David Blair, a business executive making his first run for public office, said he likes the idea of reversible lanes on Route 270, a recommendation echoed by Council member Marc Elrich, who also advocates for dedicated rapid bus lanes on Routes 29 and 355.
“[Route] 270 needs to be multimodal. It needs to include transit — bus rapid-transit — and it can’t just be a bunch more lanes …,” said Frick.
The Purple Line has been Leventhal’s top priority. “Hallelujah, now there are shovels in the ground, and the Purple Line is being built,” Leventhal said. He also said his next priorities include improvements to Route 270 and the American Legion Bridge.
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