History was made at Monday’s swearing-in ceremony of elected officials in Maryland’s largest county.
Montgomery County now has a county council in which women outnumber their male colleagues. The council is also the most diverse it’s been in its history.
Council member Gabe Albornoz, who’s winding up his term as president, offered a roll call of the new woman-majority council.
“Marilyn Balcombe, Natali Fani-Gonzáles, Dawn Luedtke, Kristin Mink, Laurie-Anne Sayles and Kate Stewart!” he announced to loud applause.
Each new member, Albornoz said, comes with their own innovative ideas and legislative priorities. The new members, he said, make it the most racially diverse council in Montgomery County’s history.
Diversity is ‘our greatest strength’
Council member Kristin Mink, a first-generation Chinese American, is the first Asian American to serve on the council. The 11-member council will have six women, two Black members, two Latino members and a member of the LGBTQ community — the incoming council president, Evan Glass.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, who was sworn in for his second term at the ceremony at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, commented on the change in the council’s makeup.
“When I first broached the idea of expanding the council, we discussed the impact it could make on diversity. I don’t think any of us imagined that this could be the result,” Elrich said, referring to the six-member female majority.
Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller — the first immigrant to win the office — noted that the state elected its first Black governor, her running mate Wes Moore. So while the county was marking a first in the makeup of its council, she said, “I think it’s safe to say that Maryland made a little bit of history here too, with the election of the most diverse statewide ticket ever.
“In Maryland as in Montgomery County, diversity is our greatest strength,” she said.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich was sworn in after his November election, a race that followed a razor-thin win over his primary challenger, David Blair. In outlining his plans for the future, Elrich said: “When 75% of the voters this November voted to reelect me, they sent with them a message. They want to continue the progress that we’ve made together,” he said.
Elrich told the crowd at the inauguration that four years ago “I don’t think any of us could have predicted what we’d be dealing with — a pandemic, an economic disruption of a great magnitude, an attempted insurrection and so much more.”
Elrich, who was both praised and criticized for his aggressive stance on COVID-19 during his first term, said that because the county’s collective efforts, they succeeded in preventing more deaths in the county.
“We were the most-vaccinated large jurisdiction in this country,” said Elrich.
Challenges for the incoming council
The county’s struggles with affordable housing also factored in Elrich’s speech. “Our challenge in the broadest sense is to build one county for all of us, where our fates are not determined by our ZIP codes,” he said.
Elrich called affordable housing the county’s greatest challenge.
“We have tens of thousands of households who are severely rent-burdened, who are paying 50% or more of their incomes for rents,” he said.
Elrich called for “different policies that actually create affordable housing,” and said his plan would call for replacing the current moderately priced dwelling unit program and instituting a rent-stabilization program. That last statement resulted in an eruption of cheers from the audience, some of whom were wearing red T-shirts reading “Stop the rent hikes.”
When Elrich got to the part of his speech where he talked about how Black residents have been left behind when it comes to health, homeownership, income or educational attainment, he emphasized his point by adding: “ We know that systemic racism exists and that inequalities permeate our system. That is reality.”
As he spoke, a chant began, faint at first, then stronger: “Save Moses cemetery!”
It was a reference to a dispute over the status of a historic Black burial ground on a property off River Road not far from Little Falls Parkway. Elrich continued his speech, which was punctuated by sporadic calls for him to address the issue which is now in the state courts.
The Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition filed a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. It was involved in the sale of the parcel, where the coalition says up to 500 enslaved people were buried in the Moses Macedonia African Cemetery.
After his speech, Elrich said that he’d tried to work with the coalition adding, “We continue to be willing to try to do something,” but that the county and the coalition are at an impasse on the issue.
When he wrapped up his speech, Elrich said, “At my core, I know that Montgomery County is the best place to raise a family, to open a business and to look to the future.”