08.13.10 Incumbents’ Cabal?

In my last post, about the Progressive Neighbors at-large candidates forum, I failed to mention one of the most interesting phenomena of the season: the comity among the four incumbents (Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, George Leventhal, and Duchy Trachtenberg). Credit goes to Maryland Politics Watch for keying into this (and waking up this blogger to the need for comment).

Seeing the incumbents singing Kumbaya together is downright bizarre. These guys have been at each other’s throats for four years, split down the middle between the council’s two blocs: Floreen and Leventhal leading the remnants (and new members) of the old Duncan/Silverman End-Gridlockers, while Elrich and Trachtenberg have been aligned with the good-government, slow-growth progressives. For the first two years of this council, the slow-growthers prevailed in a 5-4 majority, but with the death of Marilyn and then Don Praisner and the election of Nancy Navarro in District 4, the End-Gridlockers have held sway since.

None of this is necessarily obvious to the casual observer. Many (if not most) of the publicly recorded votes on the council were unanimous or supermajorities of seven or eight votes. But under the surface, the two factions and their members were fighting like cats and dogs. (Actually, my dog and cats get along just fine – I mean no offense to them in using this time-worn analogy.)  It seems that every issue the council faced resulted in scheming and maneuvering for political domination. Privately, council members used words like “hate” and “idiot” when referring to those on the other side. (To be fair, I also know of two members of the End-Gridlock faction who have claimed to despise the other. There’s a whole lot of hate to go around on this council.)

The crowning moment of the council’s factionalism came in last December’s “coup,” when the End-Gridlockers suddenly broke years of tradition under which a given year’s council vice president automatically assumed the presidency the following year. In December 2009, then-vice president, Roger Berliner — a member of the slow-growthers — was deposed in a 5-4 vote that made Nancy Floreen council president and set up Valerie Ervin as vice president, in line to take over in 2011.

Leventhal then spent a good part of 2010 trying in vain to form a slate with Nancy Floreen and whoever else he could find (preferably Becky Wagner) in order to push Elrich and Trachtenberg off the council entirely. (Since Wagner is an über-Chamber of Commerce/developer-friendly type who ought to be Floreen’s best friend, I wonder about the political calculus she used in turning down an offer to team up with the End-Gridlockers.)

Flash forward to this summer and suddenly these bitter infighters are best of friends, sharing derisive laughs at Hans Riemer’s expense and more or less ignoring the other challengers (including Wagner). They’re even trumpeting their mutual accomplishments in tackling the budget crisis together.

I have to agree with Adam Pagnucco that this apparent peace pact is unseemly and illusory. If the slow-growthers pick up a vote on the council (which would have to come from a victory by Sharon Dooley – or possibly Royce Hanson – in District 2), you can bet that Ervin will be deposed in favor of Berliner as the next council president and then bitter recriminations will ensue. If the End-Gridlockers maintain their majority, they’ll go back to demagoguery and character assassination against their erstwhile pals. (Speaking of Hanson, all the incumbents seem to hate him.) In either case, council wars will resume on or about November 3rd.

So why the truce among the incumbents?  Very simple: they concluded that the costs of fighting each other during election season were greater than the costs of shutting up and smiling. Each one of them wants more than anything to be reelected. Each of them knows that the others have potential talking points against them. None of them (Leventhal’s attempts to court Wagner notwithstanding) sees an alliance with challenger(s) to be possible or desirable. So, why not campaign together for four more years and leave the fighting for another day?

Observing the council’s record and seeing through the veneer of supposed peace, Pagnucco asks “Isn’t time for a change”?  That’s a good question, which I’ll get to in my next post.

©2010 Keith Berner

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One Comment on “08.13.10 Incumbents’ Cabal?”

  1. […] incumbents crawled closer to a mutual nonaggression pact this year (one that I have previously characterized with some distaste), there was always the distinct possibility that someone might be tempted to open fire on […]


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