09.07.10 Elrich on a Roll

(Full disclosure: County Councilman Marc Elrich was my Takoma Park city councilman and is a friend and neighbor. I volunteered in his 2006 campaign and have done so again this year. My wife and I held a fundraiser for him this past May.)

Four-time loser Marc Elrich launched another seemingly quixotic quest for the Montgomery County Council in late 2005. Intending to run in District 5, he was forced to switch to a much more daunting at-large race, when Valerie Ervin jumped in to District 5 at the last minute and the MCEA told Elrich (a long-time MoCo public school teacher) that their endorsement – the coveted Apple Ballot — would go to Ervin.

Other than the teachers, who did back Elrich for the at-large race, he was without any friends in high places: establishment politicians labeled him a radical firebrand and wanted nothing to do with him, while the development industry and their friends in the End-Gridlock faction of the council loathed him. The Washington Post not only wouldn’t endorse Elrich, but appeared to have a purposeful policy of not so much as mentioning his name.

With very limited campaign funds – Elrich rejected all contributions form the development industry, the major source of county campaign money – the candidate assembled a team of grass-roots volunteers to spread across the county knocking on doors. He also solicited the support of the environmental movement and other friends from over 20 years of community activism, while making common cause with some other county progressives, like Jamie Raskin (State Senate, D-Silver Spring) and Duchy Trachtenberg (County Council, D-At-Large). Just the same, the pro-corporate establishment must have wondered what planet they were on the morning of September 12, 2006: Elrich had pulled out a stunning second-place finish for four at-large seats on the council, Steve Silverman was trounced by Ike Leggett for county executive, Mike Subin had been sent to pasture, and the hyper-development End-Gridlockers had lost control of the county government.

It was clear that Elrich would have an easier path in 2010 than he did in 2006. Following through on his oft-stated (and, by the establishment, completely ignored) promise to have an open door to everyone, including the development industry, the councilman gradually gained the trust and then the admiration of former adversaries. He really caught the attention of the political establishment and the media with his widely praised proposal for a county-wide bus rapid transit system that would serve the needs of business, labor, the poor, and the environment.

Just the same, Elrich supporters remained nervous – the candidate was again forswearing campaign contributions from the development industry. Even this year, one could assume he would run behind other candidates in fundraising. But then the big endorsements started rolling in. It was no surprise at all that Elrich was on the Apple Ballot again or that he was being supported by the environmental community. The first indication of a true sea change came on July 10, when the Washington Post praised Elrich as “one of the more independent-minded, detail-oriented and constructive members of the council.”  This was remarkable not only because the Post had refused to acknowledge the man’s existence four years earlier, but also because Elrich won the rabidly anti-union Post, without losing union support.

A few days later, my phone rang and Elrich was on the line. “Are you sitting down?” he asked. I quickly found a seat. “The Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Council just endorsed me,” he said.

As stunning as Elrich’s 2006 victory was, the breadth of support he has gained in the ensuing four years is more so. How many other politicians have won the Post’s nod while also winning the MCEA, SEIU and AFL-CIO?  How many have garnered Sierra Club support alongside the realtors association and a chamber of commerce?

The icing on the cake came with the Gazette’s enthusiastic endorsement on August 25. The pro-business weekly cited Elrich’s “near-encyclopedic understanding” of budget and transportation issues and declared that he had “demonstrated a maturity and serious approach to his job that some of his colleagues have not.”

Many argue that endorsements matter little in electoral outcomes. I certainly can’t prove that Elrich’s 2010 endorsements will bring about victory. Rather, I think causality goes in the other direction: the mere fact that Elrich has bridged divides and assembled a corps of supporters that spans the county demonstrates that he already has won.

Marc Elrich squeaked into second place in 2006. In 2010, he’ll finish in first or second and the third-place finisher won’t be that close.

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Since I composed this piece, a scandal involving Elrich has come to light. I’ll cover that in my next post.

© 2010 Keith Berner

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One Comment on “09.07.10 Elrich on a Roll”

  1. […] I have written previously about the remarkable range of support at-large county councilman Marc Elrich has engendered, including from big business, civic activists, unions and environmentalists. One insider observed that Elrich had no enemies going into yesterday. It was apparent that the councilman would do well, but the strength of his first-place finish – three percentage points ahead of second place – was remarkable. I hope Elrich will be able to use his new bragging rights to counteract the big-business bloc’s majority on the council and influence other members to take a more adult approach to policymaking. I also hope his new political strength will not lead him to start dreaming of higher office prematurely. Disclosure: Elrich is my friend and neighbor. I have supported his campaigns financially and on the ground. […]


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