09.15.10 Sifting Montgomery Returns

This is cross-posted with the Washington Post’s All Opinions Are Local.

The abysmal turnout was the big news of Tuesday’s primary election in Montgomery County. Pending counting about 10,000 absentee ballots, only 18.6 percent of registered voters cast ballots, and registered voters make up only about half of the county’s population. Given the absence of viable Republican challengers in November, this means that less than 10 percent of the county has selected our leaders for the next four years.

Low turnout is hazardous to democracy. Disenchantment with the political process has always been a problem in this country, and it’s getting worse. Absent wide-reaching electoral reform, more responsible and diverse media, and an educational system that encourages civic engagement, I see little hope for improvement.

Marc shines

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.

Duchy gets toppled

Boy, was I snowed by at-large loser Duchy Trachtenberg when I reported two weeks ago that her campaign knew what it was doing and predicted a win for her. In fact, Trachtenberg critics, such as Adam Pagnucco at Maryland Politics Watch, had it exactly right: She was a fool to sit on a couple hundred thousand dollars while running a nearly invisible campaign. This was one of two great Icarus-goes-down stories from Tuesday. Just as Adrian Fenty’s arrogance sank his ship in the District, Trachtenberg’s self-certainty led to her downfall.

I endorsed Trachtenberg because her voting record on the council and alignment with the so-called progressive bloc fits my political views. I fear her absence will further embolden and empower the remnants of the infamous Duncan/Silverman End-Gridlockers. Just the same, there is a certain schadenfreude that comes with seeing the arrogant go down. Trachtenberg may well have been holding on to her giant war chest in order to run for higher office. With her fifth-place finish, and the impressive number of enemies she created during her single term on the council, it would appear her political career is over. (Give Trachtenberg some credit for the courage to take stands – on transgender rights and public-employee wage restraint, for example – that led to impassioned opposition. I note, though, that Elrich took similar positions without alienating his constituents.)

On the other hand, Trachtenberg may be so convinced of her own importance that we shouldn’t be surprised if she uses those remaining dollars to buy a way back in.

It will also be interesting to see what happens with the mystery surrounding her departure from the National Organization for Women. As blatantly political as the last-minute publicity surrounding this potential scandal was, I have to believe there is some “there” there. With Trachtenberg’s loss, will this matter fade away? We’ll see.

Lenett sinks his own campaign

In District 19, incumbent state Sen. Mike Lenett resorted to anti-Muslim race-baiting and Holocaust imagery in the final weeks of the race against challenger Roger Manno. Rather than save his campaign, these tactics amounted to 11th-hour suicide. Manno is a capable progressive who worked hard for his victory. It is a shame that the take-away from this race is more about Lenett’s descent into darkness than it is about Manno.

I am extremely disturbed by the apparent lack of an outcry from the Democratic establishment (with the exception of Doug Duncan, whom I’m otherwise no fan of) about what Lenett did. As I wrote yesterday, it is particularly upsetting that Gov. Martin O’Malley apparently was robocalling on Lenett’s behalf after the campaign of hate was in full swing.

It is this kind of self-defeating moral blindness and political cowardice that led me to quit my party post four years ago.

David Moon strikes again

The best campaign consultant in the county turned perennial empty-shirt Hans Riemer into a strong second-place winner for county council at large. With only bromides, good looks and a hugely inflated resume to go on, Moon’s skillful operation clearly pulled wool over the eyes of otherwise sophisticated voters.

Now it’s Riemer’s turn. Will he turn out to be the progressive his rhetoric claimed? Will he start to do real homework, begin to understand the intricacies of policymaking, and contribute substantially to the council’s vital work? Or will he be campaigning for higher office from Day 1, constantly calculating whose side to be on to further of his career?

I would rather be wrong in my assessment of Riemer. Now that he’s made it to the council, I would love to see him succeed for the county (as opposed to for himself). I’ll be ready to heap praise on him and eat public crow if and when he does.

No chance for Mickey Mouse

In my biennial voter guide, I urged writing in “Mickey Mouse” rather than voting for several unopposed incumbents. I was very disappointed to learn yesterday that party rules prohibit write-ins in primaries. As if unopposed candidacies weren’t bad enough, it’s galling that party control of the electoral process prevents explicit expression of dissatisfaction. So much for a feedback loop to arrogant office holders. This kind of thing contributes to the disaffection I cited above.

©2010 Keith Berner

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