Montgomery County remains in Phase Two as other parts of the state forged ahead into Phase Three earlier this month. But officials say the county experienced a slight bump in COVID-19 cases over the past week, and fewer residents are getting tested. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) joined The Politics Hour to talk about the coronavirus, the Purple Line and more.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (above) said that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to move the state into Phase Three of reopening caught him by surprise. (Tyrone Turner / WAMU)

Purple Line Timeline And Cost Could Be Derailed

  • The companies working on the Purple Line sued the state of Maryland this week, blaming the state for cost overruns and alleging that officials asked them to “mask” delays in some project schedules. The companies are seeking $100 million.
  • Last week, a judge ruled that the contractors working with the state to build the Purple Line may quit over cost overrun and delay disputes. Following the ruling, Maryland transportation officials met with Montgomery County leaders to assure them that work on the Purple Line would continue
  • If the contractors quit, the state could need up to six months to decide how to continue the project. And, it’s unclear if there would be more cost overruns.
  • On The Politics Hour Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said he has been skeptical of the public-private partnership model from the beginning. “I’ve always been worried about the state getting stuck holding the bag, and here we are holding the bag,” said Elrich.

COVID-19 Outbreaks At Montgomery County Private Schools

  • In August, Montgomery County officials feuded with state leadership over whether the county can order private schools to close. Ultimately, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles rescinded his order that would ban private schools from reopening.
  • Now, the county is investigating coronavirus outbreaks at private schools. Gayles says the county has investigated 13 schools so far and quarantined two groups of students.
  • Gayles has been the leading public health voice in the county since the pandemic began. He’s received racist and homophobic hate messages from community members frustrated with his response, which some consider overly cautious. Gayles said he received many hateful messages when he issued the initial order to bar private schools from reopening.
  • Elrich addressed the hate messages on The Politics Hour: “This isn’t what we do in Montgomery County, and behavior like that is completely unacceptable.”

The Ongoing Effects Of The Coronavirus

  • Montgomery County is still in Phase Two of reopening after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan pushed the state into Phase Three. Elrich hasn’t indicated when the county might proceed into the next phase.
  • On The Politics Hour, he described a tenuous relationship between local leaders and Hogan when it comes to collaborating on reopening plans. “Basically, the Democratic county executives in the I-95 corridor … we have all been in the same situation: Not consulted,” Elrich said.
  • This week, the county had a slight bump in COVID-19 cases. County officials also noted that fewer people in the county are getting tested.
  • Officials say the pandemic could lead the county to lose $1 billion in revenues over the next six years.

Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Produced by Cydney Grannan

Guests

  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Marc Elrich County Executive, Montgomery County; @Marc_Elrich

Transcript

  • 12:00:09

    KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:38

    TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.

  • 12:00:40

    NNAMDIAlso joining us today, our guest is Marc Elrich, the County Executive for Montgomery County. Marc Elrich, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:47

    MARC ELRICHAlways a pleasure. How are you doing?

  • 12:00:50

    NNAMDIBefore we get to Montgomery County, Tom Sherwood, I certainly was surprised by The Washington Post by Marisa Lang in which they talked about the fact that the D.C. National Guard officer on the ground on the day of the demonstrations at Lafayette Square was the senior most D.C. National Guard officer and served as liaison between the National Guard and the U.S. Park Police, but talk about exactly what he revealed about what federal officials were looking for.

  • 12:01:23

    SHERWOODKojo, this was nothing, but a planned military assault on American citizens. If you thought the federal officers overreacted at Lafayette Square last June, it could have been so far worse. It could have been a battlefield. National Guard Major Adam Demarco told Congress that the Trump administration had collected ammunition, something called a heat ray that would both do sound and burn skin. They had assault rifles prepared. Some critics are saying this is exactly what President Trump has said he wants to do have some major confrontation on the streets of America to help him get reelected. But if this Major Adam Demarco's reporting to Congress is true it just makes -- unnerves me how close we came to a true military assault right here in the nation's capital.

  • 12:02:21

    NNAMDIHe said they were searching for crowd controlled technology deemed too unpredictable to use in warzones. Did you see this report, Marc Elrich? Were you surprised by it?

  • 12:02:32

    ELRICHI saw the report, but nothing Trump does surprises me. I mean, we've reached the point where the lunacy knows no bounds. So I thought, yeah, that makes sense. He would do this. It's shocking.

  • 12:02:47

    SHERWOODYeah, and we have to say the Attorney General William Barr has not called -- said anything against this. He has in fact -- many people are concerned that he is helping the president maybe set the situation where this could happen. So it's not just the president. It's also his administration including the attorney general of the United States.

  • 12:03:11

    NNAMDIAs I said, our guest is Marc Elrich, County Executive of Montgomery County. Marc Elrich, Governor Larry Hogan moved the state into phase three at the beginning of the month. But you kept Montgomery County in phase two. What is the timeline to move the county into phase three of reopening? What metrics need to be hit?

  • 12:03:31

    ELRICHWell, in first place we don't work on a timeline. This is about public health and, you know, the time is right when the time arrives. And we're not -- we have not and we have never said that we're trying to set dates and we're going to do this by this date or this by that date, because if the metrics of the cases are too prevalent in the community we're not going there. And, you know, we made a decision.

  • 12:03:57

    ELRICHYou know, when this all started early on when the infections exploded in the D.C. area, you know, we were contributing, us in Prince George's Count over half the cases in the state. That by an large is not true anymore. We have been able to, you know, get our rates lower than most counties except the small counties. And, you know, we attribute that to a more cautious approach to opening. This is about public safety. So, you know, you ask about metrics. You know, this is new.

  • 12:04:30

    ELRICHAnd it's new to the health officers and everybody. We've never dealt with anything like this. So, you know, we started out came up with some metrics. But the truth is that the metrics we -- I probably measured too much and there's some things that are really really key and, you know, we're looking at probably the most important metrics out there are your test positivity rate, what percentage of your tests are coming back positive and the number of cases per 100,000. And there's new CDC guidance out now that would have the county not where we need to be -- let's see which one this is. We would be at moderate risk in one category and we'd be at a higher risk of transmission in another category in terms of how many cases per 100,000 we have.

  • 12:05:29

    ELRICHSo when you ask like what a metric in place looks like that you'd want to be like we're looking at the work done by the COVID Act Now, which is a joint effort of Georgetown, Stanford and Harvard. And, you know, when governor opened three he talked about Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. Connecticut has 5.2 cases per 100,000 daily. New Jersey has 4.5. New York has 3.8. Maryland has 10.2.

  • 12:06:02

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:06:04

    ELRICHSo if that's your model, we aren't there yet.

  • 12:06:06

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:06:06

    SHERWOODYes. And unfortunately we have to worry about what the CDC says now, because there's been political influence there. But let me talk about another battlefield. The public health director from Montgomery County, Dr. Travis Gales has been leading the county's fight on what you can do and not do based on the science. He had a fight with the governor over closing private school. The governor overrode him. But in the process of this he told Bethesda Beat that he has been receiving both racist and homophobic threats. It's made him worry about himself, his family. I know the Council and you have just put out a letter. What did your letter say about this?

  • 12:06:48

    ELRICHThat this isn't what we do in Montgomery County and behavior like that is completely unacceptable and people who are working -- you know, he's not a partisan. He's not a politician. He's a health officer. And if people don't have the decency to, you know, to respect a health officer, who is doing his job to try to make sure that the people, who are screaming are safe, that is just totally inappropriate behavior. I've seen some of Travis's stuff. He's shared it with us occasionally. It is just ugly.

  • 12:07:22

    ELRICHAnd it's coming from people, you know. And you get the pleasure of goggling people to figure out who is writing this stuff. It's not like these are any people who are in any position to judge anything related to health, because they actually possess absolutely no expertise other than this kind of, you know, blind allegiance to Trump. And I'll just say the thing that amazes me even after the President of the United States admits lying to everybody people choose to believe the lies even after he's even said he lied. That's the most amazing thing in the world to me, but it inflames these people. And, you know, it's turned them against people who are their public servants. And it's very disturbing.

  • 12:08:05

    SHERWOODWhat kind of responses -- if I may ask what kind of responses vulgar or otherwise have you been getting as the leader during this terrible time?

  • 12:08:15

    ELRICHI get the same kind of hate mail. But, you know, obviously there's no race or, you know, homophobia in this one, but it's, you know, this is some kind of communist plot. I'm like what kind of communist plot would this be? And, you know, you're trying to kill businesses. My feeling is for the kind of agenda we have in Montgomery County we actually need businesses to be open. This is the worst thing that we have to do. We have to do it for health reasons. But I have no desire to kill business. We wish we weren't here. And in fact if people had been more aggressive on day one or at least day 14, we wouldn't be where we are today.

  • 12:08:57

    ELRICHBut we are where we are, but I get a constant barrage of that. And, you know, I'm an idiot, and I was a school teacher. There's an insult for you. You were just a school teacher. It's like wow. And it's the same thing. I look up people sometimes and I Goggle them to see who they are and it's just fascinating. Often Trump supports, often supporters of other off the rail stuff. But it's disturbing, you know, because some of it is implied threats. It's kind of like, we got this stuff of immigration stuff. And I'd have people, you know, attacking my family and saying horrible things they wish would happen to my grandchildren and things.

  • 12:09:39

    NNAMDIGood grief.

  • 12:09:40

    ELRICHIt's just -- it's disgusting.

  • 12:09:42

    NNAMDIWell, you were not informed by Governor Hogan, you and other local officials that he was moving to phase three. You were essentially blindsided by that. And there's been tension between the county and you -- between you and Governor Hogan on this and other issues like schools reopening in person. What is now your relationship with the governor? Are you talking with him at all?

  • 12:10:03

    ELRICHWell, in first place, I want to be clear. It is not just me. You know, all the see in The Washington Post such as they cover anything in the local world is, you know, more Montgomery and Prince George's County focus. But the Angela has been at it with the governor. Stuart Pitman has been at it with the governor. Johnny O has been at it. Jack Young has been at it. I mean, basically the democratic county executives in the I-95 corridor, you know, from Baltimore County down to D.C. and then up to Frederick, we have all been in the same situation.

  • 12:10:37

    ELRICHNot consulted, we have written them letters saying, you know, you need to consult with us. We would like to know. All we get before a press conference is: There's going to be a press conference tomorrow at five o'clock or there's going to be a press conference at three o'clock. We get no details. They don't even ask us. They don't include our health officers in their discussions about what they're going to do that relates to health, which I find a bit bizarre, since, you know, I wouldn't be making decisions for the county if I weren't talking to somebody, who's an expert in the field. They don't seem interested.

  • 12:11:09

    NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left in this segment.

  • 12:11:12

    ELRICHSo, you know, we've got a -- we've got that as an issue. But I will say this, I've been able to work with his staff in housing, on economic development, on transportation. And they've continued to work with us like complete professionals. So whatever differences the governor and I have it does not translate into an inability to work with his administration and my administration, which is a good thing, and I give him credit for that.

  • 12:11:39

    NNAMDIWe're talking with Marc Elrich. He is the County Executive for Montgomery County. If you have called, stay on the line. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:04

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Marc Elrich. He is the County Executive for Montgomery County. Tom Sherwood, it would appear that in Arlington there was a controversial sidewalk social distancing ordinance that said that in certain busy areas more than four people could not -- groups of four or more should be broken up by police. They have decided to withdraw that ordinance, why?

  • 12:12:28

    SHERWOODWell, how do you enforce it? This is kind of an example. When people say, We ought to stop people from doing this or fine people if they're not wearing masks. In Arlington the crowds and clearing an area of nightclubs and bars and restaurants were crowding on the sidewalks not keeping social distance. So the board voted to impose a fine of $100. But the police and public health officials and others said, it's just impossible to enforce. So this week they voted to rescind it and still hope that the businesses that are in fact partially open will do a better job of managing their customers.

  • 12:13:03

    NNAMDINext issue I wanted to get to with County Executive Elrich, but I will let Paul in Silver Spring, Maryland take us there. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:13:12

    PAULYes. Kojo, how are you doing today?

  • 12:13:14

    NNAMDII'm well.

  • 12:13:17

    PAULHello, Marc. This is Paul Godfrey.

  • 12:13:20

    ELRICHHey, how are you doing, Paul?

  • 12:13:21

    PAULI'm doing well. My question for you has to deal with -- there was a situation over in Bethesda where there has been a developer digging up a cemetery. In fact, the discussion was on Kojo's show just last week. And from my understanding there was a letter written to you because you had made the statement that if we could show ...

  • 12:13:50

    NNAMDIPaul, Paul, Paul, allow me to interrupt. Paul, allow me to interrupt. You led our call screener to believe that you had a question about the Purple Line. That's where I was going to go next. I was also going to go to Moses Cemetery because there are at least three other callers who are on the line who want to talk about Moses Cemetery. So I'm going to put you back on hold and then when we get to Moses Cemetery I'll bring you back on.

  • 12:14:11

    NNAMDIIn the meantime, Marc Elrich, the contractors overseeing construction of the Purple Line sued the state this week for breach of contract. They're seeking more than $100 billion from the state, a new public accusation in the firm's lawsuit. Is there assertion that Maryland officials required them to mask some delays and monthly project schedules in late 2016 and early 2017? What are your thoughts and where do you think this is all going?

  • 12:14:38

    ELRICHI don't think it's going well, and I believe it's probably quite possibly true. And I would imagine that at some point they will be able to produce some document that shows that. It's all very disturbing. This has not gone as planned. They ignored a lot of people's advice. I was never a fan of the P3 concept on this project. And have always been worried about the state getting stuck holding the bag. And here we are holding the bag.

  • 12:15:11

    ELRICHAnd it says a lot about, you know, when they're talking about doing that on an $11 billion P3, it's like really? Because you handled this one so well, we should go do another one. It's a real problem. The state did not do the work it should have done. I don't know if they should have started even doing a contract with somebody until they cleared the lawsuits. You know, once you tell somebody to proceed in the midst of a lawsuit and then a judge says, well, you can't. That was a foreseeable possibility that put us at risk.

  • 12:15:41

    ELRICHAnd when you look at some of the problems they've run into, WSSC Pipes in Prince George's County, Metro's requirement for a crash wall, which I do frankly find a little bit absurd on my part, because they don't have a crash between the Metrorail and the train tracks. But that aside, I mean, these are things they missed and didn't take account for, which are driving up the cost of the project. And, again, they had years, I mean, God knows how long this thing was understudy.

  • 12:16:08

    SHERWOODMr. Elrich.

  • 12:16:11

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:16:13

    SHERWOODJust for people, who are not bureaucrats, when he refers to P3 he's talking about private public partnerships. You know, Governor (unintelligible) sorry ran for governor. He was opposed to the Purple Line. He reluctantly approved it. But first he gutted state funding for it. The forced Montgomery and Prince George's to pay more for it. He has never been a fan of it. And now as you just mentioned he wants to do this I-495 I-270 reworking for traffic. It seems to me that he'll be leaving office in 2022 saying how he proposed all these great things and none of them will be done. What political price if any should Governor Hogan pay for his some say botching of these transportation projects?

  • 12:17:00

    ELRICHWell, I mean, he's going to run in a republican primary and he's going to talk about, you know, what he tried to do.

  • 12:17:07

    SHERWOODRunning for president.

  • 12:17:08

    ELRICHFor president, right. So, you know, he'll wind up in primary and I'm sure, you know, his opponents will say, let's talk about those projects. Where are they today? You know, how did that work out with you? I mean, if he has to pay another $800 million on the Purple Line, you know, you're talking about a 25 percent increase in the project on top of all the other increases in the project. I'd, you know -- if I were him, I would recalibrate and think about what kind of things can we do. And, you know, there are things they could do that would be helpful. They've got to figure a way out of this problem.

  • 12:17:42

    SHERWOODExcuse me. His administration, the transportation officials are telling the council this week and everyone else that this Purple Line project will go forward, although details aren't clear. But has the governor said anything? I don't think he's said anything publically as he's been busy all over the state, not on the Purple Line. I don't even know if he's ever visited the Purple Line.

  • 12:18:04

    ELRICHI can't say for sure, but I would guess he has. I just think that, you know, his officials will say, you know, what they're told they have to say. I mean, that's really what happens in the world. That's always the case. You work for somebody, you talk about what they said they're going to do. But he has no plan and they have a fundamental decision to make as to whether they're going to look for new partners, or whether they're going to take on management of the project itself. Are they going to look for somebody else to finance it, or are they going to take the chance -- are they going to finance it? There is an advantage.

  • 12:18:39

    SHERWOODExcuse me, is there any chance that the current private partnership, which is threatening to leave and talking about how they'll scale down in the next month, is there any chance that they could be persuaded to stay if the governor steps up?

  • 12:18:55

    ELRICHWell, I think if the governor paid them what they want, they'd probably stay. But it doesn't mean there won't be more to come. I mean, we are not out of this project yet, so I don't see where they're going to stay. He can't afford it. I don't think the state can afford this. It would rob every other transportation project in the state even deeper. I'm not sure the state legislature would stand for that. There are other people who want things in the state, and they're already emptying out their coffers. And I can't picture...

  • 12:19:28

    SHERWOODWell (unintelligible) yeah, if you drive along...

  • 12:19:30

    ELRICH...I can't picture the company taking a hit.

  • 12:19:34

    SHERWOODIf you drive along the 16-mile route, I've done some of it, it is a real mess. And I get the feeling that it may never get built.

  • 12:19:42

    ELRICHOh, I think something will get built. I’m not that pessimistic. I'm just not sure whether it'll be exactly this, and I sure don't know when.

  • 12:19:53

    NNAMDIOkay. Here is Zoe in Bakersfield, Maryland. Zoe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Or is it Zo?

  • 12:20:01

    ZOEHi. Zoe. Marc, hello. Good morning. Good afternoon.

  • 12:20:05

    ELRICHHey.

  • 12:20:08

    ZOESo, Moses Cemetery, what do you plan to do to stop the desecration, and why haven't you upheld your promise to protect it?

  • 12:20:16

    ELRICHBecause it's not Moses Cemetery. Moses Cemetery is on lots 175 and 177. It was bought by White's Tabernacle in about 1911 or 1912. They moved the cemetery from D.C. onto that site. That is the site that is being protected. I was in meetings. I have supported the church and their efforts with Park and Planning. I think that, you know, they got a very raw deal and have not been treated really well in this process. But this is not Moses Cemetery.

  • 12:20:47

    ELRICHAnd you could look at the letters from the White Tabernacle Moses Cemetery group that has both descendants buried and is still in existence. They still have the cemetery on Falls Road, and they've written a pretty scathing letter saying the assertions aren't true. And they're part of the original Moses Cemetery group. So, they are very upset about the way this has gone.

  • 12:21:14

    ELRICHI don't think Park and Planning handled it well. I thought that Park and Planning should've allowed them to have somebody onsite to not oversee, but to witness what was being done. And I wrote letters suggesting that. You know, I've said I thought Dr. Blakey should've been allowed onsite. He should've been allowed to watch the process of excavation.

  • 12:21:39

    ELRICHIt took me weeks before they agreed to even have a meeting. I went to the owner to ask him to do more, because I couldn't -- I had no other avenues to go through. I have no authority whatsoever, zero authority, nor does the state. So, there's a letter from the state where they expressed some concern, but the state also says, apparently, that they're satisfied with what's being done.

  • 12:22:04

    ELRICHI was out at the site again yesterday to see what they've done and, you know, what had been -- you know, what they had turned up. They seem to be doing the whole site under the restrictions that were opposed originally on only a small corner of the site in terms of how they're doing the excavation. They're not finding any bodies. They're deep enough that you would've found them.

  • 12:22:31

    NNAMDIWell, we did an entire segment on this issue. One of our guests was Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. And there's a Marsha in Bethesda on the phone. I don't know if it is the same. Marsha, your turn.

  • 12:22:42

    MARSHA ADEBAYOHi, Marc. This is Marsha Adebayo. Can you hear me?

  • 12:22:46

    ELRICHI can hear, yeah.

  • 12:22:47

    ADEBAYOMarc, I'm just so disappointed in you. You must know that that letter (unintelligible)...

  • 12:22:52

    NNAMDIWe've only got about two minutes left in this segment, Marsha.

  • 12:22:54

    ADEBAYOOkay. But you must know that the letter you just referred to was written by the PR firm, by the construction company, that it was a funded letter. I mean, you must get enough of those to know -- to be able to know that. So, the question is, you know, you wrote to a constituent and you said that if we could prove noncompliance, that you would halt construction. We sent you pictures of tombstones, of coffin lids, of pieces of clothing that would've been used in coffins. We never received a reply from you, Marc. When are you going to reply to our letter and those pictures? And when are you going to halt construction?

  • 12:23:34

    NNAMDIMarc Elrich, we've got about a minute left.

  • 12:23:35

    ELRICHYes. The state's attorney went back out on the site for a second time and sent people there, and they could find none of the things that you're talking about. There was a house on the site. There is a trash pit on the site that has bottles and apparently had other things from the house. The rocks that came out of the ground, I was skeptical, like, whether you could have rocks that looked like that. They actually have a lot of rocks that are -- had straight sides and a flat -- and have flat backs and flat faces.

  • 12:24:09

    ELRICHIt is actually true that the rock there will shear on a straight line, which I would not have believed if I didn't see this myself, because I didn't know there was that kind of rock. There's just no proof of anything, Marsha. It's not there. And if people had agreed to work -- what I tried to do...

  • 12:24:28

    NNAMDIJust got 20 seconds.

  • 12:24:29

    ELRICH...I tried to put you together with the owner. I tried to get an agreement to let Dr. Blakey go out there so he could witness that, and you didn't respond to that. And if you had responded, the owner was willing to actually let people go out there. And it was open to Blakey.

  • 12:24:39

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid -- I'm afraid that's -- that's all the time we have in this segment. Marsha, thank you for your call. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:25:05

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Better call now. We won't have a great deal of time left in this segment. Marc Elrich, the November 3rd election is just around the corner. How is the county preparing and what can county residents expect in terms of mail-in ballots and in-person voting centers?

  • 12:25:27

    ELRICHWe've got more than 40 in-person voting centers that will be up. There may be some changes when some centers wind up getting used for different purposes. But the centers -- we're going to have lots of those. We're going to have the boxes for people to deposit their ballots. If they don't want to -- if they ask for a ballot by mail, they can either mail it back or they can bring it to a drop-in box.

  • 12:25:54

    ELRICHThe drop-in boxes are -- again, if you go to the county page, it'll take you to a place where you can see all the locations of drop-in boxes, all the locations of voting. But what we're really encouraging people to do is vote by mail because we don't want to bring lots of people into small rooms where they vote.

  • 12:26:14

    NNAMDITom Sherwood.

  • 12:26:15

    SHERWOODI want to get to the measures on the ballot. First, I need to ask you about your chief administrative officer Andrew Kleine had to resign. Controversies over his book and his relationship with private businesses. You immediately appointed Richard Madaleno, a veteran state legislator and your budget director to be the new county administrative officer.

  • 12:26:40

    ELRICHThat's true.

  • 12:26:40

    SHERWOODMr. Madaleno said that -- Mr. Madaleno said it was time he would try to, quote, "reset the button on your relationship with the council over housing and budget issues." Has he reset it, and when does the council vote up or down on his appointment?

  • 12:26:58

    ELRICHI thought they just did.

  • 12:27:02

    SHERWOODI may have missed it this week, if they did.

  • 12:27:04

    ELRICHYeah, I could be unconscious, because I've got so much else going on. But Rich has got a good relationship with people. He's known people a long time, and he's more hands-on in these things, which I think is good. And he's very much in tune with what I want to do. So, I think he will be an effective person working with the council.

  • 12:27:30

    SHERWOODI haven't heard the council members complaining much about him yet, so that's a good sign. But let me get to the ballot initiatives that would radically change how the council is composed and make it a nine-member council, all local wards, not any at-large. And there's also a proposal to limit property taxes in the county only to inflation and get rid of the loophole that if all the council members vote for a tax increase, they can do it. Where are you on these ballot initiatives, these two, particularly?

  • 12:28:01

    ELRICHI like the compromise positions that the council took to have -- add two more seats to the district -- two more districts and keep the four at-large...

  • 12:28:12

    SHERWOODTwo more districts at large.

  • 12:28:14

    ELRICH...keep the four at-large but add -- go to seven district seats. Because I fought, and I fought for a long time that the districts in the county have gotten too big. There are over 200,000 people in a district and it's just very hard to represent those many people and stay in touch. And I know how hard a district councilmember's job can be. They just got too big. I would've probably gone with a larger number of districts and still had some at-large.

  • 12:28:44

    ELRICHI wasn't in favor of getting rid of all the at-large, because I think at-large brings some council members who have to take the perspective of a broader view in mind. They're not just beholding to one group. So, I like the council's compromise.

  • 12:29:01

    SHERWOODOkay. On county property taxes, former County Executive Ike Leggett, in business news came out this week, and said they do not want a stark limitation on what property taxes can be raised. Now, what's your view on that?

  • 12:29:15

    ELRICHSo, again, I'm supporting the legislation that opposes a figure I'm supporting, A. I am not supporting B. The county is in, you know, real trouble. We have the worst tax structure of any jurisdiction in the region. It's probably worse than Prince George's County’s TRIM amendment, which is difficult to be, and it has constrained our ability to raise money. I'm limited, right now, to last year's revenues times the inflation rate.

  • 12:29:49

    ELRICHAnd so, this year, we're likely -- we could easily have a decline in property tax revenues because people with vacant buildings will go in and appeal assessments. They get lower assessments, generate less revenues, and inflation's going to be close to zero. And a regulation tying revenues to inflation might've been fine back in the days of 4 or 5 percent inflation, but it does not function now.

  • 12:30:13

    ELRICHI mean, the cost of, you know, road construction, the cost of health care, the whole bunch of, you know, just construction, in general. Lots of things in county government do not go up with the inflation rate. And to limit it to only inflation is really, really harmful, but it also means you can't address any problems that we have on an ongoing basis. So, if we wanted to make more investment in the social sphere to deal with some of these long-term racial inequities in the county, that doesn't happen without funding to make it possible.

  • 12:30:48

    ELRICHWe look at the Virginia counties, which have a much more robust tax system, where the private sector has been willing to pay additional taxes to provide and finance transportation construction. I couldn't do that in Montgomery County. I cannot front bonds for basic construction projects.

  • 12:31:06

    SHERWOODIf I have time, I'd like to also ask you about your good friend in the council, Hans Riemer, who was saying that the county's got to address the housing moratorium, that it is stifling development that would bring in new money and new jobs and new tax revenue for the county. But the housing moratoriums in the county are stifling development.

  • 12:31:27

    ELRICHThat's funny. He's sponsoring legislation that would wipe out tax revenue from all development on Metro sites and trying to drive housing construction on top of Metro sites where they would not pay property taxes for 10 to 15 years. Which is one reason that I'm opposing that, because I can't afford to be giving up revenue.

  • 12:31:48

    ELRICHAnd that number of housing units that he's projected is almost the entirety of what people have said are going to be the market rate units going to be built in Montgomery County over the next ten years. So, if he's worried about revenue, he's supporting a bunch of stuff which is going to rob us of revenue. This stuff doesn't produce any new housing. It's doesn't alter the projections for the number of units that are coming here. It just takes away the resources that we would normally get from housing. And that is not a good thing.

  • 12:32:20

    NNAMDIOkay. Here is Lee in Rockville, Maryland. Lee, your turn.

  • 12:32:26

    LEEGood afternoon. Can you hear me?

  • 12:32:27

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:32:28

    ELRICHYeah.

  • 12:32:29

    LEEOkay. Good afternoon, Kojo. Enjoying the show. I'd like to ask Mr. Elrich about racism in Montgomery County. I've lived in Montgomery County for 30 years, 3-0 years, 20 in Glenmont and 10 in Grosvenor. And in those 30 years I've observed exactly zero, zero racist comments, incidents of any kind. There seems to be this notion -- I mean, the county council keeps on passing resolution after resolution after resolution condemning racism, condemning racism. You know, doing everything to study racism.

  • 12:33:09

    LEEThis is not George Wallace in the early '60s standing at the courthouse door. Montgomery County is a very, very good place to live. That's why a million people live here and -- of all races, of all religions, of all kinds. And so, I fail to see any -- you know, any reason for this pervasive notion that we're surrounded by racists.

  • 12:33:37

    NNAMDIWell, you should know, caller, that Councilmember Will Jawando sponsored a bill declaring systemic racism a public health emergency. And he wants the county to address it across all departments and agencies. What is your view, Mr. County Executive, about the existence -- you mentioned racial inequities earlier, but the existence of racism. Because our caller seems to think that racism only means people who have openly racist attitudes.

  • 12:34:06

    ELRICHWell -- or in this world are foolish enough to say things out loud that they...

  • 12:34:11

    NNAMDIWe only have about a minute left, but go ahead, please.

  • 12:34:13

    ELRICH...foolish enough to say things out loud that they probably ought not to say out loud. I don't even know where to begin. I mean, I've been in meetings with PTAs where parents got up and talked about their daughter in one of the W schools going into a class and being asked by the teacher, what are you doing here? Something that got asked to no other student. Nobody in that class gets asked that.

  • 12:34:39

    SHERWOODI think...

  • 12:34:40

    ELRICHI can talk about, you know, the things that go on with the police. I guarantee you when -- you know, we've had this long discussion about when body cameras come on and what's the conversation with the resident. And, you know, what I said to the department then was, when you park your car because you see two black kids walking down the street, and you walk across the street and say, where are you going, your camera comes on because that is not a conversation. And they were trying to argue, well, they were just having a conversation back then.

  • 12:35:09

    NNAMDIOkay. And I'm afraid that's...

  • 12:35:10

    ELRICHIt is a real problem.

  • 12:35:12

    NNAMDI...that's about all the time we have. Marc Elrich, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:35:17

    ELRICHThank you.

  • 12:35:18

    NNAMDIMarc Elrich is the county executive for Montgomery County. Tom Sherwood, briefly, Florence Pendleton passed this week. You knew Florence Pendleton. Tell our listeners exactly who Florence Pendleton was.

  • 12:35:29

    SHERWOODShe was old school Washingtonian, 40 years in education and a school principal. She ran, she was first elected as the first statehood senator in 1990. Unfortunately, she was also elected along with Jesse Jackson, whose national star kind of over -- kind of put her in the shadows, so she didn't get a lot of attention. But she spent her life trying to make the District of Columbia better.

  • 12:35:52

    NNAMDIAnd she passed at 94 years old.

  • 12:35:56

    SHERWOODRight in Columbus, Georgia, which is my home state.

  • 12:35:58

    NNAMDIAnd that's where she was born, as a matter of fact. She moved here to Washington and went to Howard University and lived...

  • 12:36:03

    SHERWOODHoward (unintelligible) ...

  • 12:36:04

    NNAMDI...lived most of the rest of her live here. The Politics Hour was...

  • 12:36:07

    SHERWOODA delightful person.

  • 12:36:08

    NNAMDIIndeed. The Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, NPR's Rebecca Hirsha joins us to discuss the climate crisis and what's at stake if we fail to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, Kojo for Kids welcomes National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli to talk about puffins, dolphins and sharks. Oh, my.

  • 12:36:28

    NNAMDIAnd if you're a kid, parent or teacher, you can nominate your class to be our virtual partner for an upcoming Kojo for Kids episode. Each week, we'll reserve time for a special group of students. Why not your class? We're taking nominations at kojoshow.org/kids. Until Monday, have a wonderful weekend. Any big plans, Tom Sherwood?

  • 12:36:46

    SHERWOODWell, let me just say happy Rosh Hashanah. At 5:00, watch for the big blast. There will be shofar horns that will be blowing all over the place.

  • 12:36:53

    NNAMDIWell, thank you all for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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