Montgomery leadership to remain much the same

Montgomery County’s elected leadership will have only a few new faces, but with a Republican governor-elect, views are mixed about the future of local priorities.

“There are going to be a number of Montgomery County priorities I think, in the next four years, that will be put on the back burner,” said County Council President Craig L. Rice.

Annual school enrollment is growing at a rate that is threatening to halt residential development in parts of the county. Rice is concerned that Montgomery’s request for more school construction money could go nowhere, just like during the 2014 General Assembly.

“The reality is we can’t keep putting stuff in the [capital budget] if it’s not going to get funding,” said Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.

During the campaign, Democrats accused Gov.-elect Larry Hogan of believing school construction dollars constituted waste in the state budget.

But not everyone fears Hogan will put the kibosh on county priorities.

“I don’t know him, but I like what I’ve heard about him,” said Council Vice President George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park. “He seems like a practical person and it seems like we share a lot in common. Growing jobs and strengthening our economy are important to me, too. I’m very optimistic about working with the new governor.”

Montgomery’s transportation projects could face an uncertain future under a Hogan administration. The county pushed Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to make shovel-ready the Purple Line, a light rail connection between Bethesda and New Carrollton. Now that the project is ready to begin, the county is looking to Annapolis to foot a large portion of the construction bill.

Advocates at the Coalition for Smarter Growth believe Hogan will support the Purple Line because economic development is spurred by transit. Hogan’s campaign was laser-focused on economic development and jobs, said Alex Posorske, managing director of the coalition.

“If Larry Hogan is worried about Maryland losing jobs to Virginia then I can think of no better project to move forward then the Purple Line,” Posorske said. “We have faith when he says economic development is his number one focus.”

Councilman Marc B. Elrich was less confident because the Purple Line will not drive much economic development; most of the region it is planned to serve is developed.

“It’s unlikely the state is going to be a big partner in this unless we convince him it’s good for business,” said Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park.

However, other transit projects like the Corridor Cities Transitway — a 15-mile bus rapid transit line that will serve the upcounty — will drive development, Elrich said.

In addition to Hogan’s victory, Republicans on Tuesday added members in both chambers of the General Assembly. But in Montgomery, no Republican won a seat on the County Council or in the 32-member delegation to Annapolis.

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who was elected to a third term, said the incumbent victories affirm past work and show support for the vision for the future.

“I think the county has given us high marks for our financial management and sustainability, and that is reflected in the vote,” he said.

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