Political Notes: More environmental endorsements in MoCo, details from a governor’s poll – Advice Eating

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) last June opposed Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s proposed plan to add toll roads to I-270, which would be built through a public-private partnership. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

A week after the Sierra Club endorsed businessman David T. Blair in the Democratic Montgomery County executive primary, an ad hoc group of environmentalists, including some Sierra Club veterans, has formed to support the man support, which Blair is trying to oust, incumbent Marc B. Elrich.

In a statement this week, the group Environmentalists for Marc Elrich (D) commended his “activism and leadership on environmental issues [that] goes back decades.”

The group cites, among other things, Elrich’s opposition to the Intercounty Connector Highway, his early advocacy for the Purple Line, his opposition to the county’s incinerator opening more than 20 years ago and his efforts to close it now, and his efforts to promote cosmetic use banning the use of pesticides, preserving urban tree canopies, and protecting forests and wetlands. Members also praise Elrich for the comprehensive climate plan that the district government is pursuing under his leadership.

“That’s why so many strong environmental activists are dismayed and angered by the Sierra Club’s endorsement of a pro-roads candidate over the long-time pro-transit environmental champion,” the group’s statement said.

It was signed by 75 Montgomery County residents who belong to local conservation, civic and environmental groups — including several former Sierra Club leaders.

In supporting Blair last week, local Sierra Club leaders said they were impressed by his policies, which include seeking to triple the county’s solar power generation; Expand Smart Growth policies, mainly by building more homes near subway stations; make the free Ride-On bus service permanent; and various proposals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the county. They also vehemently criticized Elrich’s objections to certain proposals for development near subway stations – plans he has described as giveaways for developers – arguing that the county is falling short of its ambitious climate goals.

That criticism brought back Anne Ambler, the former chair of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club for four years and a life member of the Sierra Club.

“I’m totally shocked by this misplaced endorsement,” she said. “Marc showed an outstanding performance in an extremely difficult time. No previous district executive has had to deal with directing the response to a deadly pandemic along with all the usual challenges. But Marc was also able to make progress in the fight against climate change. Among other things, he drove the financing of a huge electric charging depot and started to convert our RideOn fleet to clean renewable energy. And he was instrumental in passing important energy efficiency regulations for all buildings in the county.”

Elrich hailed the “remarkable activists, some of whom I’ve known and worked with for decades,” for the support.

“Together we have worked and will continue to work to protect the environment and protect our planet for future generations,” he said.

The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Blair has drawn some scrutiny, as the David and Mikel Blair Family Foundation lists the Sierra Club as one of its grantees on its website. The IRS website has no record of the foundation, but according to a Blair campaign spokesman, the foundation donated $2,000 to the national organization in 2017. However, David Sears, political chair of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery group, said the donation was not a factor in the club’s deliberations.

“Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter has never received any financial support from the Blair Foundation,” Sears said in a statement to Maryland Matters. “And at the time we conducted our County Executive confirmation process, neither the Maryland Chapter nor the Montgomery County Group were aware that the Blair Foundation had any relationship with the Sierra Club Foundation. Therefore, this was not included in the endorsement process.”

(Disclosure: The Blair Family Foundation donated $10,000 to Maryland Matters in 2020.)

The other Democrats running for the borough executive are Councilman Hans Riemer and Peter James, who works in the technology industry.

On Thursday night, the Sierra Club’s Montgomery group released more information about their decision to support Blair.

“The Sierra Club Montgomery County Group supports David Blair because we believe he is the best
Candidate who will be most successful in achieving our environmental goals,” the group wrote. “David Blair understands the urgency of tackling climate change and is leading a campaign on the issue
Plot.”

The club also praised Blair’s business background, suggesting it makes him uniquely equipped to meet his climate goals.

“While we do not typically commend business experience, we believe Mr. Blair’s track record as a leader is exactly what the district needs,” the statement said.

The Sierra Club also reiterated its criticism of Elrich and expressed admiration for Riemer’s achievements in clean energy and smart growth.

“In 2021, however, Mr. Riemer caught the Sierra Club by surprise and undermined our campaign when he led efforts to breathe new life into the governor’s stalled highway plan at the region’s Transportation Planning Committee,” the club wrote.

More on the endorsement front

In a related development, the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors announced Thursday that it has endorsed Blair in the Democratic county executive primary and Republican Montgomery County Chairman Reardon Sullivan in the GOP county executive primary.

“David believes the housing shortage is a critical challenge in our area,” the Realtors’ Group said in a statement. “He understands that rising costs and lagging homeownership rates by our younger generations are dragging down our local economies, and he stands ready to take action to reverse these troubling trends.”

The brokerage group also issued endorsements in the Democratic district council primary:

  • District 1: Councilor Andrew Friedson
  • District 2: Marilyn Balcombe
  • District 3: Councilor Sidney Katz
  • District 4: Amy Ginsburg
  • District 5: Brian Anleu
  • District 6: Natali Fani-González
  • District 7: Dawn Luedtke
  • At large: Councilor Gabriel Albornoz, Councilor Evan Glass, Scott Goldberg and Councilor Tom Hucker

In other news of support for Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Education Association on Thursday rescinded its support of Brandy Brooks, a candidate in the Democratic primary for general council seats. Brooks suspended her campaign for two weeks last month after a campaign worker accused her of creating a hostile work environment. Brooks has also since lost the support of local Democratic Socialists of America.

On Thursday, the teachers union announced that it was adding Albornoz to the list of candidates it had already endorsed in the running-at-large race: Glass, Councilor William O. Jawando, and Laurie-Anne Sayles, former Gaithersburg City Councilman.

Poll: Voters didn’t follow Dem’s gubernatorial primary in early April

An opinion poll conducted last month found that for the most part, Democratic voters were not focused on the July 19 gubernatorial primary, nor did they know much about the candidates.

The poll, conducted by supporters of former Obama Education Secretary John B. King Jr. (D), also found that while some voters may have a preferred candidate, they still weigh their options and end up voting for someone else could. Almost 40 percent were undecided.

The survey was conducted April 2-5 by Change Research, a firm hired by For The People MD, a PAC supporting King. The poll polled 886 Democrats who said they had at least a 50-50 chance of voting in the primary.

“Voters have not engaged with this race for more than three months,” pollster Stephen Clermont wrote in an April 9 memo accompanying the poll. “Only 23% gave a lot of thought to elementary school, compared to 42% who gave only some thought and 35% who gave little or no thought.”

Clermont said that 62% of Democrats who expressed “a first choice preference” said they were “open to voting for another candidate.”

In the poll’s first poll, Comptroller Peter Franchot led the way with 20% of the vote, followed by former nonprofit executive Wes Moore with 13%, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III with 10%, former US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez with 7%, former Attorney General Doug Gansler with 5% and King with 3%.

The pollsters then provided the candidates’ current and previous titles and asked voters which candidates they would “consider” based on their identifier.

Almost half (49%) said they would be willing to consider Franchot, 48% said they would be willing to consider Perez, 31% said they would be willing to consider King, 27% would be willing to consider Baker and Gansler, and 26% said they would consider Moore.

The poll has an error rate of 3.7 percentage points, according to the memo.

The campaign hopes to use the poll to convince potential donors that King has strong potential despite his low ranking in most recent polls.

“Despite the lack of paid communications to date, as voters learn more about John King Jr. and his commitment to education, his support grows and he becomes a leading candidate,” Clermont wrote.

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