Marylanders deserve better than Duncan

Nov. 10, 2005, midnight | By Jordan Fein | 18 years, 3 months ago

Montgomery County Executive catered to special interests rather than to his constituents

To reclaim the governorship, Maryland Democrats need to unite behind a strong candidate. County Executive Doug Duncan, who announced his candidacy last month, is the wrong choice, because he has worked harder for real estate developers than for the county's citizens.

During his 2002 county executive re-election campaign, Duncan received an unprecedented $770,000 from development interests, according to the Neighbors for a Better Montgomery web site. Duncan also channeled funding to a group of five aggressively pro-growth County Council candidates dubbed the "End Gridlock slate," who believed that somehow, more economic growth and road-building would solve traffic problems. In total, Duncan and his "End Gridlock" team received $1.7 million from developers.

Former County Council President Blair Ewing, who considered opposing Duncan in the 2002 county executive primary, said that Duncan's money from developers would have made defeating him "virtually impossible." Ewing decided instead to run for re-election with a slate of County Council candidates committed to responsible growth. Ewing lost, and all five of Duncan's candidates won, in addition to one Republican, Howard Denis. Over the following four years, Denis joined the "End Gridlock" team in dismantling growth controls and forcing county residents to pay the price for increased development.

Doug Duncan speaks with reporters on Oct. 20 in Rockville after declaring his candidacy for governor. He has been the Montgomery County Executive for 11 years. Photo courtesy of Duncan.

Developers expected returns on their investments, and Duncan did not disappoint. With his help, in 2003 the six pro-growth candidates on the County Council eliminated all ceilings on growth and development in Montgomery County. They ended requirements that held developers responsible for additional transportation costs arising from development, depriving the county of $30 million in revenue.

Duncan and his six council members did not stop there. They enacted a new tax on developers that under-funds school and road maintenance by $50 million per year, according to Neighbors for a Better Montgomery. As Ewing said, "Duncan bound himself to developers and does their bidding," even if the result, as in this case, is $80 million less for other initiatives.

Instead of making developers pay for the cost of development, the County Council has sent the bill to its residents. For the past three years, the Council has voted to override the Charter Limit, a restriction barring the Council from raising property taxes more than is needed to compensate for inflation. County residents saw their property taxes increase $37 million over the Charter Limit.

Expect Duncan to boast about his record of working for the health and well-being Montgomery County residents during his campaign. But when he does, remember the $80 million lost annually due to removed restrictions and decreased taxation on developers.

Duncan has also supported his friends in the restaurant lobby. In 1999, the Montgomery County Community Partnership, founded by former County Executive Neal Potter, laid the groundwork for a smoking ban in county restaurants. A bill was proposed by Councilmen Phil Andrews (D) and Tom Perez (D), neither of whom are members of Duncan's posse. According to an article in The Takoma Voice, the County Council was forced to call itself the "Board of Health" to validate its support of the ban and avoid a Duncan veto. After the Council passed the ban, the restaurant lobby sued and won. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the County Council acted inappropriately when it voted as the Board of Health without Duncan's consent. Two years later, the Partnership, which had been receiving $174,000 yearly from the county since 1995 for consultation and services on substance abuse and smoking issues, saw its funding disappear from Duncan's budget.

However, county residents will be glad to know that until the ban passed with a veto-proof 8-1 margin four years later, Duncan had good reason to expose them to carcinogenic second-hand smoke. According to Bobbie Walten of Common Cause Maryland, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization, Duncan had received $16,000 in campaign contributions from the restaurant lobby. Takoma Voice columnist Mike Tabor commented that Duncan's acceptance of special interest funds for campaigns often forces him to "walk the line" between what is best for the county and what benefits special interest groups. In this case, the "line" is nowhere in sight.

Don't expect Duncan to change during his run for governor. According to The Washington Post, he has already collected $127,000 from developers for his campaign. So far, the money doesn't seem to be helping. An Oct. 21 poll conducted by Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies found Democratic frontrunner Martin O'Malley leading Republican governor Robert Ehrlich by six points. The same poll found that were Duncan to win the Democratic nomination, he would be in a dead heat with the governor.

In search of a boost in the polls, the Duncan campaign went negative. According to The Washington Post, the campaign released a dispatch on Sept. 26 criticizing O'Malley for Baltimore's high homicide rate and under-performing students. However, according to statistics released by the FBI, the mayor decreased the violent crime rate 40 percent from 1999 to 2003. Additionally, The Baltimore Sun reported that in 2005, the city's students showed an improvement in Maryland State Assessment test scores. Not only is Duncan wrong to focus on Baltimore's struggles rather than his own record, but he is also wrong on the facts.

The Duncan campaign sunk even lower when it released a flier entitled "Martin O'Malley: The Boy in the Band," which accused O'Malley of "strumming the night away" in his Irish rock band while murders were occurring in Baltimore. Duncan should be ashamed of his flagrant dirty politics.

Duncan's record has made one thing clear for next fall's democratic gubernatorial primary: A vote for him is a vote wasted on a man who has failed his constituents as county executive.

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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