Political Notes: More Environmental Endorsements in MoCo, Details From a Gubernatorial Poll
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) spoke last June against Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s proposed plan for widening I-270 with toll roads that would be built through a public-private partnership. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

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

In a statement this week, the group, Environmentalists for Marc, praised Elrich (D) for 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 opening the county’s incinerator more than 20 years ago and his efforts to shut it down now, as well as his efforts to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides, to preserve the urban tree canopy, and to protect forests and wetlands. The members also praise Elrich for the comprehensive climate plan that the county government is pursuing under his administration.

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

It is signed by 75 Montgomery County residents who are affiliated with local conservation, civic and environmental groups — including several former leaders of the Sierra Club.

In endorsing Blair last week, local Sierra Club leaders said they were impressed by his policy prescriptions, which include seeking to triple solar generation in the county; expanding Smart Growth policies, mainly by building more housing near Metro stations; making free Ride-On bus service permanent; and various proposals to achieve net-zero carbon emissions in the county. They also vehemently criticized Elrich’s objection to certain proposals for development near Metro stations — plans that he has characterized as giveaways to developers — and they argued that the county is falling short of its ambitious climate goals.

Those criticisms brought pushback from Anne Ambler, the former chair of the Montgomery County chapter of the Sierra Club for four years and a lifetime Sierra Club member.

“I am totally shocked by this misplaced endorsement,” she said. “Marc has performed exceedingly well in an extremely difficult time. No previous county executive has had to deal with directing the response to a deadly pandemic along with all the usual challenges. Yet Marc also managed to make progress on addressing climate change. Among his accomplishments, he leveraged financing for a huge electric charging depot and began shifting our RideOn fleet to clean renewable energy. And he was instrumental in passing important energy efficiency rules for all buildings in the county.”

Elrich hailed the “remarkable activists, some of whom I have known and worked with for decades,” for the endorsement.

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

The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Blair has drawn some scrutiny because the David and Mikel Blair Family Foundation lists the Sierra Club as one of its grantees on its website. The IRS website contains no records of the foundation, but according to a Blair campaign spokesperson, the foundation donated $2,000 to the national organization in 2017. But David Sears, the political chair of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery group, said the contribution wasn’t a factor in the club’s deliberations.

“Sierra Club, Maryland Chapter has never received any financial contributions from the Blair Foundation,” Sears said in a statement to Maryland Matters. “And at the time of doing our County Executive endorsement process, neither the Maryland Chapter nor the Montgomery County Group was aware that the Blair Foundation had any relationship with the Sierra Club Foundation. Therefore this did not factor into the endorsement process.”

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

The other Democrats running for county executive are Councilmember Hans Riemer and Peter James, who works in the tech industry.

On Thursday evening, the Sierra Club’s Montgomery group released more information about its decision to endorse Blair.

“The Sierra Club Montgomery County Group endorses David Blair because we believe he is the
candidate who will be most successful in achieving our environmental goals,” the group wrote. “David Blair understands the urgency of addressing climate change and is running a campaign dedicated to
action.”

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

“While we do not normally laud business experience, we believe that Mr. Blair’s track record of executive leadership is exactly what the County needs,” the statement said.

The Sierra Club also reiterated its criticisms of Elrich, and expressed admiration for Riemer’s record on clean energy and Smart Growth.

“However, in 2021, Mr. Riemer blindsided the Sierra Club and undermined our campaign when he led the effort to breathe life back into the stalled Governor’s highway plan at the region’s Transportation Planning Board,” 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 county executive Democratic primary, and Montgomery County Republican Chair Reardon Sullivan in the GOP primary for county executive.

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

The Realtor group also issued endorsements in the Democratic primaries for county council:

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

In other Montgomery County endorsement news, the Montgomery County Education Association rescinded its endorsement Thursday of Brandy Brooks, a candidate in the Democratic primary for the at-large council seats. Brooks suspended her campaign for two weeks last month after being accused by a campaign worker of creating a hostile workplace environment. Brooks has since lost the endorsement of the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter as well.

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

Poll: Voters weren’t tracking Dem gubernatorial primary in early April

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

The survey, conducted by supporters of former Obama education secretary John B. King Jr. (D), also found that while some voters may have a favored candidate, they’re still weighing their options and could end up casting ballots for someone else. Nearly 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 surveyed 886 Democrats who reported having at least a 50-50 chance of casting a ballot in the primary.

“With more than three months to go, voters have not engaged with this race,” pollster Stephen Clermont wrote in an April 9 memo accompanying the survey. “Just 23% have given a lot of thought to the primary compared to 42% who have only given some thought to it and 35% who have given little or no thought.”

Clermont said that 62% of Democrats who expressed “an initial vote preference” said they are “open to voting for a different candidate.”

In the poll’s initial query, Comptroller Peter Franchot was the frontrunner, with 20% of the vote, followed by former nonprofit executive Wes Moore at 13%, former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III at 10%, former U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez at 7%, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler at 5% and King at 3%.

Pollsters then supplied the candidates’ current and former titles and asked voters which candidates they would be willing to “consider,” based on their identifier.

Nearly 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 a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points, according to the memo.

The campaign hopes to use the survey to convince potential donors that King has a strong upside, despite his low standing in most current surveys.

“Despite the lack of paid communications so far, when voters learn more information about John King, Jr. and his commitment to education, his support grows and he becomes a leading contender,” Clermont wrote.

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