Former five-term Kensington Mayor Peter Fosselman has become the first candidate to jump into what could become a crowded 2018 Democratic primary field for the open District 1 County Council seat.
The current District 1 incumbent, Roger Berliner, is barred by last year’s term-limit referendum from running for a fourth term next year, and among at least three current council members considered likely to run for county executive instead.
Fosselman, who served from 2011-2015 as a deputy secretary of state under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, for several months also had mulled a bid for county executive—which will be vacated by the retirement of incumbent Ike Leggett next year. Asked Friday during a telephone interview what had prompted him to run for council instead, Fosselman said, “I met with several people and listened to what they had to say—and, at the same time, there are so many other people out there considering running for executive that [the] County Council looked more attractive.”
Noting that District 1 “has the most municipalities in it” of any of the county’s five council districts, Fosselman said his municipal background made him a good fit for the district.
“Having been president of the mayors’ association, I’m very familiar with the different cities and towns,” said Fosselman, who served as president of the Maryland Mayors’ Association in 2015-2016—the last of his 10 years as Kensington’s mayor. While the population of District 1 is concentrated in the Bethesda/Chevy Chase area, the district also encompasses the area adjacent to the Potomac River all the way north to the Frederick County line.
Fosselman, an urban planner by profession, is currently planning coordinator for Montgomery County’s White Oak Science Gateway project, and intends to remain in that post while he pursues a council race. “I’ve had a discussion with the powers that be, including the county attorney,” Fosselman said, adding he had been advised that his bid for elected office does not present a conflict of interest “especially running in District 1.” The White Oak Gateway project is located in the eastern portion of the county, outside of District 1.
Fosselman’s move to run for a council seat comes just weeks after Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac acknowledged that he is seriously exploring a run for county executive in 2018. Trone gained wide name recognition from his second-place finish last year for the District 8 Democratic congressional nomination, while spending a record $13.4 million of his personal fortune on that contest.
As such, Trone’s entry into the executive race could serve to clear the field of candidates except for the three term-limited council members—Berliner and at-large members Marc Elrich and George Leventhal—who seem certain to run.
While Trone, in public comments to date, has been highly critical of the current council, Fosselman has taken a more tempered view. “I do believe the county is looking for a fresh face, and there are several candidates, including me, who are sort of fresh faces in terms of county-level offices,” he observed late last year, while adding that last November’s 70 percent to 30 percent vote in favor of term limits “was a clear message from a majority of the voters that they’re looking for some change.”
But he also added: “Credit has to be given to the County Council. There have been a lot of great things this council and councils in the past have done for the county. To throw one blanket over all of them and say they’re bad council members or they haven’t done anything good or are taking the county in the wrong direction may not necessarily be fair.”
While Fosselman is the first District 1 council candidate to firmly declare his intentions, at least two other prospective contenders—state Del. Al Carr of Kensington and Andrew Friedson of Bethesda, currently a senior adviser to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot—have publicly indicated they are looking at a run for either District 1 or an at-large council seat. State Del. Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington, a District 1 resident, is also known to be considering a run for council.
In addition, Del. Ariana Kelly of Bethesda is in the mix, although sources said she is more likely to seek re-election to a third term in the General Assembly. Another Bethesda-based state legislator, Del. Marc Korman, last month opted to run for re-election after seriously exploring a bid for the District 1 council seat.
Fosselman said Friday that he does not plan to tap into the county’s new public financing system in his bid for council, and has already scheduled five fundraisers to bring in campaign funding through traditional means. “I think the county is still ironing out some of the issues of public financing, and [County Executive] Leggett recently said at one of his budget forums that he doesn’t think there’s enough money to go around,” Fosselman said. He added that those counseling him on fundraising “have advised me that, right now, with so many unknowns in the public financing system, that it’s just better” to go the traditional route.
If elected, Fosselman would be the first openly gay member elected to the council, although the county’s state legislative delegation currently has three openly gay members. Asked if he expected this to be a factor in next year’s campaign, Fosselman said: “I don’t think it’s a strong factor. It certainly is not a negative; if anything, it indicates additional diversity, which is a real asset in Montgomery County. We thrive from the diversity.”