Potomac businessman David Blair formally kicked off his campaign for Montgomery County executive Sunday.
Blair, a lifelong county resident running as a Democrat, said in an interview with Bethesda Beat Sunday morning that he would like to narrow the divide between the “haves and have nots” if elected in 2018.
“We’re still a great county that has tremendous assets and a real solid foundation that [current County Executive] Ike Leggett has put in place,” Blair said. “But I have a vision to take Montgomery County to the next level.”
Leggett is not running for a fourth term. Blair is one of six Democrats and one Republican trying to succeed him in next year’s election. Blair’s decision to enter the race ends months of speculation about whether he would run.
Blair, 48, is a health care entrepreneur. He was the CEO of Catalyst Health Solutions, a public prescription drugs benefits company that his father, Thomas Blair, co-founded. Catalyst was sold in 2012 for $4.4 billion. David Blair reportedly made $16 million from the deal.
Blair is running for elected office for the first time. He is pursuing the Democratic nomination against County Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and George Leventhal, as well as Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda) and former Rockville Mayor Rose Krasnow. Republican Robin Ficker is also running.
Blair’s father, Thomas, briefly ran as the Republican nominee in a 1988 U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, but withdrew during the summer before the election, citing the “intense pressures of personal and business events.”
David Blair said he doesn’t remember much about his father’s Senate run because he was in college at the time. He received a degree in finance and accounting from Clemson University.
Asked if he’s always been a registered Democrat, Blair responded, “I believe so. I believe that’s a true statement.”
However, Maryland Board of Elections voter information indicates Blair was a registered Republican before he switched his registration to the Democratic Party in 2003.
Asked about that, Blair responded, “I don’t remember that. That could be accurate. … That could be.”
“Let me just try to rack my brain,” Blair said, when asked about why he switched parties. “I’m trying to remember who was president back then. I guess in the late ’90s, I wasn’t very politically active. I was starting my business and focused on getting married and raising a family and so it probably wasn’t until around that time, maybe the late ’90s, when I started becoming aware of what was happening nationally and locally and it was pretty clear my values aligned with the Democrats and not with the Republicans.”
Blair said that while growing up, his family was fiscally conservative, but “supportive of social services in Montgomery County.”
“As a kid growing up, that’s where we focused a lot of our time—that was kind of our weekend projects,” Blair said.
Blair’s father is a serial entrepreneur who co-founded the former Maryland consulting firm Jurgovan & Blair. Thomas Blair’s business partners included Ross Perot and he told The Roanoke Star he’s friends with former Secretary of State Colin Powell and a member of the elite Alfalfa Club.
Thomas Blair co-founded Catalyst in 1998 and helped take it public in 1999.
David Blair said he got his start at the company after working at United Payors, United Providers (UP&UP), a health services business Thomas Blair founded in 1995 that was sold for $580 million in 2000.
David Blair said he worked with former UP&UP President Edward Civera to launch Catalyst. Blair was in his late-20s when the company launched and initially served as the chief financial officer.
When asked about his father’s role in Catalyst, Blair said Catalyst was an affiliated company of UP&UP.
“He was certainly part of it. What’s that thing, success has many fathers, right, failure is an orphan, something like that,” Blair said. “So my guess is he certainly played a part in the founding of Catalyst. He was by my side in the early days.”
Since the Catalyst sale, Blair has worked as the executive chairman of Accountable Health, which invests in health care technology startups.
He has also been involved with the pro-business group Empower Montgomery in the county. He said, “It’s one of the groups of people? I’ve met with.”
“I spent time with the group to understand what their perspectives are,” Blair said. “They’re big proponents of open primaries and they also really encourage folks to vote.”
When told he has been publicly referred to as a co-founder of the group, Blair said he contributed money.
“I would not consider myself a co-founder of that group, no,” Blair said.
Empower Montgomery’s website lists him as one of the founders of the group, along with Washington Property Co. President Charles Nulsen and former County Council member Steve Silverman. The website states the group aims to promote a political agenda focused on job growth, expanding the tax base, responsible government spending and improving transportation.
Blair said one of his goals will be to expand the tax base to increase county revenue. He noted that commercial property tax revenues have not grown in the county and he would like to turn that around through economic development.
“One of the ways to generate new revenue is through business,” Blair said. “We need more jobs here.”
He declined to take a position on the County Council’s decision last year to raise property and recordation taxes.
“There will be a lot of opportunities to talk about specific policies,” Blair said.
Later in the interview, he said he doesn’t believe raising taxes further would address the problems Montgomery County faces.
“I think we’ve raised taxes on average every two years for the last 16 years,” Blair said. “I don’t think that’s a formula that can work long-term.”
He plans to use traditional financing and self-funding to fund his campaign, rather than use the county’s new public financing system. He vowed not to take campaign contributions from PACs, corporations or special interests.
Blair and his wife, Mikel, have a blended family with six children. Blair and Mikel are the owners of the Rockville indoor playground Badlands, which opened in June.
The 2018 primary election is June 26 and the general election is Nov. 6.