Updated 9:34 a.m. Wednesday: County Council member Nancy Floreen on Wednesday confirmed that she’s gearing up for an independent county executive run, a bid that will pit her against her council colleague, Marc Elrich.
Floreen, who has occupied an at-large seat on the council since 2002, last week filed paperwork declaring her intent to jump into the executive race. In a Wednesday press release, she stated that she’ll seek to run as a moderate candidate focused on attracting jobs to the county, expanding the tax base and providing housing for all.
“I am a candidate for County Executive–unexpectedly, I admit–because it would be a terrible loss for this county to fall into the sort of polarized posturing that has poisoned our national politics. That’s not my way. I want to get things done for all of us,” she said in a prepared statement.
Floreen said in a phone interview that Elrich and the Republican county executive nominee, attorney Robin Ficker, stand on opposite political extremes and that her candidacy offers a “real choice” to voters who are caught in the middle.
While walking her dog Wednesday morning, Floreen ran into a neighbor who wondered if she would have a candidate to support in the general election.
“That’s really the question I’m trying to answer for Montgomery County residents,” Floreen said.
She said her attention is on the petition drive at the moment and she didn’t want to delve into the details of her campaign or what sets her apart from Elrich.
But even before Wednesday’s news, Floreen had begun lobbing criticism in Elrich’s direction, telling Bethesda Beat in a recent interview that he has an anti-business attitude and his election as county executive would be “devastating for Montgomery County.”
Elrich said Sunday he and Floreen have often lined up on council votes, at least the ones that didn’t concern development.
“So if I’m going to be a disaster, I would assume she would be a disaster, too,” he said.
He didn’t immediately return a call requesting comment Wednesday.
Floreen’s fledgling campaign will face a few hurdles just getting her name onto the ballot.
The longtime Democrat reported Wednesday that she filed Monday to change her party registration to unaffiliated. But some have questioned whether Floreen was allowed to turn in paperwork declaring an independent run July 2, while she was still registered as a Democrat.
Maryland elections officials have advised the local Board of Elections to accept Floreen’s initial filing. The local board is scheduled to discuss the issue Monday.
State law also requires her to collect signatures from at least 1 percent of Montgomery County’s eligible voters, meaning she’ll have to gather more than 6,400 names by Aug. 6.
Floreen’s announcement Wednesday stated that she is beginning to circulate nominating petitions.
By phone, she quipped that it will be a “piece of cake” to gather the requisite number of signatures before the deadline, later acknowledging it would be an “interesting challenge.”
“I’m very confident it can be worked out. We’ve had an outpouring of support from people who want to help,” she said.
Elrich on Sunday edged out businessman David Blair as the Democratic nominee for county executive in a nail-biter primary finish that came down to the final batches of absentee and provisional ballots. Blair has not said whether he will push for a recount in his 80-vote loss. He could file a recount petition within three days after the election results are certified, an action the local elections board is expected to take Monday.
“While we join those who eagerly await a definitive outcome to the County Executive race, we must respect the Montgomery County elections process and let the Board of Elections finish their comprehensive efforts toward Certification of the results,” Laura Evans Manatos, spokeswoman for the Blair campaign, wrote in a statement. “There is still a lot of work to be completed; the residents of Montgomery County deserve our collective patience in this very important undertaking.”
In her Wednesday statement, Floreen said she understands a ballot recount is likely.
She went on to note that a relatively small slice of the electorate was responsible for picking Elrich as the Democratic nominee.
“The critical interests of Montgomery County families are ill-served when any candidate can prevail with barely 29 percent of the one-third of Democrats who turned out, the Republicans who had no choice at all, and the county’s 150,000 independent voters who were prevented by law from voting in either contest. There is no mandate here,” she said.
If Floreen were elected, she would become the first female Montgomery County executive and would be the first non-Democrat to win the post in more than four decades.
She’ll have an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic county, but Elrich’s stance on development has distanced him from some members of his party.
Council President Hans Riemer earlier this week told the Bethesda Beat he would consider supporting Floreen if she launched an independent run. However, he wrote Wednesday in a Facebook post that he’d ultimately decided to back Elrich.
“Marc Elrich and I have been allies on many issues though we also have profound differences in our approach to progressive politics and the future of the County. He won the Democratic primary for County Executive and therefore I support him,” Riemer wrote.
Council member George Leventhal, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for county executive, said this week that he has always supported his party’s nominee but is weighing whether to back Elrich. Council member Craig Rice on Tuesday said he had no plans to take sides in a battle between his colleagues.
Other council members–Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, Roger Berliner and Nancy Navarro–said they will stand behind the Democratic party nominee.
When it comes to fundraising, Elrich has a significant head start over Floreen, who just opened a new campaign committee last week. Floreen said she’s not eligible to participate in the county’s public financing program because of her late entry into the race.
Elrich, who had about $60,000 in his campaign coffers as of July 2, has used the public financing option, which bars candidates from accepting contributions of greater than $150. Through this system, county executive candidates can receive up to $750,000 in matching public funds each election cycle.
Before her election to the council, Floreen was appointed to two terms on the county Planning Board and served as Garrett Park’s mayor. Floreen, 66, has twice acted as the council’s president and has spent eight years as chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. She is term-limited and cannot run for another four-year term on the council.
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