Editor’s note: Bethesda Beat is publishing a series of stories highlighting local races for county, state and federal elected offices in the Nov. 8 general election. Today’s story focuses on County Council District 7.
In a new County Council district covering the northeastern part of Montgomery County, an assistant attorney general focusing on school safety, emergency management and hate crimes is facing off against an economist and financial analyst in the Nov. 8 general election.
Dawn Luedtke, 48, is the Democratic candidate for District 7, beating six other candidates in the July primary with nearly 36% of the vote. Harold Maldonado, 48, ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
District 7 is a new district created during the redistricting process last year. County voters approved a ballot question in 2020 that grew the size of the council from nine to 11 members — the number of districts increased from five to seven and at-large seats (serving the entire county) remained at four.
Luedtke and Maldonado are running in a district that includes Derwood, Olney, Ashton, Laytonsville and Damascus.
Luedtke, 48, is an assistant attorney general for Maryland and serves as counsel to the Maryland Center for School Safety, the Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center and the Active Assailant Interdisciplinary Work Group.
Maldonado, 48, is an economist and currently serves as a financial analyst for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a private company focused on ensuring fair investment markets nationwide.
In an interview, Luedtke pointed to economic development and public safety as two of the biggest issues raised by voters on the campaign trail. Maldonado said he decided to run after learning about the frustration experienced by many parents and teachers resulting from the restrictions imposed on schools and businesses by county officials during the coronavirus pandemic.
Luedtke and Maldonado agree the county’s agricultural reserve — of which a significant portion is in District 7 — must be a major part of future economic development efforts because of the number of farmers in the county and the need to shift that sector of the economy. Businesses in that area must be able to shift to agritourism and county officials need to aid in those efforts and provide assistance, whether through funding or regulatory expertise, they said.
Luedtke said the county needs to encourage economic development in the agricultural reserve, especially if market conditions are toughening and future generations don’t want to continue as farmers. County officials must consider outside-the-box solutions that allow farm owners and their families the freedom to try different economic ventures in order to make their land profitable in the future, she said.
The county also needs to reduce the demands of the permitting process for all businesses, Maldonado said.
“When you want to open a business, you fill out an application. That application requires a lot of paperwork, a lot of documentation. So … one of my goals is to reduce that by 50%,” Maldonado said. “So a lot of companies that want to invest in the county, one of the detriments that they see is those [county] regulations, aside from the high taxes as well, so they’d rather invest in Alexandria, Fairfax, Arlington [County], or Washington, D.C.”
The county also is facing challenges in providing enough affordable housing, including in District 7, Luedtke said. It’s becoming more difficult for older residents to downsize from their single-family homes into smaller condos, apartments and other properties because the supply isn’t there, she said.
Ultimately, county officials need to promote that accessory dwelling units, duplexes, triplexes and similar housing structures are part of the housing solution, including in more rural areas such as parts of District 7, Luedtke said.
“It needs a good PR message, right? Because I feel like, for as diverse as our county is, there are still a lot of folks here, for whom that concept is tinged with some kind of bias, shall we say,” Luedtke said. “And that’s unfortunate. I grew up in a multigenerational family and you know, most of the folks in our neighborhood had that kind of arrangement with their grandparents and stuff, and nobody thought anything of it. But there’s definitely pushback here in that it may be potentially something that is more prevalent in certain cultures than in others.”
Maldonado, however, thinks that any future growth needs to be more controlled. He believes that Thrive Montgomery 2050 — the county’s proposed update for its general master plan — forces urbanization in too many parts of the county, including in his district.
County officials have talked about providing affordable housing for at least two decades, but have not done enough to ensure current apartment complexes and buildings are safe to live in for working-class residents, he added. The quality of life for residents is declining in several communities with older buildings, Maldonado said, and certain measures need to be taken to assist them, such as freezing rent increases.
Maldonaldo said county officials also need to figure out where to prioritize upgrading the county’s infrastructure, including roads and water and sewer systems, to combat the effects of climate change. He also believes officials should be continually examining all of the assumptions that go into county studies and assessments involving climate change.
It’s difficult to know which infrastructure should be improved first until reaching out to communities to find out where the issues are, he said.
Luedtke agreed the county’s infrastructure needs updating — specifically the many roads in District 7 that easily wash over with any significant amount of rainfall. The county needs to be aggressive in improving infrastructure because major flooding incidents are not rare anymore, she added.
That’s important not only because of the need to improve infrastructure, but also for preparing food and supply distribution to connect to communities in a time of distress, Luedtke said.
In a county where Democrats hold a voter registration edge to Republicans of about 4 to 1, Luedtke said she’s confident she will win, but she’s not taking anything for granted. She said she has been commended by organizations and residents statewide for her work as an assistant attorney general.
“There are folks that I’ve been able to work with from Garrett County to Somerset County who will say thank you and who have said thank you,” Luedtke said. “I do the work and I sought this office to do the work.”
Maldonaldo said he understands his odds of winning the election, but he believes many residents want a fresh perspective in local government, which is something that he and other local Republicans can provide.
“They want fresh leadership,” he said. “And I and my other GOP colleagues are the new blood of the GOP party. We’re here, we are passionate about being residents, we’re passionate about loving this county, and we have skin in the game.”
Early voting for the general election is Oct. 27 through Nov. 3. Mail-in ballots can be cast through the mail or at more than 50 ballot drop boxes countywide.