County Executive Marc Elrich (D) and the 20th County Council were sworn in for a four-year term at The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on Monday.
Elrich and county officials lauded the occasion, noting the historical significance of incoming lawmakers.
In his remarks to hundreds of people gathered, County Council President Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large) said that the new council was incredibly diverse, racially and ethnically. Six incoming women also make up a majority of the new 11-member council — women haven’t made up a majority since the 1980s, Albornoz said. The council grew from nine to 11 members because of a ballot issue that voters passed in 2020.
The new council shows that the voter base in Montgomery County is changing to represent a more diverse population, Albornoz said. Elrich agreed but said that the diversity perhaps even exceeds the expectations of many political insiders and experts in the county.
“And for the skeptics that didn’t think that would happen, it happened,” Elrich said.
Officials highlighted the diverse makeup of the County Council:
- Six of the 11 members are women, and those six are newcomers.
- Kristin Mink is the first Asian-American to sit on the council
- Laurie-Anne Sayles is the first Black woman to be elected to an at-large council seat
- Evan Glass, the incoming Council President, will be the first LGBTQ member to hold that seat
Albornoz and Elrich also highlighted the county’s successes during the coronavirus pandemic — including the county’s high vaccination rates among residents, which they said, among other things, saved lives. There have been 2,241 COVID-19 deaths countywide — a number including probable deaths, according to the Maryland Department of Health. That’s a much lower death rate per population than other large communities countywide, Elrich said.
Elrich highlighted four priorities for the upcoming term: adding affordable housing, combating climate change, priortizing racial equity, and growing the county’s economy.
The county executive said it will be important to work with the new council on updating the county’s moderately priced dwelling unit program, along with implementing some form of rent stabilization.
County officials also need to focus on continuing the work of the Climate Action Plan, the county’s racial equity and social justice policy, and furthering economic development — notably the biohealth industry and other related fields, Elrich said.
Elrich added that he’s excited to work with the incoming state leaders: Gov.-elect Wes Moore (D), Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller (D) — who was present and spoke at Monday’s inauguration, Comptroller-elect Brooke Lierman (D) — and Attorney General-elect Anthony Brown (D).
This “new slate of leaders” fundamentally understands the importance of the county’s position in the state — when Montgomery County succeeds, the state succeeds, Elrich said.
The second-term county executive also paid tribute to his predecessor, Ike Leggett, who served from 2006 to 2018.
“When you talk about equity and inclusion, you have to talk about Ike Leggett and the role that he played in broadening the table of Montgomery County,” Elrich said. “So, I take no credit for inventing the path, I’m just traveling on it.”
As first council begins work, a new political picture takes shape
Even as the new council begins work in Rockville on Tuesday, there will be room for greater debate on several issues, political observers have noted.
Ken Hartman, director of strategic partnerships in Elrich’s office, is often seen at council meetings and is tasked with bridging communication gaps between the two branches, including on legislation.
Hartman said Monday marked change for multiple reasons. One thing is that the inauguration occurred in District 4 instead of District 1 in 2018, thanks to the new County Council district map, he said.
Also, concerning vote counting on potential split votes, a district council member can no longer rely on all four at-large votes to secure a bill’s passage, Hartman said. That’s because there are now seven districts instead of five, meaning six votes are needed to pass a bill.
As there are seven districts instead of five, each district council member will have a chance to serve a smaller area, Hartman said. Issues could become more localized in some aspects, he added.
There’s also the question about whether current policy areas will be addressed in the coming months — including affordable housing and rent stabilization.
Matt Losak, executive director of the county’s Renters Alliance, said that those issues are on the minds of newcoming council members.
“I’m an old-fashioned constituent, I believe in cash and carry … the store window looks good, but we’ll see what the price is,” Losak said about rent stabilization or similar policies getting through the County Council in the coming months.
Laurie-Anne Sayles, an at-large Council Member, said there’s going to be a “more robust debate” on many issues facing the council. Each of the 11 members has their own lived experiences, she said.
“This is a historic moment, but I’m not going to let it distract us from the work ahead,” Sayles said.
Part of that work tomorrow is electing new council officers. Council Vice President Evan Glass (D-at-large) is poised to ascend to the council presidency, as is council tradition.
But it’s still unclear who would become council vice president. Council Members Andrew Friedson (D-District 1) and Will Jawando (D-At-large) are the lone returning members who have not held a leadership role.
Many political observers note that Friedson represents a more moderate view of the council on several issues, while Jawando typically is on the progressive wing. Neither said in recent interviews whether they were going to become vice president.
Jawando admitted on Monday that there would be “growing pains” with new council members coming on board but added that any increased debate on legislative matters would be positive, and lead to better policies.
“I will say we have the most diverse council sworn in [ever] … and I think our leadership should reflect that,” Jawando said.
The new County Council is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday in Rockville.