The year in Montgomery County government and politics started with the launch of political campaigns for the 2022 election cycle and concluded with the first 11-member council being sworn in.
In between, the entire Planning Board resigned, a controversial general master plan was adopted and a recount in the Democratic primary showed the incumbent county executive edged out a deep-pocketed challenger by just 32 votes.
Here, as determined by Bethesda Beat, are the top 11 stories of power and politics in 2022:
11. President Joe Biden rallies Rockville before general election
The president visited a packed gymnasium at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, in an effort to get Democrats to vote in the general election in November.
Then-candidate-for-governor Wes Moore and other prominent Democrats also spoke at the event. Biden told those gathered that it was important for residents to vote for candidates who shared their values and cherish democracy.
10. UM, county officials sign $40M deal for health computing center in North Bethesda
Economic development was a key issue for many on the campaign trail for county elections this year. In November, County Executive Marc Elrich, other county officials and partners from the University of Maryland announced a $40 million agreement to establish a center that would focus on virtual and augmented reality, and connect with federal health institutions.
Elrich said the center would do work that “is of national significance,” and county officials said the project would be a game-changer for North Bethesda and the entire region.
9. Halting steps to address affordable housing needs
Outside of public safety and education, affordable housing was one of the most hotly debated topics during this election cycle. Several residents, many of them renters, have lamented that finding a reasonably priced place to live in the county — whether to rent or own — is extremely difficult.
Elrich and the County Council made a historic investment in this year’s budget to try and address the issue. But critics say far more needs to be done.
8. Firearm use prohibited within 100 yards of many public places
The County Council, in light of more violent crime and shootings countywide during the past year, passed a bill that prohibits firearm use within 100 yards of multiple types of public spaces, including parks, places of worship, schools and several others.
Then-County Council President Gabe Albornoz, who helped spearhead the legislation, said that it was greatly needed to reduce the level of gun violence in the community. But gun rights advocates have sued the county, saying it goes against the Second Amendment and recent Supreme Court rulings.
7. Dobbs ruling has multiple impacts on county
When a draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision was leaked, Americans learned that the Supreme Court was set to overturn the precedent established in Roe v. Wade. Protesters took to the streets outside the Chevy Chase homes of Chief Justice John Roberts and justice Brett Kavanaugh. An armed man was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home and charged with a plot to assassinate the justice. The Supreme Court publicly complained to county leaders that security was insufficient, and that protests outside homes should not be allowed.
County leaders also set up a $1 million fund to support abortion services and attempted to lure businesses to move to the county because of its abortion-rights environment.
6. Aruna Miller, former delegate from Montgomery County, elected lieutenant governor
Aruna Miller, originally from India but a longtime Montgomery County resident, was elected as Maryland’s next lieutenant governor in November. Miller, a Darnestown resident, served in District 15 in the House of Delegates from 2011 to 2019. She also worked for years in various roles in the county’s Department of Transportation.
In an interview with Bethesda Beat in November, she highlighted the importance of transportation, education and reproductive rights as she and Moore begin work in January.
5. Future uncertain for I-270, I-495 toll lanes, replacement for American Legion bridge
An ongoing debate about how to relieve traffic along Interstate 270 and parts of I-495 will continue into Moore’s administration, as Gov. Larry Hogan extended the deadline for the contractor of the project.
Hogan’s proposal included replacing the American Legion Bridge and widening parts of I-495 and I-270 with two toll lanes in both directions. Supporters say it’s a viable solution to relieving some of the worst traffic congestion in the country. Opponents say it would be detrimental to the environment and not lead to actual relief in the long-term.
It appeared the project would cross the finish line, as it gained federal approval and a contractor was selected. But Hogan announced in November that the contractor’s deadline would be extended, meaning it’s in the hands of Moore — someone who has gone on record opposing the current structure of the project.
4. Thrive Montgomery 2050 sets a course for development in coming years
In October, the 19th County Council took one of its last critical votes, approving Thrive Montgomery 2050.
Thrive, the county’s general master plan, covers everything from future housing needs, economic development challenges, preserving county parks, and racial equity and social justice concerns. A consultant was hired to do more outreach on the last topic.
The plan was heavily debated. Supporters said it was a much-needed update for a county that has changed dramatically since the Wedges and Corridors plan was approved in the 1960s. Opponents said that it would further gentrify communities and displace long-time residents countywide. Elrich was one critic, but the council passed the plan over his objections.
3. The 20th County Council is sworn in with a record 11 members
Earlier this month, the first 11-member County Council in Montgomery County’s history was sworn into office. A ballot question, approved by voters in 2020, meant that the size of the council grew from nine to 11 members — from five to seven districts, and four at-large positions representing the entire county.
Political observers have noted the historic diversity of the current council — a majority of women (six out of 11), along with greater racial and ethnic diversity. Evan Glass, as a gay man, is the first LGBTQ council member to serve as council president.
Observers also note that the new council likely represents a greater range of ideological views — with one of the first examples being a debate about whom to elect as the council’s vice president. Andrew Friedson was ultimately unanimously elected.
2. In historic rematch, Elrich edges David Blair by 32 votes
In 2018, Elrich beat business David Blair by 77 votes in a six-candidate Democratic primary for county executive. Four years later, the two faced off again in the primary, alongside County Council Member Hans Riemer and Peter James, a tech CEO.
Blair spent a considerable amount of his own money in both 2022 and 2018. This year, he spent over $6.3 million; in 2018, he spent around $5.4 million.
The results in 2022 were even closer. After tens of thousands of mail-in ballots took weeks to count, Elrich topped Blair by 35 votes. After Blair requested a recount that lasted multiple days, Elrich eventually emerged victorious by 32 votes, earning a second term in the county’s top political office.
1. First, a full bar. Then the entire Planning Board resigns.
The county’s Planning Board has been making headlines since September.
That’s when an inspector general report for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission — the bi-county commission for Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — revealed that Casey Anderson, the county’s former Planning Board chair, had a full bar of alcohol in his office, violating commission policy.
Soon after, Anderson was accused of vulgar and inappropriate language in the workplace. After Planning Director Gwen Wright defended Anderson in an interview with WJLA, the Planning Board met in closed session and voted to fire Wright.
Less than a week later, the county’s entire Planning Board — consisting of Anderson, vice chair Partap Verma, and three other members — resigned after the County Council said it lost confidence in the board.
Anderson and Verma have specifically been at odds since that mass resignation. After a published news report revealed that the commission’s inspector general was investigating Verma over alleged ethics violations (which he denies), Verma and Carol Rubin, a former planning board commissioner, made serious accusations at a state legislative public hearing earlier this month.
Verma accused Anderson of keeping investigations by the commission’s inspector general open, when they should have been finished or closed. Anderson would likely have used the information against people later, Verma claimed. Rubin alleged that the County Council did not follow local or state law when asking the Planning Board to resign.
The commission’s inspector general then denied Verma’s allegations, as did Anderson.
Alongside these events, there is ongoing debate about a pair of bills proposed by State Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Dist. 17) that would shift many of the county’s land use powers from the legislative branch to the executive branch.
Supporters of the legislation, including Elrich, say they are needed to reform the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, a nearly 100-year-old agency, in order to better serve developers and county residents.
But opponents of the bills, including County Council Member Friedson (D-Dist. 1), called them a “power grab.”
The commission’s inspector general continues to investigate some of the matters during the past several months.