By Glynis Kazanjian
For 11 years, Neil Greenberger sat behind a desk at the Montgomery County Council Office Building in Rockville, talking about county policy and presenting the council’s side of the story as its legislative information officer.
Now Greenberger is running for the council himself as an at-large candidate and he’s not pulling any punches when it comes to discussing how he thinks the council needs to shape up.
“There’s been too much of telling people what they need and a lot less of listening to what voters want,” Greenberger said. “My campaign slogan is “Listening to Montgomery County for a change.” What a novel idea it is to listen to voters. This is what I would bring to the county.”
He is the only candidate to pledge not to raise property taxes above increases based on the inflation rate, and he wants to make sure that energy tax increases approved in 2010 are phased out as intended. Greenberger also believes that the council has been too slow to approve a crucial highway project and plan adequately for the growth they have approved in Clarksburg, Bethesda and Darnestown.
A former Washington Post sports editor and writer, Greenberger is running in a race with an unusual number of open seats due to newly imposed term limits. There are 25 candidates in the race.
Council not listening
Greenberger, a Damascus resident, said the twofold problem with the county council today is that taxes and are too high and elected officials are not listening.
“I have seen government from the inside at the council,” Greenberger said. “We don’t need more money. This county has plenty of money. We have plenty to get things done beyond the basics. We just need to spend it better. We have been spending it very poorly.”
His top campaign pledge is to keep property taxes from increasing above the county charter limit, which means a unanimous council vote by all nine members is required by law to take in more taxes than would happen under the rate of inflation. Greenberger has vowed not to be the ninth vote on the council, during his first term. (Watch Greenberger’s YouTube video.)
Another key issue for Greenberger is the way county planning decisions have shaped communities like Clarksburg, which grew by 30,000 to 40,000 people without adding one new lane for traffic, he said.
And during his commute, he’s seen rolling green fields and farms turn into suburban developments along Rt. 27, a five-mile road he travels to reach a 12-lane highway he uses every day.
Building a six-mile road between Gaithersburg Village and Clarksburg, known as the M-83, would ease that congestion, Greenberger said. It’s a plan that’s been on the county’s books for decades, but the county council has never moved it forward.
Greenberger said part of the problem is that too many of the at-large members on the council don’t live in areas they are supposed to represent. Three of the county council’s four at-large councilmembers – George Leventhal, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer, are all residents of Takoma Park, which is in the southeastern region of the county bordering Washington, D.C. and Prince George’s County. And At-Large Councilmember Nancy Floreen lives in Garrett Park.
The passage of term limits on a 2016 referendum forced three of the four at-large council members, one district councilmember and the county executive, out of office. Under the new law, elected county officials may only serve three consecutive four-year terms.
At-Large Councilmen Leventhal and Elrich and District 1 Councilman Roger Berliner, who are forced to leave their seats in 2018, are running for County Executive Ike Leggett’s term limited seat. At-Large Councilman Riemer is running for re-election. At-Large Councilwoman Floreen is not running for another office.
Incumbent: honored to serve
Leventhal, who has served on the Council since 2002, said it has been his honor to represent the entire county for the last 15 years. He’s currently serving in his fourth term.
“I am very sympathetic to the long commutes that my upcounty constituents face everyday,” Leventhal said. “I am encouraged that Gov. Hogan is talking about expanding capacity on 270. We need to have the county and the state work together to address the very real traffic congestion issues that are most severe in the upcounty.”
Leventhal says he has support in every part of the county – “upcounty, mid-county, down-county” in his race to become the next county executive.
Riemer did not return requests for comment. His re-election is widely anticipated.
“Many of the current at-large members have shirked their responsibilities to the entire county,” Greenberger said.
Citing projects in Eastern Montgomery County along Rt. 29, Bethesda and Darnestown, Greenberger said the county also approved those plans without any infrastructure.
“In Bethesda, they approved a plan for 20- and 30-story buildings with no new roads and reduced parking places,” Greenberger said. “Where are the people going to park? There are still people who still love their car. Nine people voting cannot change the culture of Montgomery County that has been built up for generations.”
As part of his tax reduction platform, Greenberger would like to roll back the energy tax increase, which increased revenues by 85% and was supposed to sunset two years after it was implemented in 2011.
“We have to modify it, at a minimum,” Greenberger said of the energy tax. “People have sort of forgotten about it. A lot of businesses have not. I know the council has because they have not brought it up for the last couple of years.”
On the nickel bag tax, Greenberger hinted he’d like to see it go referendum.
“If it was making a huge difference, that’s one thing, but the people who got it passed know there are just as many bags as there were 10 years ago,” Greenberger said.
He also wants to re-examine where speed cameras are placed, address long-standing gang problems and has concerns about waiting until 2024 to fully implement a $15 minimum wage.
To see a full list of the Montgomery County Council At-Large candidates, check out Montgomery Reporter’s 2018 candidates list – http://marylandreporter.com/2017/10/23/montgomery-county-candidates-list-for-local-state-and-federal-office/