By Jon Ward
The Washington Times
August 4, 2006
ROCKVILLE – Montgomery County Council member Steve Silverman is trying to make traffic the key issue in the race for county executive, but his opponent says he is running away from his record of supporting unsustainable growth.
"You need to invest in traffic congestion relief," said Mr. Silverman, a two-term, at-large Democrat from Silver Spring.
His opponent in the Democratic primary, Isaiah "Ike" Leggett, said Mr. Silverman cannot escape his position on growth.
"He's trying to confuse people about it," said Mr. Leggett, a former council member who says he wants to slow the county's pace of development.
The other candidates in the race are Robin Ficker, a lawyer and unaffiliated; Robert R. Fustero, a Democrat from Silver Spring who is retired; and Charles R. "Chuck" Floyd, a Republican from Kensington who is a federal-contract consultant.
Mr. Leggett supports construction of the Intercounty Connector and a Purple Line for Metro. Mr. Silverman said Mr. Leggett took no stand on the issues until he announced his candidacy.
Mr. Silverman was part of a group of Democratic candidates in 2002 pledging to "end gridlock." Critics say it was instrumental in easing restrictions on development in 2003.
The group was backed by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, and included council members Michael Subin, at-large; Nancy Floreen, at-large; George Leventhal, at-large; and Michael Knapp of Clarksburg.
They eliminated a policy that required developers to pay for roads and other infrastructure where they built homes.
Mr. Silverman led a move to increase taxes on new development, which critics said brought in far less revenue than the traffic-review policy.
Slow-growth proponents have criticized the "end gridlock" slate for taking large amounts of campaign donations from developers, and Mr. Leggett has criticized Mr. Silverman for taking what watchdog group Neighbors for a Better Montgomery say is $1 million in development interests.
Mr. Silverman had raised $1.4 million as of January, compared with Mr. Leggett's $362,757, of which about $75,000, or 21 percent, came from development interests, the watchdog group says.
"When you have such a disproportionate amount in a local race, and you have a direct government relationship with the people who provided the money, that's a direct concern," said Mr. Leggett, who has been endorsed by a majority of the council.
Mr. Silverman says his critics, including the watchdog group, have spent five years "demonizing the real estate community and anyone who takes a dollar from them."
"The real issue is what's our voting record," he said. "I have voted block development in the agricultural reserve. I have helped impose the largest impact tax on developers in the state of Maryland."
Mr. Silverman is touting an $80 million transportation package he announced with Mrs. Floreen this spring. He says it will help pay for state road projects in the county that have gone unfunded and unbuilt for years.
"We could sit in traffic for another decade or we could offer to pay for a portion" of the state projects," Mr. Silverman said.
Mr. Leggett has proposed paying for transportation projects by increasing the state gas tax from 23.5 cents to 35.5 cents a gallon.
"We're still waiting for the state to reimburse us on other things," he said. "It's a ridiculous position that [Mr. Silverman] is placing the county in," Mr. Leggett said. "He's allowed development to go forward faster, he's reduced their cost, he's eliminated their requirement to pay for transportation, and now he wants the citizens to pay for the impact of the growth he has caused, under the naive idea that he's going to leverage state dollars."