New Entry Heats Up Md. Executive Race
Ex-Montgomery Council Member Isiah Leggett 2nd to Seek Nod
By Tim Craig
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Former Montgomery County Council member Isiah Leggett ended
months of speculation yesterday and announced that he is running
for county executive next year, setting the stage for an intense
campaign that could dominate county politics for 20 months.
Leggett, 59, who was on the council from 1986 to 2002, sent a
letter to potential supporters yesterday saying he has the
vision, experience and character to succeed Douglas M. Duncan
(D), who is widely expected to run for governor.
If he won, Leggett would be the first black person to hold
the top elective office in Montgomery. The affluent suburb is
coping with an increasingly urban set of issues, including
affordable housing, immigration and social services.
"In our vibrant, wonderfully diverse county you know that we
have long-term critical issues requiring innovative approaches
for their resolution," wrote Leggett, who served as council
president in 1991, 1998 and 1999.
"I seek the opportunity to exercise my proven ability to help
stakeholders with divergent views reach consensus."
Leggett's entry into the race yesterday provoked a barbed
response from his only opponent so far for the Democratic
nomination, council member Steven A. Silverman (At-Large), who
has banked more than $600,000 for his bid.
"I welcome Ike into the race," Silverman said. "I hope he
will finally join me in supporting the [intercounty connector]
and the inner Purple Line and opposing slots as a tool to fund
Silverman's comment was a reference to Leggett's council
career, during which he never took a formal position on the
proposed connector that would link Montgomery and Prince
George's counties. He also has sent mixed signals on the
proposed Metro Purple Line that would connect Bethesda and New
Carrollton via Silver Spring.
Leggett, who recused himself from the highway debate because
he owns property along a proposed path, said positions on those
issues will be forthcoming.
Silverman, whose aggressive early fundraising pressured
Leggett into making his announcement months before he had
planned to do so, said he will exploit Leggett's silence on the
hot-button transportation issues. "These are the positions
anyone running for county executive are going to have to
address," Silverman said.
The quickly forming race has elected officials and community
activists scrambling to take sides.
Yesterday, Montgomery County Council President Tom Perez
(D-Silver Spring) announced his support for Leggett.
"I think he is exactly what the county needs," Perez said.
Silverman has strong support from the business community and
is hoping to shore up his support among the county's politically
active Jewish and minority communities. Former Montgomery
congressman Michael D. Barnes, who now heads the Brady Campaign
to Prevent Gun Violence, also has endorsed Silverman.
A former Army captain, Leggett is a lawyer who served as a
White House fellow during the Carter administration. For the
past 28 years, he has taught law at Howard University.
On the council, Leggett charted a moderate course on the
budget and taxes and was a champion for a living-wage law and
the ban on smoking in county bars and restaurants.
When he left the council in 2002 after being passed over as a
running mate by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Kathleen
Kennedy Townsend, Leggett became chairman of the Maryland
Leggett stepped down late last year, but his tenure could
become fodder for the Silverman campaign. Some Democrats said
Leggett wasn't assertive enough in challenging the policies of
Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., including the governor's
"I think he was very lethargic and very unimaginative," said
Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), a longtime Silverman
To the contrary, Leggett said, he helped lead the party out
of debt and, despite the loss of the governorship in 2002, win
every major race in 2004.
"If you look at it closely, that is an outstanding record in
a short amount of time," Leggett said.
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