By: Hamza Khan
A remarkably diverse group of millennial activists from across Montgomery County met with County Executive Marc Elrich today over brunch. The meeting was called by local millennial blogger The MoCo Millennial in order to have Elrich offer an explanation for recent comments that were taken to be derisive by certain members of the County Council as well as local realtor & blogger Dan Reed. In particular, at-large councilmember Hans Reimer took issue with the comments, as did several letter writers to the Washington Post. Reimer and the letter writers are not millennials.
Elrich’s comments can be found on the blog, Just Up The Pike, which is run by Dan Reed. Reed is an accomplished millennial architect and local realtor. He also guest columns for The Washingtonian and is associated with the local pressure group, Greater Greater Washington.
Meeting of the Minds–And Soup
The brunch brought together activists from the Up, Mid, East, Down & West counties for what is being described of likely the “first of several” meetings with millennial activists by The MoCo Millennial.
Elrich offered a rose-colored glasses off approach in sharing the facts about the county’s precarious economic state, and the direction he believes its housing, rental and commercial real estate markets should be headed. Throughout the meeting, he calmly sipped on tomato soup while casually debunking myths about his hostility towards Millennials, minorities and renters.
Elrich’s meeting came on the heels of a seriously damaging report about Montgomery County’s economic viability and future position. The report itself was not mentioned by name, but several of those in attendance cited facts and figures from it while Elrich calmly listened and offered both creative proposals and hopeful enthusiasm for the future of Montgomery County.
An Era of Mismanagement At An End
Privately, an increasing number of objective parties involved in county planning over the previous decade have laid blame on the previous County Council & especially retired County Executive Ike Leggett for simply not doing enough to keep MoCo economically competitive and a desirable place to live. Elrich, they contend, has inherited a county far poorer than his predecessor did, and one whose economic climate is far less favorable as a new generation of residents and businesses seek something different things from government and society than in previous decades. Rather than taking the approach of a shady used car salesman in describing the county’s economic woes, it is argued that, Elrich prefers a “truth-in-lending” approach to dealing with problems. Indeed, both allies and rivals concede Elrich’s directness is a breath of fresh air in politics.
Diversity Remains Key
The location for the meeting, Busboys and Poets, a local chain owned by an Iraqi immigrant further highlighted Elrich’s commitment to diversity & making space for millennials in Montgomery County. The restaurant is considered a hub for millennial activism in the DMV region–a point noted when a waiter proudly wearing a RESIST head garment took orders from Elrich’s table in the crowded Takoma location, right over the border from Montgomery County. Several of those who attended also had relationships with the disabilities community. Future meetings are being planned with Asian American, Latino, Muslim and African-American millennial activists, among other groups, as well as regionally-focused meetings. Montgomery County is home to 1.1 million people, a third of whom are born abroad, and more than half are not white. Elrich has taken pains in recent months to work towards addressing concerns at the cross-sections of the county’s breathtaking diversity (four out of the top ten most diverse cities in America are located in the county). Those concerns are largely socio-economic, though criticism of the deliberate exclusion of immigrants & minorities from electoral politics by the local political establishment has also been raised time and time again.
Meet the Critics
Perhaps the most critical voices of Marc Elrich’s comments are realtor-turned-blogger Dan Reed and third-term County Councilmember Hans Riemer. Riemer is elected at-large but whose base is largely in Silver Spring & Takoma Park. He has been mentioned numerous times in recent weeks as contemplating a challenge to Elrich in four years. Reed’s blog Just Up The Pike has a dedicated readership and has been growing in influence. It is believed that Reed supported his former boss, George Leventhal in the 2018 primary against Elrich. Unlike Riemer, Reed is a millennial, and like nearly all millennials–has a record of making politically incorrect statements as well.
Alcohol for All: The Liquor Lobby’s Manchurian Candidate?
Hans Riemer is a champion of dismantling the county’s unique liquor monopoly as a nod to his belief that Montgomery County’s residents are thirsting for change. Unfortunately, the net migration data and demographics of the county challenge his understanding of the change they seek. Montgomery County has become a hub of the very dry Muslim American community–with halal food options now available in hamlets as far-flung as Poolesville (shout out to Watershed Café). Moreover, many of the county’s large immigrant populations hail from cultures and backgrounds where alcohol is generally frowned upon or drunk only on special religious occasions. These facts don’t suggest a lust to get hammered with Hans–quite the opposite.
Furthermore, Montgomery County is home to countless family-owned restaurants that do not serve alcohol, and dozens of small businesses have shared their concerns that without the Liquor Monopoly, landlords would raise rents to levels only payable by large, corporate investor-backed restaurateurs with little interest in catering to the non-drinking crowds. Riemer’s support for “alcohol for all” therefore makes sense in party destinations like Miami, Las Vegas or New York City. But not so much in family-centric Montgomery County.
No County for Dry Men: Riemer’s Vision Comes Into Play
As to the worry of rising rents–there is something there. Asian American institution Seven Seas is rumored to be closing down in Rockville after playing a historic role for years in Asian American political organizing in the county. Their rent is said to have risen by 20-30% in the newest lease as redevelopment favoring up-scale chains has taken hold in that portion of the MD-355 corridor. Alternative grocery hub Dawsons Market briefly closed last year due to what is being described as “jaw-dropping” rent costs. It re-opened under new ownership and a collaborative scheme of subsidies by the county and City of Rockville. Several major Iranian, Indian and Arab American family owned businesses in the same MD-355 corridor have reported increased stress on earnings from rent-hikes as landlords seek to bring in chain restaurants devoid of family-friendly feeling and overflowing, with beers on tap and spirits galore. In other words: Hans Riemer’s war on MoCo families seems to be in full swing.
When Bloggers Get Blogged About: Dan Reed and Bethesdans Don’t Get Along?
Dan Reed previously applied for a seat on the powerful Planning Board of Montgomery County. Supported by Councilmembers Nancy Navarro & George Leventhal, the millennial architect-realtor-blogger wunderkind was considered an intriguing choice. That is until the establishment-leaning Seventh State blog wrote a post where Reed’s comments regarding Bethesda residents were shared in a less than flattering light.
Reed’s remarks were both more substantive and longer than Marc Elrich’s latest comments. Reed castigated Bethesda’s millennials and their parents in the name of identity politics and class warfare; he blasted those county residents for apparently instilling fear in their children to not spend time in Silver Spring. Subsequently, Reed was defeated in his bid to join the Planning Board. Reed apologized and defended himself numerous times for his remarks, which were made years ago.
When contacted about the Saturday brunch, Reed offered the following statement:
“I’ll say this, it’s good that he’s listening, and he’ll be a more effective County Executive if he listens more, especially to people with different life experiences than he’s had.”
Perhaps Reed should have given such thought to his pejorative statements against Bethesda residents. Then again, both Reed and Elrich’s statements should be chalked up to non-issues. It is clear neither has true animosity towards either Bethesdans or Millennials.
The Real Issue: MoCo’s Future
Elrich won his primary election by only 77 votes in a hotly contested race that pitted major establishment figures against anti-establishment and “new blood candidates. The establishment counted on the likes of former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, then-District 16 state delegate Bill Frick & former District 1 councilmember Roger Berliner versus the definitively counter-establishment Marc Elrich and newcomer David Blair. Reed’s former boss George Leventhal was deemed the “wild card” candidate by observers due to his questionable temperament. Of the candidates running, only Blair & Elrich had extensive new-voter, minority & immigrant outreach operations in a county that is majority non-white. It is probably little surprise then that their two campaigns that were neck and neck for the Democratic nomination last June.
Leventhal’s efforts at diversity outreach were legendary in previous elections. That is, until he hired a campaign staffer who deliberately pulled a chair from a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf at a political event in 2018–a story oft repeated in political circles after the election.
Reed and Riemer are believed to have actively backed an Anyone But Elrich strategy during the last primary election. Given Elrich won a very divided field by only 77 votes over his closest competitor, the congenial and thoughtful self-funding David Blair, some suspect there’s a movement afoot to politically sabotage Elrich’s administration just enough for Riemer or another Democrat to challenge him and win in 2022. If one thought Capitol Hill was a hotbed of political intrigue, they should stop by the county offices in Rockville.
Game of Thrones meets House of Cards (with a lot more halal food-joints), anyone?