George Leventhal Questionnaire Responses

Brickyard Coalition Inc.
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR COUNTY COUNCIL CANDIDATES 2014

Name

George Leventhal
Street Address
7336 Piney Branch Road
Takoma Park, MD 20910
Education
Master’s Degree in Public Administration
Occupation
Montgomery County Councilmember, At-Large

 

Questions:

1. If elected to the County Council, what would be your top three priorities over the next four years?

Attract jobs and investment to promote a healthy economy;

Maintain access to health care for the uninsured;

Continue advocating for construction of the Purple Line and other mass transit.

2. Please list what you consider to be the top three failures of the county council over the past four years, and what do you think should have been done to avoid or mitigate the problem.

In general, I think the County Council did a good job providing a sustainable budget during the worst recession in memory. It would have been desirable to maintain better relationships and dialogue with employee organizations during the period where pay and benefit cuts were necessary. I regret that, following the budget dispute of 2011, some councilmembers felt the need to repair relations with the labor movement by supporting legislation (a sheltered labor market for janitors) that I think represents unsound policy.

3. What would you do to encourage business, especially small business, to locate and remain in Montgomery County? Please provide at least three specific proposals that you support which would assist businesses in Montgomery County.

Small business is the economic engine that drives our county’s economy. I am a proud sponsor of the Local Small Business Reserve Program that supports our county’s small and minority-owned businesses, and I am a co-founder of Bethesda Green, which hosts the county’s only environmental business incubator. I have, and will continue to exercise strong oversight over county procurement to promote fairness and opportunity for all bidders, especially those located in the county and those from groups that have been historically disadvantaged. Where small businesses are negatively affected by redevelopment, as in downtown Wheaton or near the Purple Line, I have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for county grants and loans to keep those businesses afloat. 

4. Do you support closing the biotech incubator and replacing it with a cybersecurity center? If yes, why is that a priority? What do you purpose be done to mitigate the loss of the biotech incubator?

I am working to ensure that all companies formerly housed in the Hanna Innovation Center are relocated. I think the NIST cybersecurity facility will provide substantial benefit to the county although I think communication with the tenants of the Hanna Center was poor. Our goal should be to foster and encourage both the biotech and cybersecurity fields.

5. Would you support any increase in residential real estate taxes over the next four years? Would you support any decrease in residential real estate taxes or any other tax?

I understand the relationship between property taxes and affordability of housing and will strive to adhere to the county’s charter limit.  I am not currently proposing any changes to our existing property tax system but I have participated in efforts to make sure eligible residents are aware of the homeowners’ tax credit, Montgomery County supplemental tax credit and senior citizens tax credit. 

While taxes are relatively higher in Montgomery County than many other jurisdictions, they pay for the best public K-12 education in the United States, which attracts residents and keeps property values high. It would be difficult to provide major reductions in property taxes without substantially harming the quality of public education.

The County Council increased the energy tax by $115 million in 2010. It was intended as a temporary two-year measure, but our economic circumstances have not permitted us to eliminate it fully, which I regret. However, we have reduced the increase by 10% in each of the FY2013 and Fy2014 budgets, and I am committed to continuing that course.

6. In your opinion, what led to the cost overruns and construction problems with the Silver Spring Metro Center and what changes, if any, should the County make in regard to future construction projects?

When the Sarbanes Transit Center opens later this year, it will, indeed, improve public transportation options. However, this project has taken far too long to open. County projects are overseen by the Department of General Services (DGS). Greater DGS oversight and involvement on a project of this scope may have kept it moving more expeditiously. We can take solace in that the design and construction flaws can be corrected, but it remains unclear whether the designer (Parsons Brinkerhoff) and contractor (Foulger Pratt) will own up to their responsibility to pay for the repairs or whether it will need to be settled in litigation. Regardless of how the repairs come to pass, I will work to ensure taxpayers will not be on the hook for the remediation of the transit center. The county intends to restore the structural integrity of the facility back to its expected fifty year life span, and not to complete a series of patches which will only mask the underlying problems. I completely understand the community’s long-running frustration with this project. We all want to open it as soon as humanly possible without risking the safety of anyone using the transit center. The County Council has continued to monitor the situation closely so as to ensure that the county does not exacerbate the delays in opening the facility.

7. As a member of the County Council, what would you do to improve the relationship between MCPS/BOE and the County Council?

The County Council and the Board of Education and Superintendent currently maintain a more harmonious relationship than we experienced during the budget crisis. I have maintained a constructive and respectful relationship personally with all my fellow elected officials.

8. Would you support and vote for providing the Board of Education members with full-time professional staff to assist in fulfilling their elected duty to provide oversight of MCPS?

I am not certain that more staff is what is needed, although if I was confident that additional staff would be used for oversight, I might support it. I think what is needed is a greater willingness of Board members to think and act independently and work to ensure efficiency and efficacy of dollars spent.

9. Do you believe that public school land or county-owned land leased directly or indirectly to a private entity should conform to all Montgomery County zoning, master plan and other land use regulations that would apply to a private landowner?

Yes.

10. The two MCPS bus depots at Shady Grove must be relocated to another site and other MCPS depots are over capacity. As we understand, there is a joint work group made up of MCPS and county staff led by the Department of General Services considering alternative locations for the bus depot. Would you favor or oppose the use of the Brickyard school site, located on a residential road with three traffic circles and 11 speed bumps, as a location for use as a bus depot?

Oppose.

11. Assuming the selection process was made by competitive bid, would you favor using the Brickyard school site as an organic educational farm in furtherance of the No Child Left Inside policy and as suggested by Governor O’Malley?

Yes.

12. The deer population is exploding in many parts of the County, including the Brickyard community. What specifically can Montgomery County do to decrease and control the increasing deer population?

I completely agree that the County has a serious problem of deer overpopulation. The answer is carefully managed hunting, since deer have no natural predators in the suburban environment. I testified in Annapolis this year to support legislation to decrease the bowhunting safety threshold from 150 to 50 yards from a nearby residence. The compromise bill that passed establishes a 100 yard safety threshold. I hope the 50 yard threshold can be established in the future.

13. Rapid growth has had a major impact on related county services, specifically health, transportation and education. What are your thoughts on common-sense development based on infrastructure and the need for a balanced approach while recognizing the importance of a transparent planning process, accountability and protection of the environment?

I will continue to work hard to increase our county and state’s investment in transportation and school construction to meet the needs of our growing population.

The Planning Board approval process requires review of the impact of every new development. I support the concept of our Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, and we will continue to work to calibrate the costs county government imposes on new development with the impacts of that development.

Population growth is not something to fear. Our growing population provides the consumer base that enables us to enjoy the high quality of life, lively arts, entertainment, restaurants and other amenities available to us in Montgomery County. It provides us with a diverse and cosmopolitan community. While population growth brings challenges, we would not want to be a community that is losing population. Further, if we were to prevent the construction of new residences, it is likely that the strong economy and high quality of life in the Washington, D.C. area would continue to attract new residents to neighboring jurisdictions, who would drive on Montgomery County roads and travel longer distances to jobs in the county and in Washington, D.C. Planning Board staff estimate, for example, that more than half of daily trips on Route 29 originate outside Montgomery County already.

14. What unique qualities do you believe you have to serve as a member of the Montgomery County Council?

Since I was first elected in 2002, I have brought passion, honesty and integrity to the County Council. I work hard, and I respond quickly to our constituents' needs. I am an effective leader, and I get things done. 

Montgomery County residents should vote for me because I have learned a lot during my twelve years in office and I can put my knowledge and experience to work in a fourth term to help Montgomery County achieve the bright future it deserves.  As Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, I want to continue advocating for those who need the most help from government: the sick, the poor, the elderly, the homeless, the mentally ill, and abused and abandoned children.  The only way to accomplish our social goals is to attract new jobs and investment to expand our revenue base. As a member of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee, I want to continue the Council’s work promoting smart growth development, updating master plans for our modern society and attracting jobs. I understand the importance of attractive and creative planning to ensure cosmopolitan communities that provide desirable amenities, including schools, parks, trails, libraries, community and recreation centers and shopping.

Montgomery County is a dynamic, diverse, affluent and sophisticated community and I have been proud to be part of its governance. Having grown up here, having worked for Maryland’s U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, chaired the county’s Democratic Party for five years and represented the entire county as an At-Large Councilmember for 12 years, I believe I have a profound understanding of the county’s needs and its future challenges and opportunities. 

Among the most significant accomplishments of my third term was Bill 11-12, which I sponsored and which was enacted over County Executive Leggett’s veto. This legislation requires County Council approval (including procedures for public input) of the sale or lease of county property. Prior to the enactment of this law, the executive alone could determine the disposition of public assets worth millions of dollars. Among the issues giving rise to my introducing this legislation was the controversy over the Brickyard Road property, which the executive proposed to lease for soccer fields despite its popular use as an organic farm and strong public opposition to a change in its use. If re-elected to another term, I will work to implement this new law in a manner that ensures transparency and openness without impeding transactions that are clearly in the public interest.  

15. Please share with us an overview of your campaign (including your key endorsements, major donors, fundraising, and campaign plan) and why you believe you will be a competitive candidate.

I am a Democrat running for County Council, At-Large. I hold this office currently and have won election to it in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

I have received the endorsement of the Montgomery County Public Schools Retirees Association. Most endorsements have not yet been made for the County Council race.

I have raised more than $200,000 and I have approximately $145,000 on hand.

Our media strategy includes regularly scheduled e-bulletins, newspaper advertisements, targeted mailings, online and TV ads. Our grassroots strategy includes household gatherings and meet-and-greets, door knocking, phone banking and contacting individuals and groups who supported my campaign in previous elections.