The Radical Prospect of Electing Marc Elrich

As I am waiting for my connecting flight for my brief out-of-town vacation, I am already breaking my self-imposed rule of not engaging in political social media between the end of early voting and Election Day. I scrolled through Facebook, twitter, and instagram feeling rather elated – for once – seeing the explosive turnout on the last day in Montgomery County.

In what will more than likely final blog post before the election, I want to talk about my own involvement in this local election. Most people know that I was a “super volunteer” for Marc Elrich, though I also volunteered for Lorig Charkoudian in D20 (who won) and Danielle Meitiv for  Council (who did not win,  no women ended up winning 😔). Towards the end of the primary,  however, I laser-focused on the  Executive race.

My apparent obsession with the County Executive race was not for the reasons some people might think. There is nothing in it for me. I’m not vying for a County job. I don’t need Marc as Executive to keep my rent control (he doesn’t even plan to try this at the county level). I will, however, confess this: There is a streak of identity politics or maybe even tribalism at play. In a nutshell, I view Marc as an exception to the “rule” of Montgomery County elitism.  I use the word “elite” purely in the socio-economic sense; possibly somewhat in the cultural sense as well. I am not referring to intellectual elitism, which should be a good thing.

Let’s keep it real. Montgomery County is nationally known to be rather elitist. We are known for our polished lawyers and lobbyists, government contractors, DC politicos, and socially progressive business executives. And yet, there is another half of MoCo’s population, which is increasingly diverse in not just racial but economic backgrounds. It is time for someone from this side of the median income to have representation. I’m not saying Marc Elrich IS this. A Council member’s salary is above the median (though not absurdly so). But as a former teacher and co-op manager, he comes closest.

Regarding the “cultural sense” of Montgomery County “elitism,” I am referring to the “polished” nature of our image. Marc is….definitely not polished. He has an offbeat sense of humor that resonates with people like me. He is a straight talker, and in an intelligent way, not in a Trump (or Ficker) way.

In commentary I have made elsewhere, I advocate for considering “diversity of expertise” along with racial and gender diversity. This kind of diversity blends with diversity of income or economic class background. This is not to say. That there are no merits to possessing business acumen or bringing financial expertise from a private sector perspective to public service. I am pointing out, however, that under a mainly privately-financed election system, the top contending candidates tend to emerge from a “financially successful” class of people. As voters look for leadership qualities, they often pick from individuals who have made their splash in business or law,  if not with name recognition from well-connected family or institutional associations. Broadly, voters are keen on equating leadership with financial success. Of course, there are exceptions, as not all elected officials are independently wealthy. Marc Elrich exemplifies this type of exception, with decades of public service and not a glaring amount of personal wealth to show for it.

More importantly, Elrich comes from a working-class background. Not a reasonably comfortable middle or upper-middle class background, but legitimately working class. His adult life (that is, after college) consisted of working as a grocer at the TP/SS food co-op, raising two biological and two foster children with Down syndrome with his ex-wife while living in a group house with other roommates, and then becoming an elementary school teacher. He eventually bought a small house, which he expanded himself so that one of his foster sons could live with him. Like many curious and technologically-inclined Americans, Elrich has an affinity for some of the latest gadgets and green tech (he drives a Leaf, and can connect his Apple TV with BlueTooth with more success than I can). However, I wouldn’t describe him as “rich” and would not say that Elrich’s career is another rags-to-riches case for those who seek to follow the American Dream model of personal prosperity. His primary focus has been on public service alone, in the most fundamental sense of the word. While Marc is probably too into his tech gadgets to be Montgomery County’s exact version of Jose “Pepe” Mujica, I don’t see him setting his sights on a gated mansion in Potomac any time soon. He lives a reasonably middle or upper-middle class lifestyle and is close enough to his very relatable socio-economic background.

A victory for Marc, especially in a place as synonymous with establishment wealth as Montgomery County, would be a victory for not-quite-middle-class misfits like me. There is a growing, yet overlooked segment of the population that knows it will not be served by platitudes about “growing the tax base” and “promoting innovation.” We know that at tax base, by definition, must be taxed reasonably and that the libertarian ideals of cutting taxes (This, I assume, is what Nancy Floreen must have in mind, given her “business friendly” rhetoric in contrast with Elrich’s specifics about eliminating archaic regulations) is no more than rehashed trickle down theory and is unlikely to help us. It is a victory for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, who barely have enough to put away into a 401(k), who have student loan debt, and who don’t see a viable path to homeownership. It is a victory for an immigrant family with two parents who work minimum wage jobs while learning English, who don’t own a car, and who want to send their children to a quality (not-overcrowded) school to have a shot at this American Dream that the center-right love to champion. It is a victory for people who can’t afford the $1,800/month single bedroom units in high rises built by the donors to Floreen’s campaign.

It would be a victory for normal people.

The other night, I attended the Blue Wave rally in Bethesda with Ben Jealous, Bernie Sanders, and introductory speakers Jamie Raskin, Susie Turnbull, Brian Frosh, and of course Marc. The rally focused on the issues. It focused on what Hogan was getting wrong, and how Jealous would make set us on course towards stepping up job creation and being first in the county in education. The energy was positive and uplifting. I had my doubts about the Big Blue Wave, worried that Democratic voters would assume that because everyone we know hates Trump, it would mean an automatic victory for Democrats. But I did not sense hubris or complacency in that room. I sensed nothing but positive energy.

Watch out, Larry. Watch out, Nancy. A wave of “unlikely voters” – Young people, renters, and first-time voters – are coming to wash you away.

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