Both Blair and Riemer go after Elrich in new TV ads, while Riemer also jabs at Blair

With less than three weeks until Primary Day, the gloves are off in the escalating paid TV ad battle in the Democratic race for county executive.

Businessman David Blair on Wednesday launched a 30-second ad spot – keyed to his endorsement last weekend by The Washington Post editorial page – that sharply criticized Marc Elrich, the incumbent who narrowly bested Blair in the Democratic primary four years ago.

A day earlier, Council Member Hans Riemer unveiled his first TV ad, in which he goes after not only Elrich but also Blair – with whom Riemer has been competing to emerge as the leading alternative to the incumbent.

Blair – a multimillionaire who is largely self-funding his campaign – has a huge head start in getting his message on cable and broadcast TV.

Based on available information from campaign disclosure reports and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public inspection website, the Blair campaign – which started running television advertising in mid-May – appears poised to surpass the $1 million mark in such expenditures by early next week. Elrich and Riemer did not purchase TV time until this week, with their buys a small fraction of what Blair has spent.

Blair’s latest ad starts out by declaring: “The Washington Post: Marc Elrich has mismanaged Montgomery County’s $6 billion budget, and set the county up for failure.” That statement incorporates phrases taken directly from last weekend’s Post editorial.

The Blair ad then departs from the Post editorial with an appeal keyed to concern over rising crime rates. “In the face of a crime surge, Elrich cut police and disbanded the auto theft unit. There are guns in schools, yet he cut the school safety budget, and our national ranking of schools has plummeted.”

Again echoing phrasing from the Post editorial that describes Elrich as “the candidate of continued decline,” the Blair ad concludes: “The Post endorses Democrat David Blair’s proactive plan on crime, schools, housing and job creation,” before signing off with the campaign’s slogan, “Better with Blair.”

The Riemer ad starts out: “For Montgomery County exec, there’s rich guy Blair, trying to buy it. … Current guy, Elrich — he’s blocking vaccine requirements for county workers, but let bars stay open late while our schools were still closed.”

The Riemer ad also includes an allusion to current concerns about crime and public safety, as it continues, “Good thing we’ve got Hans Riemer, county councilman and the only guy with kids in public school. He’ll keep our kids safe and schools open,” before concluding by terming Riemer the “best guy for Montgomery County executive.”

The Riemer campaign said its ad began running Tuesday on county cable TV systems and Wednesday on broadcast stations in the D.C. market. No purchases of cable TV time by the Riemer campaign have so far shown up on the FCC website, but that site does show Riemer committing $41,000 to over-the-air WRC/Channel 4 for paid spots. (Riemer’s latest campaign filing also includes a $15,225 payment last week to a TV ad placement service; it’s not clear whether this was in conjunction with cable or broadcast ads.)

Blair’s latest campaign disclosure report shows him having purchased nearly $532,000 in cable and broadcast TV ads through June 7. Since then, the FCC website puts Blair’s cable system ad purchases at $63,000 and his advertising on more expensive broadcast stations at another $475,600, for total TV ad purchases so far of just over $1.07 million.

The FCC website indicates that Elrich purchased $18,550 in advertising time on WRC-TV starting Thursday. In contrast to the ads from his challengers, the Elrich spot is upbeat and focuses on what the incumbent regards as the accomplishments of his first term – starting with managing the county during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like many of you during COVID, this is what my office looked like,” Elrich says, speaking from what appears to be a room at home. “But we led the nation in protecting our families and moved this county forward.” He goes on to boast that “we fully funded our schools, kept our triple-A bond rating, raised police pay, had $18 billion in private investment – all without raising taxes.”

“We’ve got more to do…So let’s get to work,” Elrich concludes, as he vows to work on increasing affordable housing, expanding broadband access and – as a long-time critic of the county’s real estate development community –“ending developer giveaways” if re-elected.

– Louis Peck

Politics makes strange bedfellows department: Kramer talks about why he’s backing Elrich

When not in Annapolis, District 19 Sen. Ben Kramer oversees the real estate management firm founded by his late father, Sidney – who, as county executive from 1986-1990, was known for his strongly pro-business posture. In contrast, the current county executive, Marc Elrich, often has been sharply critical of the real estate and development sectors throughout three decades in county politics.

Consequently – as Ben Kramer acknowledged in a telephone interview – “I know that a lot of people were surprised” when he announced last week that he was endorsing Elrich for a second term. Kramer – who said he has known Elrich “for years” – cited the latter’s role in guiding the county during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think he has done an admirable job of managing the county through what has been clearly a very challenging time, and has been a calm and steady executive,” Kramer said, adding: “I think it has worked well for the residents of the county. Certainly, I have not heard from the folks here that we need somebody else.” Both public and private polling has shown high voter approval ratings for Elrich’s handling of the pandemic.

Kramer also contended that Elrich has taken an unfair rap when it comes to dealings with the business community.

“I have seen in my role as a state legislator the behind-the-scenes work that Marc has been doing to support business – that’s where he takes a lot of criticism, but I think Marc has been very supportive of business throughout the pandemic,” said Kramer, while also lauding Elrich’s efforts to attract life sciences firms to the White Flint area. “He has a vision for that, and he’s been working to encourage development there on a very large scale…He’s building a track record.”

It speaks to what Kramer feels is a transformation of sorts since Elrich’s 12 years on the County Council, when he often was a political outlier on economic development issues. “I think there has been an evolution, and he deserves credit for realizing as county executive that his role would be different than when he was on the council – that he had to be more cognizant of how important commercial development is, especially to our tax base,” Kramer said.

“Look, I talked to Marc four years ago,” said Kramer, who himself contemplated a run for county executive in 2018 when then-Executive Ike Leggett retired. “And Marc [said] then, ‘Ben, I get it. My role is going to be different, and I have to have a broader perspective.’ And I think he has.”

Declared Kramer: “I am very supportive of business and unabashed about it. And I have been criticized by others because they think I am too supportive of business. But I don’t think, in any way, shape or form, that Marc has done harm to business as county executive.”

If Kramer and Elrich appear to be strange political bedfellows, there is also Kramer’s close personal friendship with Gino Renne, influential head of UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO – which represents many county government employees. While Renne has been a key Elrich supporter, Kramer insisted Renne played no role in bringing about the endorsement.

“The 100% truth? I never discussed it with Gino. I think Gino was surprised when he saw it,” said Kramer, adding with a chuckle: “I did get a call from Gino. He was laughing and he goes, ‘Well, look at this. Look at what I read!’”

– Louis Peck

With weeks to go until Primary Day, Roberts qualifies for public funding in District 2

Last October, civic activist Will Roberts – whose resume includes a stint as legislative director and chief counsel to U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin – announced he was running for the Democratic nomination in County Council District 2. He subsequently lined up endorsements from a significant number of influential unions and issue advocacy groups.

But Roberts – a Clarksburg resident running in a district that includes Germantown, Poolesville and other northwestern parts of the county – got off to a slow start in terms of fundraising.

In August 2021, Roberts filed to tap into the county’s public campaign finance system, which allows candidates who limit individual contributions to $250 – while renouncing political action committee and corporate donations – to receive public matching funds. As of the end of May, Roberts still was not certified for such funding, according to the regular monthly report from the county’s Department of Finance.

Last week, with a month to go until the July 19 primary, Roberts finally was certified as eligible for public campaign funding – after a delay he attributed to a clerical error.

Roberts told Bethesda Beat he had requested a total of $43,637 in matching funds from the county’s Public Election Fund. His latest request was filed in mid-June, but Roberts said State Board of Elections officials – who determine initial eligibility for public matching funds – weren’t able to see some of his campaign receipts on a prior report he filed in early May.

K. Samuel Buo, an administrator within the county’s Office of Consumer Protection who is helping oversee the county’s election fund, confirmed Roberts was certified as a public campaign finance candidate a week ago, on June 22. The county approved disbursing $37,716 in public funds to Roberts’ campaign on that date.

According to Buo, some of the contributions Roberts cited in his request were not eligible for a public funding match.

“The discrepancy between the amount requested by the candidate and the amount distributed by the Public Election Fund are due to errors calculating the matching ratio of the candidate’s qualified contributions,” Buo wrote in an email.

“It was explained that the $37,716 distributed was a complete distribution from all of the candidate’s qualified contributions at the appropriate matching rate,” Buo said of the difference between the money awarded and the amount Roberts requested. “The candidate’s filing claimed matching funds at an incorrect matching ratio for some of [his] contributions.”

Roberts faces two opponents – Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber of President Marilyn Balcombe and former Montgomery County Commission for Women Chair Lorna Phillips Forde – in the July 19 Democratic primary.

As of the end of May, Balcombe had qualified for nearly $105,000 in public matching funds out of the $125,000 in public funds for which district council candidates are eligible.

Phillips Forde has not filed to participate in the public matching funds program, and a mid-June filing showed her with less than $5,000 in her campaign treasury. As of that date – prior to his recent infusion of more than $37,700 in public matching funds – Roberts reported just $2,800 in his campaign treasury, while Balcombe had nearly $133,750 on hand.

— Steve Bohnel and Louis Peck

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com