After navigating Montgomery County through some of the leanest economic times in recent history, Isiah Leggett is looking for a chance to lead the county as the economy improves.
As the county’s fiscal 2015 budget took shape, Leggett spoke often about the need to be cautious and not move too quickly back toward spending levels before the Great Recession that rocked the nation’s economy in 2007-09.
He touts the achievements he says the county made during the difficult economic times that consumed much of his eight years in office, and says he wants another term to finish what he started.
Leggett is seeking a third term as county executive in the June 24 Democratic primary against former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Councilman Philip M. Andrews (Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg. The winner will face Republican Jim Shalleck of Montgomery Village in the Nov. 4 general election.
Early voting for the primary runs June 12-19 at nine sites around the county.
Leggett points to success in areas ranging from securing more state transportation money and providing funds to start closing the achievement gap between students at high- and low-income schools, to preserving more than 12,000 affordable housing units, training more than 2,000 child-care providers per year and helping bring a Costco to Wheaton to help revitalize the area.
Financial stewardship will be a key issue going forward, Leggett said.
Some questions remain about the national economy, and the state budget, and the next executive will have to ensure the county’s financial footing is sustainable, he said.
The Montgomery executive holds a unique place in the state, by virtue of the size of the county’s population — which is nearly 1 million, Maryland’s highest — and $5 billion budget, Leggett said.
The county often leads the way on a wide variety of issues, he said, such as recycling, water quality, raising the minimum wage, campaign finance reform and a ban on indoor smoking.
It’s a position Leggett is comfortable with. He’s president of the National Association of County Executives of America and the incoming president of the Maryland Association of Counties.
Leggett previously was head of the state Democratic Party from 2002 through 2004, after serving on the Montgomery County Council from 1986 to 2002.
Public service has long been part of his life.
As a boy growing up in the Deep South under Jim Crow, he had a strong desire to be in the military because it was one of the few places where blacks were treated equally and with respect, he said.
Growing up at the height of the civil rights movement, Leggett balanced his ROTC responsibilities with boycotts, sit-ins and other protests against discrimination.
He served in Vietnam as an Army captain, earning the Bronze Star, among other awards.
As a student, he met the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. twice — once at a black teachers conference in Louisiana and again at a summer retreat in North Carolina.
Although both times there were many other people in the room, it seemed as though King were talking only to him, Leggett said.
He later served as a White House fellow, getting the chance to attend Cabinet meetings, a surreal experience for a poor kid from Louisiana who was one of 13 children, he said.
Now, Leggett would like to use all of those experiences and those he’s accumulated during the past eight years to help resolve many of the initiatives he began as executive.
“I want to see those things through and completed,” he said.