Duncan looks to continue long involvement in Montgomery -- Gazette.Net


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Douglas M. Duncan has a long history in Montgomery County politics.

The fifth of 13 children, Duncan, 58, grew up accompanying his mother as she got involved in Rockville politics and county Democratic politics.

His mother always told him that religious service was the highest calling, followed by political service, he said.

He worked on Charlie Gilchrist’s campaign for county executive in 1978, and four years later earned a spot on the Rockville City Council on a platform of getting more affordable housing in the city.

He became mayor in 1987, and immediately found that people looked at him differently.

They wanted to know what he had accomplished and what he planned to do, and held him ultimately responsible for getting things done, he said.

Being an official in Rockville allowed him to give back to a community that had such an impact on him and his family, he said.

And his time in office had an added benefit.

“It was perfect training to be county executive,” he said.

Duncan turned that training into three terms in the executive’s office, serving from 1994 until 2006.

Now he’s trying to reclaim the executive’s office against current Executive Isiah Leggett and challenger Councilman Philip M. Andrews (Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg in the June 24 Democratic primary.

Early voting in the primary begins Thursday.

The winner will face Republican James Shalleck in the Nov. 4 general election.

Duncan said it’s gratifying to see how many people are familiar with his time in office and what he accomplished during that time.

Among his higher-profile achievements, he lists Montgomery’s establishment as a global biotechnology center, the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring and construction of the AFI Silver Theatre and the construction of the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda.

But one of the accomplishments he’s proudest of was his ability to push through Montgomery government’s tendency to study and debate problems rather than act to solve them, with “paralysis by analysis” a recurring phrase at Duncan’s appearances at campaign events and candidate forums.

It’s one of the areas in which he’s been most critical of Leggett, particularly on projects such as the Silver Spring Transit Center, the long-delayed transportation hub that has been the subject of construction flaws and cost overruns.

The full rebirth of Silver Spring has been stalled by the transit center delays, and Leggett and the County Council have no credibility remaining on the project, he said.

The county needs a hands-on executive to make economic development, transportation and streamlining the county’s permitting process priorities in the next term, Duncan said.

Despite his longtime presence in Montgomery politics, Duncan said he’s running as a challenger to the county’s current leadership.

Leggett and Andrews have both been in office for a long time, Duncan said.

Before serving two four-year terms as county executive, Leggett was on the County Council from 1986 until 2002. Andrews has been on the council since 1998.

“They are the status quo,” Duncan said.

Duncan left the executive’s office in 2006 to challenge then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley in Maryland’s Democratic primary, before dropping out of the race to deal with depression.

Depression is a horrible illness, but his illness made him more patient and understanding, Duncan said.

His experience also opened his eyes to the needs of Montgomery’s special needs community, and what the county is doing to provide better access to mental health treatment.

It’s also allowed him to serve as a model for some people by showing them that you can get better, he said, and he ends many of his appearances with a plea for others to get help for themselves or someone they know who is suffering from depression.

He spends much of the rest of these events trying to persuade voters to make a change in the county’s leadership and give his leadership another try.

“I’m running for county executive because the status quo isn’t good enough,” he said.

rmarshall@gazette.net