Council could buck trend on president vote
Berliner says history dictates that he should get position
Based on more than 40 years of Montgomery County Council history, Roger Berliner should be the next president of the nine-member elected body.
However, Berliner, the council's vice president, says that some of his fellow council members are pushing for another council member to lead them in 2010.
Berliner would not say who was the favorite to succeed President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, and no council members interviewed by The Gazette said they were seeking the post.
The council is scheduled to vote on the matter during its Dec. 1 public meeting. A new vice president also will be selected at that time.
All but twice during the council's history members have elected the sitting vice president as president. Those two exceptions occurred in election years and resulted from a largely new council taking over or the vice president failing to win re-election, said Steve Farber, the council staff director.
The council elects a new president each December. The president sets the council agenda and is the most visible public voice of the council.
Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said it would be "unprecedented" for the council to elect someone else as president.
The first time it happened was in 1986 an election year when then-vice president Neal Potter was not picked as president because a new council voted in Rose Crenca.
The second time was in 1998, when then-vice president William E. Hanna Jr. lost his bid for re-election to Andrews.
In that case, then-council member Isiah Leggett, now the county executive, served a second year as president.
Berliner said he has been speaking with fellow council members about how they will vote, but the issue is "regretfully unsettled."
He has not heard any reason for the effort to vote someone else into the seat other than "we can," Berliner said.
The personal ambition of one council member is driving the effort, he said, but he would not name the council member.
"I have heard there is a council member who desires it," Berliner said.
Council members, including the vice president, are paid $94,040 annually. The council president receives 10 percent more, or $103,444.
In interviews, no council member said anything negative about Berliner's service as vice president or how he would lead as president.
Privately, some council members have suggested that Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park is interested in Berliner's seat, a claim to which she would not respond.
Berliner said he is willing and able to lead the council and that an attempt to go against the council's tradition would be "destabilizing" to the council and the county.
Andrews agreed, saying that without the standing practice of elevating the vice president, the council would start to focus more on politics than issues that matter to the public.
Esther Gelman, who served on the council from 1974 to 1986, including a term as president, said the council will be in "constant turmoil" if it does not elect the current vice president to serve as president.
"Everyone will be electioneering for the whole year for the next president," said Gelman, who said she is not supporting any council member.
"What I care about is the integrity of the process," she said. "I'm hearing there are people who are out trying to change the process. The trouble is we don't have Republicans now, so the Democrats have to fight each other."
Andrews said he will vote for Berliner for president. Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he also will vote for Berliner.
"(Berliner) has worked really hard to be a consensus builder in the council," Elrich said. "He has bridged the divide, and I think in my mind he is best suited to be president of the council."
No other council members would say whom they plan to vote for, with most stating that they are decided.
Floreen, Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park and Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said the matter was a private.
"I think this is a discussion among colleagues and friends," Leventhal said.
Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) or North Bethesda said the vote in December will depend on "philosophy and political whims."
A lot will depend on council discussions and votes before Dec. 1, Trachtenberg said.
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said she has not decided whom to support.
Leventhal, who has served as council president, said the president needs to listen, understand the council's position and understand "that when he or she speaks, he or she is speaking for nine people not just one."
Trachtenberg said the next president will have to lead the council through tough fiscal times and significant decisions regarding the future of growth in Montgomery County.
"I think what is important is that the council comes together at the end of the day" and elects a leader to "get us through what are going to be very difficult times," she said.