Though the Washington Post doesn’t acknowledge his existence, Marc Elrich is on his way to shake up the Montgomery County Council.
Today’s Post had an article “Developers Face a Chillier Montgomery” about the incoming anti-developer council, but managed to avoid mentioning the most avid anti-developer, Takoma Park’s own Marc Elrich. The Post, a big Inter-County Connector (ICC) supporter, endorsed all the other members of Elrich’s slate, but gave the nod to a Republican instead of to Elrich, an avid ICC opponent.
Judging by the sendoff the Takoma Park City Council gave Councilmember Marc Elrich last night, it will be just a matter of time before the Post can no longer pretend he doesn't exist. It was his last official meeting as a city councilmember. Elrich was elected to an at-large county council seat, and has resigned the city council, effective Sunday, Dec. 3. He assumes his county council seat the next day. As former city councilmember Hank Prensky said, “The councilmember is dead, long live the councilmember!”
Praises were heaped on Elrich’s embarrassed head by the other councilmembers and several residents. He studied the desktop, nodding occasionally, sometimes writing or doodling with a pen, as people told about the first time they’d met him, recalled things he’d done for the city or his constituents, congratulated him for his successful campaign, and told anecdotes. All through it, there was a sharp edge of sorrow, sorrow to lose an effective city councilmember whose institutional memory and tenacity is legendary, and sorrow to lose an effective, popular teacher. Elrich has to leave his position as a math teacher at Rolling Rock Terrace Elementary School to take on the full-time responsibilities of a county councilmember.
One of the residents who rose to speak was Susan Silber. She has encountered Elrich in several roles. She is the city attorney, a Ward 5 constituent, and a parent of one of Elrich’s pupils. She noted that both she and Elrich are products of the 60s/70s peace movement, and as such distrusted electoral politics. He had proved that distrust wrong, she said. She would miss him in city government, she said, but was pleased he would be on the county council - sentiments expressed by all the speakers on the podium and in the audience.
Elrich, when he was allowed (by mock vote) to speak, reported that he had mixed feelings about leaving the city council and his teaching position. He said a number of his students’ parents told him they voted against him because they didn’t want him to leave, which touched him greatly. He was sorry to set aside his old-fashioned role as the teacher who lives in his students’ neighborhood.
Seeing disadvantaged students in prosperous Montgomery County, children who come to school hungry and needing health care, drove his political ambitions, he said.
He said it was hard to give up being on the council, that it has been “a wonderful adventure”. He said it had the same level of reward as raising children, and that political service gives him a meaningful existence.
Referring to Ms. Silber’s statement, he said he well remembered being a part of an activist generation, yet wary of electoral politics, attending city council meetings on the other side of the podium with his long hair, beard, and “my charming t-shirt collection.”
He noted his own, and the city council’s, political maturity since those days. They have all learned to achieve progressive goals by using political channels. They have established credibility by working on “nuts and bolts” issues with other political bodies and individuals. No longer is it a liability to be a politician from Takoma Park, he said, citing his own countywide electoral success and Peter Franchot’s statewide victory for State Comptroller.
Elrich spoke of his political beginnings in the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op, of which he was a founding member. While with the co-op he attended a conference in Minneapolis where he met members of ACORN, a progressive grassroots organization that, tired of being let down by candidates they helped elect, were seeking dependable, dyed-in-the-wool progressives such as himself to run for local office. He credited Sam Abbott, Takoma Park’s legendary mayor, with giving him an example of a politician who ran on a progressive program and then worked to bring it into reality.
He thanked the city council, saying they were a “great group to work with.” He lapsed into a regretful digression about the un-built gym, but cited many successes which more than balanced it out. He reminded everyone that he is a fiscal conservative, not a tax-and-spend liberal, and it appeared he looks forward to fixing his scrutinizing gaze on the county budget.
He will, he promised, be back to the city council chambers. He intends to report back periodically as former county councilmember Tom Perez did.
It was a galvanizing address. our Gilbert was ready to dash out and run for office, Dear Readers, but alas, we are not in Ward 5. If Elrich’s inspiring words had a wide audience, expect dozens of contenders for his seat.
A crowded field would be the perfect test for the new instant runoff voting system which will be introduced with the upcoming special election.