District 1 Candidates Face Off on DLC, Amazon

Seven Democrats vying to be the next to represent District 1 on the Montgomery County Council showed off their differences Thursday night at a forum hosted by Friends of White Flint.

On issues such as the privatization of the Department of Liquor Control, the potential arrival of Amazon and even debt revealed differences among the candidates.

DLC privatization has been debated for years. Supporters insist individuals and restaurants would receive better service if the liquor distribution was handled by the private sector. Opponents say the county would lose $30 million in revenue and union jobs if privatization would go forward.

The same differences appeared among the D1 candidates.

Former IRS lawyer Reggie Oldak of Bethesda said it would be a boon to economic development if the county got out of liquor business. Former Kensington mayor Pete Fosselman, a privatization supporter, suggested a Virginia-style system with beer and wine sold privately and liquor sold by the government. Former Planning Board member Meredith Wellington of Bethesda said the DLC is a “symptom” that many in the county don’t realize government can’t do everything.

Former state policy adviser Andrew Friedson of Bethesda cited a state report that said $193.7 million of economic activity would be generated if the county got out of liquor distribution.

Benefits professional Jim McGee of Bethesda said he opposed privatization, but he’s support modernization. Videographer Bill Cook of Bethesda said the complaints against the DLC can be resolved, but privatizing would be a huge loss for the county.

Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, a member of the House of Delegates, said the county should maintain control of liquor sales because the $30 million in revenue could be bonded, helping with school funding and other capital projects.

On Amazon, the differences were similar. In Cook’s introduction, he expressed his opposition to the tax incentives Maryland and Montgomery County are using to lure the Seattle-based company’s “HQ2.”

“I understand to achieve long-term economic growth, we need to resist the urge for short-term solutions and shortcuts,” Cook said. “Tax giveaways to corporations like Amazon may seem like good idea in the short term, but as we’ve learned from the past with companies like Marriott and Discovery, these giveaways do little to benefit our residents in the long term.”

Later, he said the county wants Amazon’s jobs, but it shouldn’t prostrate itself to get them.

McGee said the tax breaks Amazon is being offered while at the same time wanting the good schools and good transit “doesn’t sit well with me.”

Oldak said Amazon would help the county diversify its tax base. And the tax incentives don’t take place unless the company provides the jobs. Fosselman agreed, saying the short-term tax breaks do not outweigh long-term benefit.

Gutierrez said she believed the county and Amazon could both win.

Friedson and Wellington also said they supported the company’s arrival.

Montgomery County is one of 20 communities vying for Amazon’s second headquarters. Although county and state officials have been quiet about where exactly in the county, some have revealed that the site is the former White Flint Mall site.

Even debt revealed the differences between the candidates. Gutierrez, Cook and McGee said some debt not bad, although McGee pointed out interest rates are rising.

Others shared greater concern for debt.

“We can’t tax our way out of [debt] we need to grow our way out of it,” Friedson said.

Gutierrez said the state has money that Montgomery doesn’t pursue. She said she wanted to be the county’s liaison to state.

“I know where the money is,” she said.

Moderator Amy Ginsburg said social worker Dalbin Osorio of Chevy Chase was ill and couldn’t make the forum.

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About Douglas Tallman

Reporter with 35 years experience throughout Maryland. Reach me at dtallman@mymcmedia.org or via Twitter at @MCM-Doug


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