The Montgomery County Council today unanimously elected Craig Rice as president and George Leventhal as vice president of the Council. They will serve one-year terms as officers of the Council.
Council President Rice, who represents District 2, served as vice president of the Council for the past year. He is beginning his fourth year on the Council and previously served in the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Over this next year it will be imperative that we continue to function as ‘One Montgomery,’” Council President Rice said upon taking office. “Working hand in hand with County Executive Leggett and his staff, Superintendent Starr and the school board, we will make sure Montgomery County stays on track as the economic engine and education leader of the State.”
Council President Rice was elected to the County Council in November 2010. He is the youngest African American to ever serve on the Council and only the second African American man to serve in that role. He is a member of the Council’s Education Committee and its Health and Human Services Committee, where he serves as the lead member for libraries.
A lifelong resident of Montgomery County, in the fall of 2006, he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, defeating a 12-year incumbent. He served on the Ways and Means Committee and was a member of both its Education and Revenues subcommittees. He also served on Montgomery Delegation's Land Use and Transportation Committee.
Council President Rice is a resident of Germantown. His district includes the Up-County region, Montgomery County’s most geographically diverse district, as well as its fastest growing. He represents some of the County’s most rural communities, including Damascus, Boyds and Hyattstown. However, with Germantown and Clarksburg in District 2, he also represents two of the most booming regions in Maryland. The district also includes Montgomery Village and part of North Potomac.
Council President Rice has lived in all five County Council districts.
Councilmember Leventhal, who served as Council President in 2006, is in his third term as an at-large member of the Council. First elected in 2002, he chairs the Council's Health and Human Services Committee and he also serves on the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.
Prior to his election to the County Council, he served as chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and as legislative director to U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski. He has been a resident of Montgomery County most of his life and lives in Takoma Park.
Complete text of Council President Rice’s remarks upon his election:
I want to first acknowledge my colleagues as I take the helm as the next Council President. I am humbled by the confidence each of you has placed in me and I thank you. I, as those who have served in this position before me, will not take this position lightly.
I want to thank former President Nancy Navarro for her leadership and guidance. You have led us through some difficult decisions and important policy advances that have enabled us to fiscally get back on track and make us a more inclusive county.
I would like to congratulate George Leventhal as he assumes the role as Vice President. I know that George and I will work well together. His passion and commitment to some of our most vulnerable residents will be a great asset as we embark on an aggressive agenda.
I want to acknowledge my mother and father, Leon and Vivian, and my wife Tia who are here in the audience today. My children, Alex, Anaiya and Caelyn are in school today and can't be here, but I know they are with me in spirit.
I want to say thank you to the entire legislative staff led by Steve Farber and my amazing team – headed up by my Chief of Staff, Steven Goldstein, and that includes Sharon St. Pierre, Rose Taylor and Daniela Moya-Geber, who is on maternity leave with her newborn son, Tristan. We have a lot of work ahead of us and I know that together, we will be successful.
And thank you to the many friends and associates whom I have come to know over the years. It is a pleasure to see you all here today.
Over this next year it will be imperative that we continue to function as ‘One Montgomery.’ Working hand in hand with County Executive Leggett and his staff, Superintendent Starr and the school board, we will make sure Montgomery County stays on track as the economic engine and education leader of the State.
Last year, I had the privilege to visit the White House where President Obama told a group of Young Elected Officials that ‘You don't get elected to be somebody; you get elected to do something.’ I feel a call to public service should not be taken lightly . . . for there is great responsibility in knowing that lives are depending on the decisions you make.
To that end, much still remains at stake to ensure Montgomery County continues its rebound from the economic challenges that confront us, for so much is dependent upon our success.
Since 2009, Montgomery County has faced a reality check. Our economic status was not pretty. In 2010, it was Councilmember Floreen who guided us through work with our Office of Legislative Oversight to get the data needed to make some difficult budget decisions. In 2011, under the leadership of Councilmember Ervin, the Council unanimously made difficult cuts, implemented structural reforms and asked our employees to make significant sacrifices. In 2012, it was under Councilmember Berliner that we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel as he advocated for transportation infrastructure reform and a senior agenda responsive to our growing senior population. And just this past year, Councilmember Navarro continued us down the path of fiscal sustainability while ensuring that none of our constituents were left behind, in the classroom nor in the workplace.
Now it is the end of 2013 and the opportunity to build upon the great work of my colleagues as we shepherd our County into an evolving era. An era in which jobs are paramount and opportunity is for the taking for ALL of our residents. It is that opportunity to follow their own career path that will be the cornerstone of our success because we are a diverse County, with diverse needs. We need automotive technicians and construction workers just as much as we need bio-tech scientists and engineers. Our quilt is a patchwork of all kinds of backgrounds and skill sets. We need to have the jobs to support those myriads of careers. And to provide those jobs means we need to have a strong economic base.
So let me be clear, and I want Virginia to hear me: Jobs are important to Montgomery County. And we know the No. 1 contributor of those jobs is our small business sector. Yet there is so much more we can do to support our small businesses, especially those that are located here in Montgomery County.
This past Saturday, we celebrated Shop Small or Small Business Saturday, where the nation dedicated a day to patronizing our small businesses. Shouldn’t Montgomery County Government do the same? We need to do a better job with County procurement in supporting our locally owned businesses. We need to show our businesses due deference by prioritizing doing business with them, as we all stand to benefit as a result.
Just last week, our Council showed its commitment to employees earning the minimum wage, understanding it is near impossible to raise a family on $15,000 per year, by raising that amount. I look forward to the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session that begins in just a few weeks because the State also needs to increase the minimum wage! Our federal government should do the same, yet realistically and unfortunately, we do not expect that to occur. This is an example of what happens when government does not do what it should. There are many dedicated federal elected officials, who understand and work diligently, yet still cannot get this done. That is why the County had to and now the state must step up.
So the Council stepped in and I guess our work is done? Well, not from my point of view.
We have small businesses by the thousands and they supply the lifeblood of our economy. Many are family owned, some are owned by single proprietors or partnerships. So they are here, and maybe they contribute a lot in taxes. But so what? Let’s move on. I say, ‘Not so fast.’ It is important that we understand what opportunity is and what is isn't.
Businesses here in Montgomery County are not the enemy; in fact they are not an enemy at all. It does not require a reliance on discredited, trickle down economics to understand that business supplies jobs that are needed and essential for economic health and for our citizens to realize the potential I spoke about earlier. Keep in mind: the amount of the minimum wage does not matter a bit to someone without a job. I hope that is clear. Even if it is . . . we must figure out what to do with it and that is the important crux of the matter.
The simple message is government needs to provide opportunity for us all to not only survive, but also to thrive. It is easiest to see with our children, whom we require be in the best schools we can provide in order to realize the potential each possesses. Schools that don't have some children succeed while others fail—tied to the color of their skin or the amount of money in their parents’ bank accounts. Schools that are not overcrowded and overrun with portable classrooms. Elementary schools that don't end up being as large as some high schools. And classrooms where teachers are not confronted with mold issues or students eating in the hallways because the cafeteria is too small to accommodate one lunch period. We can do better. We must do better.
In our schools we see an ever-increasing diversity, but I hope you agree with me that in our diversity lies tremendous strength. Let's not allow an increase in diversity to justify the achievement gap. Too often we focus on the challenges that come with such diversity. Yes, let's be honest: those challenges do exist. But as a County we can be, and often are, stronger by virtue of our diversity. Anyone who has been a part of a strong team understands that this strength far outweighs the impediments. We need to do all we can within our power to make sure we don't turn our backs on that diversity that will continue to keep Montgomery County at the forefront.
No private entity has the power to protect our constituents like that of our government. And we must do so whenever necessary. This is one of the most important functions of government. Whether it is protecting our citizens from criminals or keeping bad employers from running scams on vulnerable employees. Whether it is helping protect or rescue them from natural disasters, it is government that has a responsibility to step in and provide the service. I am extremely proud of the services provided here in Montgomery County. Our police department and our school resource officers, fire and rescue – both volunteer and career – deserve our praise and gratitude. But there are less visible aspects such as our Health and Human Services Department, which protect some of our most vulnerable citizens—including children and seniors—and provide an array of health and social services.
It is true that we are blessed locally with a wonderful citizenry and a lot of great services provided by government. That does not, however, relieve us of the need and obligation to remain vigilant. But it does allow us to move on. In doing so we must be clear-eyed. We must be objective and thorough in our assessment. That is the only way we can do a good job of understanding what is needed and what we can do to make a difference.
So I would like to share four areas where I want to focus this coming year:
First, we need an aggressive business agenda. To me it is clear that this is an area with great untapped potential. There are huge gains available for our citizens with appropriate effort devoted to the development of our businesses, particularly our small businesses. I would like to see us alter our procurement regulations to prioritize Montgomery County businesses over those from other jurisdictions. This will help stabilize our local small business sector and encourage new businesses to locate here in Montgomery County.
Second, in partnership with our Superintendent and school board, we need to push for additional State funding for school construction that goes above the current formulas. Montgomery County finds itself in a unique position where we face unprecedented and unequaled overcrowding. Our school system has accounted for 17 percent of the State's enrollment, but only received 11 percent of the school construction dollars. We have some aging infrastructure, but even more importantly, our capacity issues are exponential when compared to other jurisdictions throughout the State.
Third, we need to ensure our Agricultural Reserve, and all it has to offer, lives up to its full potential. This means implementing many of the recommendations listed in the Farming At Metro's Edge, or F.A.M.E, report including, but not limited to, the creation of a farming business navigator position and a pilot farming magnet program within MCPS. The ultimate goal of this is to secure the future sustainability and profit of farming as well as the availability of fresh foods for our region. This mission complements the great work currently being done by our Montgomery County Food Council.
Lastly, we need to restore cuts we made, where possible, to vital services provided by the county. Whether it is our libraries, our parks and recreation, social services, health services or our police and fire, it is time to rebuild and grow our government support infrastructure to meet our rising needs.
If we are successful with this agenda, we will surely move the needle in promoting economic prosperity, equity and sustainability for all County residents.
There is no doubt we will continue to fight for those less fortunate and ensure we continue on the path of being one of the best counties not only in this State, but in this great nation of ours.
Addressing these challenges may be difficult. But none of the challenges our County face are insurmountable. Each will require planning, preparation, investment and, most of all, leadership. I look forward to leading this Council through another year marked with success and milestones that put Montgomery County at the top of the list of places to live, work and prosper.
Thank you again to my colleagues as I look forward to another banner year.
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