February 17, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

One of the most amazing days of my life occurred when I was 13 years old and attended the March on Washington in 1963. I was one of 250,000 people on the Mall that hot day in August. At that time, I knew I was a part of something special, but I did not realize that I was at one of the most important events of the 20th Century. For most people, the March on Washington is something seen in black and white from film and television footage. I am very fortunate that my memories of that day are in color and are as vivid as they were nearly 60 years ago.

On Friday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m., at Strathmore, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee will host “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things for the Fight for Freedom.” It will be a Black History Month tribute honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and heroes of the Civil Rights movement. This is an appropriate theme for this year’s MLK Tribute because it reminds us that civil rights progress did not occur because of one person—it was not divine intervention. Change happened because of countless ordinary people doing extraordinary acts.

For every Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, John Lewis or Rosa Parks, there are hundreds of thousands of other nameless individuals who added their voice, talents and even their lives to the cause. From the Freedom Riders who faced threats to their personal safety to the lawyers who argued time and time again before courts controlled by Jim Crow to the churches and college campuses who could no longer look the other way to injustice, this movement was more than just a single man.

Dr. King said: “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”

And as we look back and recognize all the ordinary people doing extraordinary things, we must not forget that this fight is not over.

There are political forces today that are suppressing votes, white-washing history out of our children’s textbooks and supporting white nationalist movements. Although progress has been made, racism has been resurrected in a horrible and deadly form, so we must continue to fight against it. But I remain optimistic because I see a better future. I look at my African American grandchildren and their generation and their willingness to fight for a better future, so I have hope.

This event is free, and I encourage you to join us. Those in attendance will learn how our nation’s most-celebrated superstars put their careers and lives on the line to fight for freedom and justice for all. They will discover local civil rights participants who made significant contributions to the fight for justice in Montgomery County.

COVID-19 Rates Continue to Drop, Indoor Mask Mandate to End

Montgomery County’s COVID-19 case rates this week fell below 100 per 100,000 for the first time since Dec. 15. We are now in “substantial transmission” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after being in “high transmission” for nearly two months. Our test positivity rate also continues to drop. We have seen an eight-fold decrease since the peak of this surge just over a month ago. There are currently 122 hospitalized COVID patients, which is nearly an 80 percent reduction since our peak.

On Monday, Feb. 21, Montgomery County’s indoor mask mandate will end. County Council President Gabe Albornoz has said that proof of vaccination legislation will not be voted on at this time. As I have stated since last summer, I believe proof of vaccination could be an important tool—especially during surges like the one we seem to be coming out of. That is why, in December, I asked the Council to implement it as Omicron was surging. I do hope that, if or when another surge happens, we are all willing to consider these kinds of measures to protect the health of our residents.

‘Boosterama’ at Westfield Wheaton on Saturday, Feb. 19

Although 85 percent of Montgomery County is “fully vaccinated,” according to the CDC, only 51 percent of our County is boosted. When broken down by age cohorts, only 37 percent of those ages 12-17, 54 percent of those 18-64 and 75 percent of those 65-and-over have received their additional booster shot. We must do better. The efficacy of your original vaccine shots wane after five months, and a booster is needed to restore the level of protection that the original shots gave you. The most important thing to remember is that people who have been boosted and get COVID (yes, it is true boosters are not 100 percent effective against covid) are far less likely to get severe COVID and far, far less likely to die. The greatest protection it offers is against the most dire outcomes so do not put yourself at risk.
To increase our booster numbers, we are hosting our second “Boosterama” event at Westfield Wheaton from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 19. The event will be located outside the Dick’s Sporting Goods store and also will be distributing free rapid tests and face masks. Several mall gift cards will be raffled for those who get boosted. We will also have representatives of the Maryland Lottery with us to give out free prizes and promote its VAXCASH 2.0 lottery.

We had great success with our last Boosterama in December and I am hoping this one will go as well. I want to thank Westfield Wheaton and our partners at Salud Y Bienestar for their continued efforts and support.

Implementing Equity in Everything We Do

As we focus on our continued response to and recovery from COVID, we cannot ignore the inequities due to our nation’s tragic history of systemic racism. It was serendipitous that just before the pandemic began two years ago this month, Tiffany Ward was confirmed as our County’s first Chief Equity Officer. Over the last two years, Tiffany has done an incredible job establishing our Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice to ensure that this government will be making policy and budget decisions through an equity lens.

One such area that is the focus of a lot of community debate is the General Plan for the County known as “Thrive 2050.” For more than a year, I have been raising concerns about the process, content and transparency surrounding Thrive, and recently, the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) has raised concern about Thrive’s lack of focus and attention to equity.

This plan’s lack of effort to substantively address a severe shortage of affordable housing is confounding. Projections show the shortage will be amplified by both a projected loss of existing affordable units AND an increase in new residents whose incomes will require even more affordable units. Thrive does not address these major issues. Instead, it focuses on the "trickle-down" premise that more market-rate housing will somehow solve the problem. OLO recognized the lack of deep community engagement with communities of color and low-income people. Any plan without the input of the communities of color cannot be equitable.
Thrive also fails to acknowledge the link between homeownership and the current racial wealth gap. Wealth accumulated through home equity is often used to further education and business opportunities and because White residents have higher ownership rates, they have opportunities not available to many people of color, particularly Black residents who have not had equal access to homeownership in our community. Homeownership and home values have huge implications for economic and workforce success, and the Thrive plan fails to make that connection.

We agree with OLO’s assessment that the Thrive plan should be specific about the current inequities. The plan should pinpoint disaggregated data and identify the disparities that must be addressed in this new plan. The plan should pinpoint disaggregated data and identify the disparities that must be addressed in this new plan.​ Montgomery has lost more than 30,000 affordable units in the first decades of this century. There are now almost 50,000 housholds paying more than half of their income to put a roof over their heads. These are households whose incomes are between $30,000 and $50,000. Thrive doesn't truly acknowledge this reality, let alone provide solutions to it. The naive notion that simply building more housing will magically depress the price of existing housing and make it affordable to these income groups is simply not based on reality.

Walking for Vision Zero

Last weekend, I was pleased to join Council President Albornoz, Congressman Jamie Raskin and other elected officials and community advocates in Wheaton for a Vision Zero Walk that was organized by Council Vice President Evan Glass. This somber event re-focused attention on our efforts to reduce and eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths on our roadways.

We are only a few weeks into the new year, and we have already had three fatalities: two pedestrians and one cyclist. Last year, we had a total of seven fatalities, down 16 from 2020. However, one fatality is one too many and we are implementing as many strategies as possible to prevent future fatalities.

My recommended Capital budget that is now before the Council for review includes $433 million to support the County’s Vision Zero efforts. Getting to zero fatalities will not be easy, but we will continue to address this issue.

Supporting State Legislative Efforts

For the first time since the COVID health crisis began, I returned to Annapolis this week to testify in person on four important bills before the Maryland General Assembly. In my testimony, I expressed strong support for the Climate Solutions Now Act, which is critical to implementing our County Climate Action Plan and our goal to reduce 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. I also testified in support of a bill to help expand our Maker economy. Many places, like Baltimore, provide maker spaces where people are able to develop skills and create products that help them to be self sufficient. And I was pleased to testify on two bills sponsored by Senator Susan Lee: One addresses American History Content and its lack of a multicultural perspective. I also testified on Senator Lee's bill, which is also being championed by Attorney General Brian Frosh, and would ban the sale of dangerous ghost guns. Ghost guns are guns that lack idenitfying serial numbers and may also be made of non-metallic materials that allow them to avoid detection by metal detectors. These gun kits are available for sale online and don't require the buyer to be licensed or to register the gun.
Additionally, I attended a press conference at the New Carrollton Metro and MARC station in support of the Maryland Regional Rail Transformation Act and the Equitable and Inclusive Transit-Oriented Development Enhancement Act. I want to thank State Delegate Jared Solomon for his work on these important bills, which are critical to our economic development progress, as well as our efforts to combat climate change.

As the Maryland General Assembly begins its second of three months of legislative deliberations, I appreciate the hard work of our State House and Senate delegations. I look forward to continuing my support for their efforts to pass meaningful reforms, oversights and investments in Montgomery County and throughout the State.

Sunday Hours Return to County Libraries

I am pleased to announce the continued expansion of library hours. Our library system and employees have been an invaluable asset to our COVID response and recovery efforts over the last two years. They have successfully adjusted their operations, schedules and how they serve the community. Most recently, their efforts to help distribute take-home rapid tests and N95 masks were a demonstration of their effectiveness and dedication. I also want to thank the patrons and supporters of our libraries for their patience as we worked to ensure that these facilities are COVID-19 safe and accessible for visitors and employees.

The Sunday hours of operation starting Feb. 27 at all MCPL branches, except the Maggie Nightingale (Poolesville) and Noyes Library for Young Children, will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The hours and schedule for the Maggie Nightingale (currently closed for refresh) and Noyes libraries will remain as they currently stand. For more information on MCPL services, visit https://montgomerycountymd.gov/library/.

Our Officers Are Always On-Duty

I want to express my appreciation to Montgomery County Police Officer Rich Reynolds who helped contain an unruly passenger on a flight from Los Angeles to Reagan National Airport this week. This could have been a tragic incident if it was not for the quick work of Officer Reynolds and some other passengers.

The incident is a reminder that our officers are always on-duty and are expected to intervene for the safety of others every day—no matter where they are. ​We appreciate their willingness to step up when they are needed.

50 Years of Doing Business in Montgomery County

I was happy to visit Minkoff in Germantown to celebrate its 50th anniversary of doing business in Montgomery County. Minkoff is a family-owned real estate firm that offers services spanning development, construction, management and leasing. This company is now being led by the third generation of family members and owns 42 properties. It manages three million square feet of flex, lab, office, retail and light industrial space throughout our region. We are very proud that the Minkoff firm has called Montgomery County home for the last half century. We wish it a happy anniversary and look forward to the next 50 years of their success.

As always, my appreciation for all you do.

Marc Elrich
County Executive