GOP’s Reardon Sullivan makes Youngkin-style run for executive in deep-blue Montgomery County

Reardon Sullivan’s push to become the first Republican Montgomery County executive in over 40 years hinges on a platform that emphasizes public safety over the demonization of police, transparency around school curriculum, and a business climate that entices firms instead of scaring them off.

He calls it a “common sense” agenda. 

His pitch is reminiscent of the national GOP talking points that helped Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin sweep to victory last year and could spark a red wave in this cycle, though Mr. Sullivan said dwelling on that would miss the point.

Rather, he decided to run for county executive — days before an April filing deadline — after hearing about women being accosted at the Westfield Montgomery Mall, a bank robbery in Bethesda and the rampant theft of catalytic converters from Toyota Priuses.

“The development of my platform was not related to anything at the national level. I was just pissed off, frankly. This is not the Montgomery County I grew up in,” Mr. Sullivan told The Washington Times. “I got upset when I was looking at some of the taxes we were paying and I said I’m going to get out from behind my keyboard and get involved.”

Mr. Sullivan, a 62-year-old architectural engineer from Gaithersburg, won the GOP nomination with 63% of the primary vote and will face incumbent Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, in November.

The Republican faces long odds in a Capitol region county where registered Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters four to one, though Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Elrich is vulnerable after he won the Democratic primary by only 32 votes over businessman David Blair.

“The Democratic voters are deeply divided. Sixty percent of the Democratic voters did not support Marc Elrich,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Forty percent supported David Blair. David Blair’s positions and my positions are very similar.”

Montgomery County is home to over 1 million people and is the most populous county in Maryland. Relatively wealthy and suburban, it is home to towns like Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring in the Washington area and features many federal government offices and large business sites.

Mr. Sullivan said county leadership is too quick to criticize police at a time when people simply want to feel safe in their homes. He pointed to the large number of county residents who must commute into northern Virginia, saying it is the symptom of a poor business climate.

Mr. Sullivan said the county could use a fast-track permitting system like the “velocity” one in Washington, which allows companies to get a meeting with permit officials and win approval on the same day. He said Montgomery County officials, meanwhile, tend to find fault with applicants instead of helping them out.

“They want to catch you doing something as opposed to, ‘What can we do to get your permit and do your jobs?’” said Mr. Sullivan, who said he’s experienced the cumbersome process firsthand as a business owner who builds commercial projects.

Mr. Elrich is a former Takoma Park elementary teacher who served as an at-large member on the Montgomery Council beginning in 2006 and was elected as county executive in November 2018.

His campaign says the county fully funded schools, kept its AAA bond rating and raised police pay without raising taxes. Mr. Elrich says there is more to do, however, on affordable housing, “ending developer giveaways” and expanding broadband internet access.

Mr. Elrich has moved to head off criticism around public safety by saying he increased police spending by $23.3 million or 8% and raised salaries for junior police officers by 28% over the last four years. He also played a key role in establishing a Police Accountability Board to handle complaints about possible police misconduct.

“We can both ensure that our communities remain safe as well as restore trust in policing,” Mr. Elrich’s campaign website says.

On education, the Elrich team also points to extensive school renovations at 13 schools over the past four years; a 2021 survey that found over eight in 10 county residents think the schools are “good or excellent;” and praise from a key teachers’ union.

“Not only has County Executive Elrich proven a commitment to public education, but he also worked tirelessly to best address COVID-19, made progress in advancing racial justice, and gave educators a seat at the table with meaningful policy when others gave us platitudes,” Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Educators Association, said.

Mr. Sullivan said the voters he meets are still smarting over COVID-19 school closures that began before other parts of the country and ended too long after others. He also said schools are too quick to focus on “social justice” instead of science, technology, engineering and math subjects that could better prepare them for the labor force.

With less than two months to go before the election, Mr. Sullivan’s main challenge could be getting voters to know who he is and hear him out.

“I haven’t seen any polling but I would suspect that right now I would not poll very high because I don’t have great name recognition,” Mr. Sullivan said. “That’s my job, I have to get name recognition.”

Mr. Sullivan, who is Black, said he doesn’t get the type of open criticism that some national politicians have gotten for being Black Republicans, though it does come up on his Facebook page.

“Sometimes we leave it up, so people can see what we have to deal with,” he said, but added: “I think the people in Montgomery County are open-minded and educated.”

For now, he is tuning out the national noise with his slogan, “Common Sense for the Common Good,” and highlighting local issues such as bringing 5G broadband to the county and repairing the American Legion Bridge that allows the Beltway to traverse from the county to Virginia over the Potomac River.

If he pulls off the upset, Mr. Sullivan would be the first Republican Montgomery County executive since the very first one, James P. Gleason, who served from 1970 to 1978.

“Montgomery County is very close to D.C. so we get wrapped up in national politics,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Whether it’s Biden coming to Rockville or whatever the national politics is, it is not going help people get the trash picked up, it’s not going to help fund the police officers, it’s not going to bring jobs to Montgomery County. It’s fodder for people to talk about but it’s not going to change the day-to-day functions here.”

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