Montgomery's Dilemma

October 29, 1990

Neal Potter's decisive primary defeat of incumbent Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer was only the first skirmish in what is turning out to be an uphill battle. Mr. Potter's estrangement from Montgomery's powerful business community may prove a heavy political liability, especially in light of Mr. Kramer's unorthodox but feisty write-in campaign.

As election day nears, the Potter campaign is focusing more on toning down the former councilman's anti-development image than stumping against longshot Republican challenger Albert Ceccone. Mr. Potter's campaign agents let it be known that he is seriously eyeing William Hussmann, a former county official and development firm executive, as chief administrative officer.

He is also meeting with business leaders and trying to distance himself from some of his more radical proposals. Mr. Potter now is willing, for example, to reconsider a development tax and taxes on employee parking spaces -- two key sore points with county businesses.

Yet Mr. Potter's anti-growth reputation persists. Just days after a breakfast with Montgomery corporate leaders, the president of a high-tech firm fired off a letter to Gov. William Donald Schaefer saying the business community was discouraged and bewildered by Mr. Potter's positions.

With Montgomery facing mounting fiscal troubles, the business community is particularly worried about Mr. Potter's plans to curtail economic development and impose a greater tax burden on county employers.

Mr. Potter says the letter, leaked to reporters, is merely a political ploy. That may be, but he increasingly finds himself on the defensive as Mr. Kramer's business-backed drive gathers momentum. The political action committee representing Montgomery's business groups is backing Mr. Kramer. The incumbent also has picked up endorsements from the county's police officers and 1,000 firefighters, a signal that he is sapping support from traditionally Democratic groups. Then there is strong, if unofficial, Republican backing for Mr. Kramer.

Once again, the man Neal Potter has to beat is Sidney Kramer. It is no small irony that the anti-growth sentiment that propelled Mr. Potter to his primary victory is now putting a strain on his campaign. Some even suggest Mr. Kramer's write-in effort could upset Mr. Potter's earlier upset. Yet Mr. Kramer was trounced by Mr. Potter in September. His write-in campaign still looks like an exercise in sour grapes.

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