Why are you running for County Council?
I have worked for the Montgomery County government for the past 11 years, including 10 on the senior staff of the County Council. Over the past 40 years, I have lived for long stretches in Bethesda, Gaithersburg and in the upcounty. I have listened to what people want to make this a better place—and the current members of the County Council have not been listening.
Last year, they raised property taxes by 8.7 percent for no good reason—even against the advice of the county executive. They promised the money would go to schools—but then they spent less than half of it on schools. I grew scared in continuing to listen to residents—both working class and retirees—saying that they no longer afford to live in the county. I am worried about the development plans the council has rushed to approve—without realistic plans for supporting infrastructure such as roads, transit, school capacity and parking spaces.
We cannot continue to just talk about road and transit projects for 30 years—we need to pick out a couple of the most important ones and get them done. Our prized school system has spent much of the past two decades just trying to keep up and raise test scores, rather than concentrate on innovative courses that will either prepare students for college or for a working career.
And then there are quality of life issues that our council has imposed without representing what people want. Are we really a county that should be hiding speed cameras behind bushes? They are great in areas such as school zones, but the program should be about safety, not grabbing a few more dollars. I am running to bring a realistic approach to government and some real leadership to get things done.
What are your qualifications for the position?
I worked as a Washington Post reporter and editor for 20 years and for the past 18 years as a senior staff member in local government at the state Board of Education (two years), the city of Rockville (six years) and with the County Council (10 years).
For the past year, I have been working on special projects for the Montgomery County Office of Public Information. I have working to help the small business owners of Wheaton through a difficult period as the county is embarking on a three-year revitalization project for its downtown area. I also have been working with organizations and agencies in downtown Silver Spring to try and better coordinate and publicize the many entertainment activities that go on in the vibrant area, but that do not have a centralized place (a Silver Spring web site) to view ALL of the activities being staged by public and private entities.
I have more years of experience working with the council than any other candidate, including the lone incumbent seeking reelection. I know what it takes to carry an idea to a law or a program. I want to work with all of the new members of the council, and those who will be returning, to have more cooperation and to get more done with less grandstanding. I am confident that this experience makes me different than the other 32 Democratic candidates.
Are you using public financing, yes or no?
If yes, have you qualified for matching funds?
No. But I hope to reach the matching figures by the deadline.
What specific policies and/or programs would you propose to expand the county’s tax base?
Economic development really is about investment. We have formed a new Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, but it is terribly underfunded. How can we expect to attract new companies and do what it takes to retain current ones without having the competitive funding that many of our competitors have?
It will start with things like one of our most valuable buildings—the soon-to-be vacated Discovery building in downtown Silver Spring. We need a Class A tenant in that space, and attracting a special company will take creativeness and incentives.
Also to be competitive, we must provide the resources that attract businesses—and that includes the lifestyles businesses want for their employees. Montgomery County is in a great location near the nation’s capital, but it is expensive to live in areas close to downtown Washington. We must make it affordable for people to live here.
My experience working with the County Council makes me very familiar with the county law—approved by voters—that allows one councilmember to ensure government will operate more efficiently. The law allows one councilmember to block an increase in property taxes above the county charter Limit (basically the rate of inflation). Using this law, I will GUARANTEE that property taxes do not increase for four years.
Compared to places like Fairfax and Arlington, where property taxes increase yearly, this would be a great incentive to get companies to relocate here and naturally expand our tax base. This is a guarantee that cannot be found anywhere else.
I’m an average voter, interested in doing my civic duty but not an avid follower of county politics. Convince me that I should vote for you over all the other candidates.
For the past decade, we have had elected officials who, overall, spent much of their time telling residents their perception what we need. They did not do enough listening to what people actually want.
There are 33 Democratic candidates seeking four at-large seats on the County Council and this has led to many candidates promising their respective souls to special interest groups to earn endorsements. Some of those running consider a council position as their way to become governor, senator, congressional representative or county executive. I will not be running for those other offices.
My goal is simply to be a councilmember who works to get things done that the residents want.
I want to people who work here, want to move here or who want to be able to retire here to know that we are not going to tax them out of their homes.
We need to set higher bars for our schools. They are good. We need more of them, in more neighborhoods, to strive to be great. We need to offer more support to the wonderful nonprofit organizations that do so much for the people in this county who are need of services the government cannot provide. And we need to things that make sure our quality of life is good: building and refurbishing library buildings is good. Not providing enough funding for books and modern computers (as our county has done lately) is something we must change.
Many of the candidates running for at-large seats on the County Council are very good people with good ideas and good intentions. I am the one with the most experience and the one who knows how to get things done (whether my ideas or the ideas of others, that need some guidance). You get to vote for four of us. If you want to see a lot of things done in the next four years—without seeing your property taxes increase, make sure one of your votes is for me.
Neil H. Greenberger is in his 11th year working for the Montgomery County government, including 10 years as the legislative information officer of the Montgomery County Council. Both in career and personal life, Neil has been a strong advocate for schools that are innovative in their subject matter, for expanded assistance to nonprofits, for realistic development plans that consider both current and future residents, for increased services for senior residents and for finding ways to open opportunities to more people.
Among his duties working for the County Council were to oversee operations of the county web site and the county cable television station, in which he changed its approach to programming—and won several national awards for the efforts, including the station’s first regional Emmy awarded by the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts & Science
In 2012, Greenberger chaired the “Montgomery County Honors World War II Veterans” event held before a capacity crowd in Silver Sprin. In 2015, he was the co-chair of the event “Honor and Gratitude: Montgomery County Salutes Vietnam Veterans.” That was the first significant event to honor Vietnam veterans since the war ended 40 years earlier. He advocated for the Legislative Information Office to have bilingual employees who would directly work for the Spanish and Asian communities of the County.
Greenberger previously worked for six years as the public information officer for the city of Rockville and for two years in the Community Outreach Office of the state Board of Education and the office of State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick.
He spent much of his career as a writer and editor for The Washington Post, winning several awards working chiefly as a sportswriter covering The Washington Redskins, professional football in general, college football and basketball. For five years, he was in charge of The Post’s local sports coverage. He wrote one story that led to then-Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann being pictured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a piece of tape over his mouth to illustrate he would no longer be talking with the media (typical Joe—that ban lasted only four weeks).
Greenberger, who has lived for long periods in Bethesda and Gaithersburg, now lives in a historic house in Damascus, with his best friend Chaos—the world’s cutest cocker spaniel.