By Paige L. Hill in The Sentinel
Daniel Vovak won't shy away from a challenge.
The 38-year-old Republican is running for the office of Montgomery County executive against incumbent Isiah "Ike" Leggett, who has more than 30 years of county government experience. But Vovak said he is confident.
"Not one person has told me I can't win this thing," Vovak said. "The important thing to understand about me is that I'm a Republican who works with the Democrats; I actually take most of my political advice from Democrats."
Vovak currently works as a writer and film producer out of his home in Bethesda. He said he decided to run for county executive when he saw the police and fire unions getting the short end of the stick in the fiscal year 2010 budget which left Montgomery County with a $1 billion deficit.
"I hold no personal resentment against Ike, but I know that he lied to the unions, and they need a government they can trust," said Vovak, who calls himself a "union guy." "He said he wasn't going to cut those budgets - he did, and they are taking furloughs," Vovak said.
As the recession gobbled up county revenue, Leggett's years as county executive have seen him closing roughly $2.3 billion in budget gaps by freezing salaries for police officers, firefighters and other public employees, by eliminating almost 1,100 jobs and by implementing new taxes like the recent energy tax.
"If Montgomery County wasn't looking at a $1 billion deficit, a Republican wouldn't have a chance, but the environment is ripe for a new voice," Vovak said. "I've never wasted a billion dollars. I don't know what that feels like, but I do know what it feels like being a resident in a county that has done that."
Vovak said he is confident Service Employees International Union and the Parks Police will endorse him for the position.
"We have not made a decision on endorsements for that race, it is a member driven process that can take a little time we hope to have it wrapped up toward the end of the month," said SEIU spokeswoman Anna Oman.
But one union Vovak said he does not expect an endorsement from is the teacher's union.
"Just like the U.S. Military is a drain on the economy, so is the school system," said Vovak, referring to the roughly 57 percent of the county's budget that goes to the education system. "We have an administrator running the system instead of a school board, and we are seeing some bad behavior."
Vovak called out Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendant of Jerry Weast for suing the county when the budget did not reflect what he schools had hoped for.
"Can you imagine the U.S. Navy suing the U.S. Congress because they don't have enough money?" said Vovak, calling the current environment a crisis between the three branches of government, with the executive and legislative branches acting as one.
"I find it laughable that the council is blaming Ike and vice versa," Vovak said. "They are both at fault, and I would feel better if they were presenting a united front."
Vovak cited the second crisis as a problem of transparency.
"As county executive, I will be open and honest," Vovak said. "A firefighter told me that he thought they were closer with Leggett after 20 years and that he was disappointed he didn't have the decency to tell them when the budget was collapsing - Leggett is directly ignoring that the president asked us to be a transparent government."
Vovak asked Councilman Mike Knapp (D-Dist. 2) - who announced publically last month that he would not run for reelection in November - to come on as his senior chief administration officer. Knapp declined to comment at this time on the offer.
"We've got smart people living here, be it Republicans or Democrats, and they deserve a person who will be honest with them," Vovak said. SOURCE: Sentinel