Facing an uphill battle

jim shalleckGetting his message to the people has been an uphill challenge for James Shalleck, a Gaithersburg attorney who’s taking on Ike Leggett for Montgomery County Executive.

The former Bronx, N.Y. DA who prosecuted David Berkowitz – the infamous Son of Sam killer – said running as a Republican is difficult in this county, but he’s still optimistic and incredibly inspired. Shalleck said he’s happy about how the race is going so far, and he loves the way Republicans are working together.

“The race is going very well,” Shalleck said. “The energy in the Republican party is really high, so we’re getting a lot of support from the party. A lot of volunteers [are] working with other candidates, jointly distributing literature because we’re outnumbered by Democrats. So we’re working together. When one candidate goes out door knocking or handing out literature, they take my literature. I take their literature when I go out, so the party is working very cohesively together. (There is) a lot of energy, so it’s going really well.”

It’s been 40 years since a Republican won the county executive seat, when the late James Gleason won his second term in 1974. He was the only Republican to secure the coveted position. Shalleck said a one-party rule has hurt the county, pointing to the still unopened Silver Spring Transit Center as an example.

“There was no oversight,” he said. “There was no political discourse. There were no Republicans asking questions during this four year period. So we think if we had Republicans in county government it would be better for the people. You’d have a dialogue, a debate.”

Shalleck said those involved with the over-budgeted transit center should be thoroughly investigated and that he questions whether anything fraudulent occurred.

“I've called for a federal criminal grand jury investigation,” Shalleck said. “Not to say anybody did anything criminal, but with a grand jury, the U.S. Attorney can issue subpoenas and they can get documents, witnesses under oath, and they can ask the hard questions. Were there kickbacks? Was there inferior product purchased with monies that were meant for better product? Were political contributors given sweetheart contracts? Because something went wrong. It's tens of millions of dollars overdue, years overdue and the buses can’t ride on the concrete structure.”

Shalleck said the main theme of the Republican campaign this year is to end one-party rule.

 “Because when you have one-party rule, there’s no friction of ideas, no debate, no dialogue and it’s not good to have either all Democrats or all Republicans, so we’re hoping that the people sense that two-party government is healthier,” Shalleck said.

Sitting down with Shalleck, it doesn’t take long to gather that he’s a man looking to make huge sweeping changes that some might consider out-of-the-box. Shalleck said he wants to alleviate the morning traffic on southbound 270 by using two lanes on the northbound side because it’s rarely congested at that time. He wants to do the same thing on 355. Shalleck said because most people in Montgomery County drive, pumping millions of dollars into public transit is the wrong fit.

Shalleck said he also wants to bring a professional sports team and a four year university to Montgomery County, which he said will bring in huge dollars and create an unprecedented vibrancy in the area. Shalleck said he recognizes the high cost of building a university, but the dollars could possibly come from the private sector.

“Maybe Bill Marriott would like to build Marriott University,” he said.

But before a professional sports league is assembled and the four year university is built, Shalleck said he wants to put a uniformed police officer in every school.

“That's why I’m running,” Shalleck said. “I'm running for this office because over the last year or two I’ve seen too many tragedies on TV. News helicopters over schools, reporters chasing parents, frantic. These horrific killings at schools are just something I fear. I think we’re too complacent in this county. We have 154,000 students and there’s a police presence at just the high schools, I think at 20 or 25 high schools. I want to see a police presence at every school with a marked cruiser. I want to update our communication assets, so police and fire emergency will be on the same frequency. I want to give all the assets and personnel needed. Because I never want to see a CNN helicopter over any of our schools.”

So far Shalleck has lost two elections for state’s attorney. One in 1998 to the late Thomas Martin O’Malley and another in 2006 to John McCarthy, who currently holds the seat. Shalleck moved to Maryland from New York in 1989, and graduated from both Tulane University and New York Law School.

Although Shalleck said he considers himself a real underdog in this race, the self-proclaimed law enforcement guy feels that many people will agree with his ideas, particularly what he wants to do with the bag tax. Shalleck said it’s bad for consumers and business owners alike.

“One of the first things I’d like to do is eliminate the bag tax,” he said. “It's an embarrassment that the county is asking you for a nickel just to put your product in a bag. It hurts business. Business men and women have to do all the logistics with the paper work and people get upset with it.”

Shalleck said he believes Democrats in this county aren’t business friendly, and said things should be more like Virginia, where there’s always construction and building cranes. Businesses here, Shalleck said, will thrive under his administration and make tons of money, but he’ll also be looking for those same businesses to contribute to things like affordable housing stock and mental health rehabilitation centers.

Shalleck said he also wants to trim spending, as too much money is going towards administrative costs, salaries and nonessential services.

“I’ve been told there are over 400 cars the county owns. You drive past the Board of Education and the administrative parking lot looks like Yankee Stadium... So I want to look at all the costs that we spend, but I’m not going to touch public safety.”

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