Roger Berliner was elected President of the Montgomery County Council on December 6, exactly one month after the general election. Berliner, along with Vice President Hans Riemer, was unanimously chosen by his colleagues in the council for the annual position. Berliner is a strong liberal from North Bethesda and represents Montgomery County’s District 1, which encompasses a strip of land from Poolesville to Chevy Chase. He was first elected to the County Council in 2006 and previously served as Council President in 2011.
In the wake of heavy Republican victories in the general election, Berliner faced increased pressure from residents of the historically left-leaning county to commit his progressive agendas. According to Bethesda Magazine, he said, “In a time of great anger, our response must be we must double down on respectful discourse, on listening even more carefully to what our residents are saying to us, on honoring the legitimate need of all our residents—and in finding common ground.”
Berliner is the chair of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy, and Environment Committee and is a strong advocate for rapid transit and commute via bicycles. He has also worked on legislation that promotes sustainability and a green community, such as measures to protect 10 Mile Creek, raise Pepco’s electrical reliability to a higher standard, and ensure that the county government exclusively purchases energy from renewable power sources. Berliner is a member of the Health & Human Services Committee and is an active proponent of seniors, the disabled, the impoverished, and library users.
He has been awarded numerous awards for his work on the Council, including the 2015 Washington Area Bicyclist Association Award and the Solar Energy Industries Association Solar Champion Award. In 2010, Berliner was named Best County Council Member by readers of Bethesda Magazine.
Berliner’s priorities for the county include improving education and transportation, creating vibrant and inclusive communities, and expanding social mobility. He hopes to improve the county’s infrastructural services, such as keeping roads paved and removing snow in a timely manner.
To address the need to expand opportunities, Berliner and two of his colleagues have recently proposed a bill that creates a microloan program to assist needy entrepreneurs. The loans would be capped at $15,000 and are primarily geared towards immigrants. According to Bethesda Magazine, Berliner and his colleagues wrote, “We believe our county can and should play a more direct and aggressive role in bridging those gaps in order to ensure they have every opportunity to succeed and prosper.”
Displaying a more moderate tone, Berliner has also called to slow the legislation authored by several of his colleagues which would raise the minimum wage to $15.00 by 2020. According to WTOP, he stated, “It is true that there are way too many people working two, three jobs, and barely getting by. [However,] our small business community is totally concerned that this will throw people out of work, that it will cause them to close their businesses, that they will have personal bankruptcies.”
While Roger Berliner is not a name that immediately registers with most MoCo students, some students recognize a need to become involved in their local government and the County Council. Montgomery Blair High School junior Michael Yin expressed, “While it may seem like a County Council President does not have much power, I feel that Council Presidents can do a lot of good because they are so closely involved with the local community.”
MoCo students have high expectations for the future. Richard Montgomery High School sophomore Fatma Elsayed said, “I hope that the County Council President will work for the people by making them his priority, rather than just pulling off of his personal opinion.” Sharing similar thoughts, Yin added, “I’d expect a council president to put the best interests of the county first, and to frequently reach out to county residents to learn about their needs.”
As for what they hope Berliner will address in his term, Elsayed voiced, “The most important issue is ensuring the unity of the people in our community.” She added, “Throughout our schools there is a lot of imbalance with the quality of education. Everyone, no matter where they live, should have access to great education.” Also concerned about the quality of education in MoCo, Yin said, “I think one of the most important issues for Council President Berliner is working to ensure students can achieve their best by making sure families don’t go hungry.”
As 2017 begins, Montgomery County anticipates seeing what Berliner will accomplish in his term as County Council President.
Article by MoCo Student Staff Writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School