David Blair, Entrepreneur and Political Activist, on his experience running for political office for the first time ~
“It’s an incredible experience. It’s a life changing experience and the amount of gratitude that I feel for having been through that process, no regrets with running. It was that phenomenal…It was the hardest thing I’ve done. I ran a public company for 15 years and I thought that was hard. . ..”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town. And I am so delighted to welcome a young man to Our Town, who I met on cold morning for breakfast at a place in Bethesda, and welcome to Our Town, David Blair.
David Blair: Thank you Andy, it’s great to be here.
David Blair’s Experience Running for County Executive
Andy Ockershausen: It was such a great morning ’cause Doro Koch and Eric Shuster, Eric said “you gotta come and meet David Blair”. I didn’t know you from the man in the moon, and Doro called and said you gotta do it and her sister in law, and we met for breakfast and they announced to me that you were planning to run for Montgomery County Executive. And I was impressed.
David Blair: That’s right. I remember that breakfast well.
Andy Ockershausen: And you did.
David Blair: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And you couldn’t have had a better supporter than Doro Koch and Eric Shuster.
David Blair: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Andy Ockershausen: ‘Course it didn’t help you win the seat. Or win a position, but you must have had a wonderful time, David.
David Blair: It’s an incredible experience. So it’s a life changing experience and the amount of gratitude that I feel for having been through that process, no regrets with running. It was that phenomenal.
Andy Ockershausen: Well for no other reason than just in the race, that politicians deserve a lot of credit. I don’t wanna, it’s bigger than credit, but they really throw their lives into it. It’s not a causal job. It’s full time.
David Blair: It was the hardest thing I’ve done. So I ran a public company for 15 years and I thought that was hard and we used to say oh wow, we have to work for a week on this project or we have to pull an all nighter. Running for office was up early, 7 a.m., home you know 9 or 10 o’clock and then it was seven days a week. And so one of the challenges was you never got a chance to exhale. Like you would look at your calendar at like 10 o’clock the night before the next day and you just went all day. It was an extremely hard thing to do.
Andy Ockershausen: But you were managed, ’cause you have to do that. Before we get to your political career, I’d like to talk about the early David Blair.
David Blair: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: Are you a native of Montgomery County?
Blair is Lifelong Resident of Montgomery County, MD – It’s in His Blood
David Blair: I am. Born and raised here.
Andy Ockershausen: And where’d you go to high school?
David Blair: So I was born in Silver Spring. Most of my life I was in Darnestown, as a kid growing up and went to the Darnestown elementary school and there was a middle school out there and I ended up going to high school at Bullis which is in Potomac.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, great school.
David Blair: Yeah, it was.
Andy Ockershausen: It used to be in the city years ago, but that was before your time.
David Blair: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: But Bullis is a fine school and a lot of great graduates of Bullis that went to college and so forth. And then you decided to stay in Montgomery County. I mean you opened your first business in Montgomery County?
David Blair: I did. So I went to school at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh that’s right. Oh we gotta hear about Clemson here again.
David Blair: Well now it’s easy to talk about them because of the football team.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Follows His Dad’s Footsteps
David Blair: But then I came back here and had degrees in finance and accounting and my dad had been a serial entrepreneur. So as a kid growing up, it just seemed like that was the thing that you do. So I went and worked for a couple of different individuals in the city and then was in my mid 20s I said okay, I gotta do like Dad and start a company, so that’s what I did.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my, and you continued to evolve in companies and bigger companies, and you always stayed in Montgomery County.
David Blair: We always had our corporate headquarters right here in Rockville, that’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah well that’s a blessing for the county to have young people like you that were so aggressive. You then decided to get married and raise a family in Montgomery County. It all comes back to this county doesn’t it?
David Blair: It does. And I know we’ll talk about this more later, but it’s one of the reasons that I ran for County Executive, ’cause I was a lifelong resident, I obviously bleed Montgomery County.
Potomac, MD | Royal Oak, MD | Big Sky, MT
Andy Ockershausen: And you live in Potomac now. Still in Potomac?
David Blair: Yes, that’s correct.
Andy Ockershausen: But you have a home. In fact, I’m one of the very few people you’ll know, I know where Royal Oak is. I have friends over there on the eastern shore and that is God’s Country. And you also have a place in the mountains in the ski country, Madison County?
David Blair: That’s right, in Montana.
Andy Ockershausen: In Montana.
David Blair: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: But it’s near Missoula?
David Blair: Big Sky Montana. It’s near Big Sky.
Andy Ockershausen: Big Sky, I know where that is. Absolutely.
David Blair: Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re first chance at politics was to go for the big apple, which is the County Executive. Why in the world did you not start on the lower level?
On Why He Ran for County Executive
David Blair: Well as an executive pretty much my entire professional career. I was used to running things. Bringing a sense of leadership, oversight on a budget, financial discipline, and our company was a similar size of our county government. Roughly six billion dollars budget. So to me-
Andy Ockershausen: Six billion.
David Blair: Six billion. That’s right. B with a beh.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s not walking around money.
David Blair: And it’s where I felt like I could have the greatest impact. And I worked with, and I still work with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington D.C. It’s a tremendous organization and having spent a couple of years with them, they were telling me where you’re gonna have your biggest impact is local politics, and as a Montgomery guy, I’ve seen the direction of the county, I was like okay, this is the place I’ve called home. It looks different than it did when I was growing up. I was concerned and had some ideas about how we could get us on the right track.
Andy Ockershausen: And then you decided to, had you always been a Democrat or were you involved with the democrat organization before you jumped in?
Blair’s Party Affiliation and Doro Bush Koch
David Blair: So I was a republican when I was 18, and my dad was a republican, so I was a registered republican, but then I switched party affiliations in my late 20s, but I’ve always affiliated myself more with the democratic party than the republicans.
Andy Ockershausen: Well one of the things that would appear to me because a better chance running as a democrat, the republican in Montgomery will never be elected. Even Robin knows that, we’re talking about Robin Ficker but he keeps throwing his hat in the ring and he loves it, but you never get elected as a republican. So you decided to run as a democrat. Now how did you meet Doro Koch? Because if there’s anybody more republican than Doro, I don’t know her.
David Blair: Well and one of the things that I was most proud of was Doro changed her party affiliation to a democrat so she could vote for me in the primaries.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. She was your champion.
David Blair: Yeah and so we became friends with Doro probably about five years ago, just through mutual friends. And she’s been a big part of our lives, she’s helped us in a number of different businesses. So my wife has a business called Badlands, it’s a kids indoor learning center, and Doro helped Mikel, my wife, get that business started several years ago.
Andy Ockershausen: Is Mikel born in the US, is she local?
Mikel Blair and Doro Bush Koch
David Blair: Well she was born in Oklahoma and she moved here maybe 10-15 years ago.
Andy Ockershausen: Mikel.
David Blair: I usually just say my wife. ‘Cause some people are like …
Andy Ockershausen: I love Mikel, but that’s a great name for a girl.
David Blair: Family name.
Andy Ockershausen: But Doro was deeply involved in literacy as you know from her mother, Barbara, and she had to say for Montgomery County. I got Comcast which was our old company, that owned my company, involved financially with Doro’s effort, and she always would invite me and Eric and whoever I would select to her show with the reading and so forth. Which always was so powerful. I hope that you understand what she’s into, ’cause it’s dynamite.
David Blair: So I don’t know that I know anybody that’s more kind, or more generous with their time than Doro. She’s just been a phenomenal friend and she’s been great for our community.
Andy Ockershausen: Well I had a conversation with Doro about a guest on Our Town and she was absolutely delighted to do it, but she had to go to Maine, she was taking care of her father. She sort of like replaced her mother in that role and they spent all their time up in Maine. She promised me though after the year or whatever she was with her dad, she would come back and work with me. So we’re waiting for Doro Koch, but in the meantime we got David Blair, who is Doro’s discovery, and you’re right, if you can find somebody better than Doro, you’re a lucky person David.
Compliments from President George H.W. Bush
David Blair: So Andy, I’ll just share this quick story that popped in my mind. One day on the campaign we’re at our campaign office and we’re all working really hard and Doro’s there, and she jumps up in front of me, she’s got her phone with me, she says hey David, I want you to say hi to my dad, and she’s face timing her dad, right, President Bush.
Andy Ockershausen: H.W.
David Blair: Yeah. And so now and President Bush is giving me advice like complimenting me and I’m thinking oh my gosh, it was a really neat moment to be talking to the former president.
Andy Ockershausen: And she can do that for you.
David Blair: Yeah, it was quite a day.
Andy Ockershausen: And that’s wonderful. I’ll give you my George Bush story. This is Andy Ockershausen, this is Our Town. We’re talking with David Blair.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and Our Town and I’m talking to David Blair and he had a great story to tell me about the president of the United States, formerly, H.W. Bush. I had a television show, you can believe it or not David, called Our Town. It was on channel 50. It was my station. I was president and working with the company and so forth. The owner suggested I do a show because it’s all about Washington. And we called it Our Town and we did it on a remote from a restaurant called Duke Zeibert’s that doesn’t exist anymore. That was one of Washington’s landmarks, and the same opportunity I would have, I appreciate very much with you, is having people as guests, special people. And you certainly are one of the most special people. And I mean that sincerely.
And I had the opportunity to do this show. And I had also went through a receiving line with some friends I grew up with and we were going through the receiving line with George H.W. Bush, who I had met playing tennis on the court and so forth. We weren’t intimate. And he said, he grabbed my hand and he said Andy, good to see you. He said I didn’t know you were television. I saw your show. You’re really good. And I’m flabbergasted. The President of the United States. And I said well thank you very much Mr. President. I said why in the world, that show was on Sunday morning like 6:30 a.m. He said well we were at Camp David and Barbara and I get up early when we’re up in the country and we got up and turned on the TV and there you were. I was so stunned. And the guys behind me, oh they couldn’t believe it either. A guy that took the time to do that, that’s what a class guy George H.W.
David Blair: And it runs right through Doro doesn’t it. Like you can see where Doro gets it.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s blood. Isn’t that amazing.
David Blair: It really is.
Andy Ockershausen: And her mother was delightful and what they did for literacy in the state of Maryland was fabulous.
David Blair: Incredible.
Andy Ockershausen: And you’re gonna do it David. ‘Cause you’re gonna stay in politics I hope, and would consider running again.
Blair Will Run for Political Office Again and How He Plans to Stay Relevant
David Blair: For sure. And I’m not gonna drift off into the shadows. I very much expect to stay relevant here and …
Andy Ockershausen: You work for the county do you not? As an unpaid assistant? I had seen something in your obit, not your obit. How close is that Janny, how stupid am I. Your PR firm has put out the word that you were an assistant to the county executive of some kind.
David Blair: That is correct. Yep, so I’ve been on Ike Leggett’s economic advisory group for the last several years helping them come up with policies around how to cultivate business growth in the county.
Andy Ockershausen: Well your name is getting around through politics, and as a result of this run, it’s gotten around to the public now too, correct?
David Blair: Yes. Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And even though this program is not the night after the election, we’re gonna talk about it because I’m sure you have some opinion about what happened in Montgomery County. No surprise there, correct?
David Blair: That’s right, no surprises.
Andy Ockershausen: And how about nationally? Are you surprised at all?
Party ChChChChanges at National Level – Up and Down
David Blair: I think just a tremendous relief that the democrats have taken control of the house. We needed a governor on the administration and hopefully they can slow down some of the backward policies that we’ve seen come out of DC.
Andy Ockershausen: David I have lived through many changes, as I recall it hasn’t been that long ago when Barack Obama went on television and said we got shellacked because he lost the house, if you remember that.
David Blair: Sure.
Andy Ockershausen: So it’s happened, it’s back and forth in our society, and I think it’s probably a very, very good thing, the ups and downs on both parties.
David Blair: I think we need a healthy debate and it will be good. It can’t be worse than it was for sure.
Andy Ockershausen: I’m reading in the paper, this should drive the parties to bipartisanship, but I’ve read that before, ’cause I’ve heard all of that. Go back to Harry Truman and I heard about it under Eisenhower, that he was gonna be the great consolidator and they just blew Eisenhower away you know. I mean the democrats took over.
David Blair: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: He won, but the party didn’t win. So we’ve seen it again. We saw that with Reagan. They said on the press floor that the democratic party was dead, that they’d never make a comeback after Reagan won all those electoral votes. Guess what, that’s not true. They made a great comeback. And they always will, both parties will. They’ll go up and down, which is what makes us a great society.
David Blair: Yes, yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: Remember that, Lyndon Johnson, The Great Society came out of Texas, and he was a Congressman, you knew that didn’t you?
David Blair: Sure I did.
Andy Ockershausen: He started in Congress and then went on to be a Senator.
David Blair: It’s unbelievably cyclical how this happens and I don’t know if one party starts to get confident and thinks that they can outreach to what they should be doing, but sure enough the other party comes storming back, over and over again.
Andy Ockershausen: People change David.
David Blair: That’s right.
Blair’s Children’s Perspective on Campaign
Andy Ockershausen: Now how are you with the children? Are they happy with your political career?
David Blair: So you know what, so the teenagers generally are so selfish that they’re much more worried about themselves than me. The little kids, we have a 7 year old and an 8 year old and I think they appreciate that I lost because I was gone so much and they were kind of rooting for that. And they’re very insensitive, because they’ll see signs on the road and say so dad you came in second place right? I’m like oh. So there’s no prize for second right. So we lost.
Andy Ockershausen: Be quiet, sit in the back.
David Blair: I’m like thanks for reminding me we lost. And they even know that I lost by 77 votes, so they’ll talk about that too. And they think that that’s a big number, that 77 is a lot.
Andy Ockershausen: Well you didn’t really, you lost, but you also won. You won the opportunity to run to appear before the public, and you offered yourself as a candidate. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.
David Blair: And I would suggest to all of your listeners that if anybody’s thinking about running, run. It’s such an incredible thing to do and you get an appreciation for democracy. We all know it, that every person has one vote, right? We all know that.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
“Treat Everybody the Same, Everybody’s One Vote”
David Blair: But when you’re out there shaking hands at the Metro stops, or wherever, you start to realize, it doesn’t matter your age, your religion, your race, like everybody’s one vote. And so it’s a phenomenal thing that kind of hits you and like okay it’s extremely humbling.
Andy Ockershausen: Well I can share it, because I was never a candidate, but I was very active years ago in the republican and the democrat party, in Alexandria. I lived in Virginia. But the experience that I felt through the candidates was great. I remember one time polling with one of my candidates, he was running for the City Council and he was knocking on doors and I was trailing him and he knocks on the door, lady opened the door, he said good evening ma’am, I’m Harvey Cohen, and I’m running for City Council. She said I hate you, boom, slammed the door. How can she hate you, she doesn’t know you. He said they always know you. But that was my introduction to partisan politics. She never gave him a chance. But he ran. And worked like a dog.
David Blair: So you have to treat everybody the same ’cause everybody has one vote. And so one of the stories that makes me smile is I’m at a Metro stop and I’m trying to shake hands and talk to everybody and this fellow comes up to me and he’s not well dressed, and I do my like best two minute speech why you should vote for David Blair. And he goes, I’m sorry, I just wanted to know if I could have the rest of your coffee. So that’s … you never know who.
Andy Ockershausen: Hope train.
David Blair: That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: Right but great experiences. So even though you lost you won. You got a lot out of that campaign didn’t you?
Making Lifelong Friendships is Best Thing About Running for Political Office
David Blair: Right. And the best thing were the friendships. When we kind of wrote down the pros and cons of running, we never thought about the new relationships. I have friends now that, people I’ve met, that I’ll have for the rest of my life. And the gratitude that you have, because people will open up their homes, they’ll have fundraisers for you, and you feel this guilt, like how can i ever possibly pay these people back. So the new friendships is probably the true blessing that we didn’t expect and we’ll have for the rest of our lives.
Andy Ockershausen: Well David, probably one of the reasons that you’re successful ’cause in life, the secret of life when you give, you get back more than you gave. And that’s true in business or whatever you’re doing. When you give it really pays off.
The Wedding Benefit – One of the Reasons Blair’s Company was Successful
David Blair: I agree. I totally, and not to digress, but on the business front, we were so generous with our employees because we get back so much and so one of the things that we had, was we had something called a wedding benefit, and so if you got married at my company, you got a thousand dollars and an extra week’s vacation. And it started when we were a really small company, and a guy, Matt in accounts payable came to me and he was telling me about his honeymoon, they went to Niagara Falls, and I go that must have been really pretty. He goes no, no, you don’t understand. In the wintertime it’s frozen and so it’s really cheap. And so he couldn’t afford a honeymoon so I was like, went to HR and said okay we’re gonna come up with a wedding benefit. And then we got to be thousands of employees it was just revered, this benefit. And one of the funny things is, as we would buy companies, so say we’d go and buy a company that’s got 400 or 500 employees. The number of weddings that would happen within the next couple of weeks, because people had been living together for you know years and they’re like well I never wanted to marry her, but for a thousand bucks I’ll get married.
Andy Ockershausen: Great story David, and so true.
David Blair: We had a lot of benefits like that.
Andy Ockershausen: And money is the most important thing you can do for them. When you get them a toaster or an oven or something, or a refrigerator, but give them cash. They really respond to that, do they not?
David Blair: It was cash and an extra week’s vacation and people loved it. So we had a number of fun things like that.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s why you were so successful David.
David Blair: Well what triggered it was when you said when you give you get back and I think one of the reasons our company was successful was because we gave so much and then we got it back.
Andy Ockershausen: The employees they loved it. And it shows David. Well we’re gonna start not talking about your philosophical career as a sportsman. And this is Our Town with David Blair, future Montgomery County Executive.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and with David Blair, that’s a name that you will hear a lot of in the future because I think he is the epitome of a young man that’s on the move up for the good of people. And David, and then you introduce yourself as a sportsman by joining Monumental Sports. Are you a stockholder, advisor, paid, I mean Monumental Sports to me is a huge endeavor.
Blair’s Monumental Sports Affiliation and the Generosity of Ted Leonsis
David Blair: So I’m a partner and an investor, so Ted Leonsis is the majority owner, he’s a super gracious generous man and he allowed me to buy in and a sliver if you will, many years ago and it’s been a phenomenal experience.
Andy Ockershausen: Great for you to be, ’cause you’re with the hoy palloy of the City with his group and Lincoln Holdings, so I know most of the people. They have really supported Ted and of course Ted has given back. As another example guy’s given so much to our City but look what he’s gotten back, a Stanley Cup.
David Blair: So he is so generous and if you look at the things that Monumental Sports has done from a philanthropic perspective over the last decade. It really warms your heart and then most recently now they won the Stanley Cup to give that back to the City and the incredible day we had last spring with that parade, and all the people that came out and the joy that that brought was fabulous.
Andy Ockershausen: That was a City endeavor of a magnitude, the only thing close to that has been when the Redskins win a Super Bowl. Because that’s older and it’s a lot more area wide. I grew up in the city of Washington. I never saw a hockey team til the Caps arrived. ‘Cause we didn’t have hockey in my town. And he’s brought that in. Of course Abe did that and with the stadium and then putting it in the middle of the City and Leonsis has capitalized on that. I love it. It’s great.
David Blair: It’s just been great and as I grew up in this area and I was a die hard Washington Redskins fan and it’s just been too long right, since we’ve been back to the Super Bowl.
Andy Ockershausen: Been a long time, may still be a long time. David, I’m trying to think of so many people I know that you’re involved with, Raul, Raul is on your board.
David Blair: Sure, Fernandez.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, we were involved with him with Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School out in Takoma Park and he’s a great guy. I worked with him for years on something called Fight Night that sort of was a phenomenon in Our Town if you remember and it was a great experience to be with all these people. What’s the man’s name, Rales that has that museum.
Mitch Rales – Glenstone
David Blair: Oh sure.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Mitch Rales.
Andy Ockershausen: In Potomac. Have you seen his museum?
David Blair: I have. Yeah it’s fabulous yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: That must be fabulous. That was Mitch right?
David Blair: Yeah, Rales.
Andy Ockershausen: Mitch Rales. I mean what these people are doing, and now you’re associated with that group. So what are your feelings now about, what are you going to do about the Wizards now? He bought the Wizards. He fell into that. He got stuck with the Wizards after the Caps, correct?
The Washington Wizards
David Blair: Yep. So they’re struggling. They’re off to a slow start, but season’s still early, so you know.
Andy Ockershausen: David, it’s professional NBA, cities would give their youngest born for an NBA franchise you know that. It’s golden. And it’ll eventually get straightened out. I hope so for the stockholders.
David Blair: And for the fan base. I mean the difference when you go to a Capitals game versus a Wizard’s game and you see the enthusiasm behind a winning team, I’d love to see that happen at the Wizards games where you have sold out crowds, no one’s cheering for the opposition and hopefully we’ll get there.
Andy Ockershausen: Well that was true for a while when Michael was here, remember that?
David Blair: Yeah, that was great.
Andy Ockershausen: The years that Michael was here and I go back to the Bullets of course that moved from Baltimore over here. You’re too young to remember that. They were the Baltimore Bullets and Abe brought them over and we did the broadcast for them on WMAL and then when he had the hockey team, we started broadcasting hockey on WMAL and so I got very close to Abe and I know he was really committed to the city and it paid off when he decided to build and pay for that stadium himself.
David Blair: Right.
Andy Ockershausen: So you guys own the field now. I mean you own the stadium.
David Blair: We do. That’s correct.
Andy Ockershausen: Lincoln Holding.
David Blair: That’s correct, yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: And I know Ted was feeling that the tax bracket was unfair and he wasn’t getting much of a break and I hope the City realizes that, how important that facility is, and I hope and pray he doesn’t move.
David Blair: I don’t think there’s any plans to and we just opened up the practice facility in DC.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah up near St. Elizabeths.
David Blair: That’s correct. That’s right. That’s a great place so that’ll bring some business activity there.
Andy Ockershausen: You know that’s good for Our Town. Everything’s happening up on the hill there and it’s been so good for Mississippi Avenue. I was associated for years with the police boys and girls club and we had a clubhouse up there on Mississippi Avenue and we had the best time to bring that community together and it worked. But David, I can’t thank you enough for doing this. Sticking your neck out, sticking your neck out for the county executive and now sticking your neck out on Our Town.
David Blair: Well thank you, Andy, I really appreciate the time with you today.
Andy Ockershausen: And we look forward to your next race, David, and we’ll be with you all the way.
David Blair: Okay, thank you.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen and this has been Our Town, with David Blair.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town Season 4, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook, or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL radio in Washington DC, and thanks to GEICO. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.
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