In 1970, Gleason, a Republican, was elected as the first Montgomery County Executive in an overwhelmingly Democratic county.
James P. Gleason was born in 1921 and received a law degree from Georgetown University in 1950. He served as a legislative assistant to Senator Richard Nixon, administrative assistant to Senator Knowland, consultant to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Assistant Administrator of NASA, and as a member of many other task forces and committees. He was also chairman of both the Washington Suburban Transit Commission and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority. In 1968, he was appointed to the Montgomery County Council.
Gleason's tenure as County Executive was marked by an extensive reorganization of County government in 1972 and was an avid supporter of Metrorail. He refused to play party politics, and instead appointed department heads and staff with an evenhandedness based on merit. In 1978, despite assured reelection, he announced his retirement from politics to pursue a writing career.