Category Archives: Montgomery County Council

Leventhal Slams CASA

casa logo

The Washington Post reports that dealing with negative impacts of the Purple Line on low-income people is CASA’s biggest priority and the lack of concern with these issues cost incumbent Councilmembers George Leventhal and Nancy Floreen the organization’s support:

CASA ‘s biggest priority in Montgomery at the moment is the Purple Line’s potential threat to affordable housing and minority-owned small businesses in communities such as Long Branch. In CASA’s assessment, they weren’t there with them. . . .

CASA and other groups are worried that gentrification, triggered by escalating real estate values along the route, will price Latinos out of the community.

“George’s perception is that any discussion of equity around the Purple Line undermines its chances of going forward,” Propeack said.

George responded less than tactfully:

“My impression is that they’re trying to insult me,” Leventhal said. He added: “I do think CASA sometimes loses sight of the fact that the primary beneficiaries of the Purple Line will be Latinos. It will be of enormous benefit to workers who will have greater access to jobs. I guess they think transit is bad for communities.”

This quote exhibits George’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. He is fervent in his causes and makes cogent arguments for them. At the same time, he often acts in ways that express disdain for people who disagree with him and build barriers rather than friends. This case is especially telling because of his past very close relationship with CASA and his genuine, strong support for Latinos.

Nancy also made a statement to the reporter:

Floreen said she couldn’t say what happened.

“I have no idea. These are folks with their own agenda. They’re all advocates for something or other.”

Whether you agree with her or not, Nancy is opinionated, informed, and smart as a whip. But when I read this, it sounded like the least sensible quote ever from Nancy Floreen. Of course, they have an agenda. They’re an interest group.

However, interviews are long and quotes are short, so I gave Nancy a call. Her assessment has more sang-froid than George’s:

It’s their assessment of the politics of the situation. I’ve always supported them and their interests in the past and will continue to do so in the future whether or not they endorse me.

Essentially, they’re an interest group with their own goals they will do what they will do. A smart response as it leaves doors open, doesn’t alienate, or give the story more traction.

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SEIU Endorses Council Candidates

SEIU Local 500 has released their endorsements for Montgomery County Council Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4:

1: Roger Berliner
2: Craig Rice
3: Ryan Spiegel
4: Nancy Navarro (unopposed)

The most interesting endorsements are in Districts 1 and 3.

In District 3 (Rockville-Gaithersburg), Ryan Spiegel now has the endorsement of two major school system unions: MCEA and SEIU. Two nice endorsements in a hotly contested race with several high-quality candidates for this open seat.

In District 1, Roger Berliner has to be relieved to have received SEIU’s endorsement in his tough contest against Duchy Trachtenberg. So far, MCEA has not endorsed in that race.

The District 1 race could be shaping up as a proxy fight between the school system and county government employee unions. The latter have been mighty unhappy with the current Council and believe that the former have done comparatively well.

Roger Berliner looks among the more vulnerable Council incumbents. Duchy Trachtenberg is not labor’s ideal vehicle given her history but she is the only option if the government employee unions want to take out Berliner and exercise some muscle. Recently, Trachtenberg hired Robert Stewart, the just retired executive director of MCGEO, as her campaign manager.

High-income District 1–it includes Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase–seems an unlikely locale for a labor proxy fight but stranger things have happened. Their divisions could also provide opportunities for other groups to have more influence.

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Navarro Lambastes Former Council Aide

It’s not every day you see a former Montgomery County Council President take a former Council aide to task in the pages of the Washington Post. But that’s just what Nancy Navarro did to Dan Reed, a blogger and former aide to Councilmember George Leventhal.

Along with Amanda Kolson Hurley, Reed wrote an opinion piece for the WaPo arguing for the preservation and historic designation of the Wheaton Community Recreation Center, a step recommended by the County’s Planning Board:

If the rec center is demolished, it will be a blow to Montgomery County. The building is an underappreciated and irreplaceable asset. Losing it would diminish our heritage and undermine Wheaton’s ability to attract businesses and residents.

Navarro’s riposte said that their piece:

. . . showed how some seem to view this debate as an academic exercise. Wheaton residents, including unprecedented participation by the Latino community, overwhelmingly testified against historic designation throughout the process. Only historians and career preservationists testified in favor of retaining this dilapidated, leaky and moldy facility. The authors’ assertion that losing this eyesore would “undermine Wheaton’s ability to attract business and residents” is absurd.

Leventhal, Reed’s former boss, sided with Navarro on his Facebook page:

The proposal to preserve the old building fails to address adequately the cost of renovation, who should pay, and who would occupy it. Our operating budget is already strained and building maintenance has been deferred throughout the county. Park & Planning’s recommendation to preserve the dilapidated building follows years of neglect by Park & Planning. Further, preserving the old building will limit green space available for activities associated with the new combined Library & Rec Center. Wheaton deserves better!

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MoCo Council District 5 Candidate Terrill North Replies

In a post yesterday, I pointed out that Terrill North, a candidate for Montgomery County Council District 5, included a quote from Sen. Jamie Raskin on his campaign literature that indicated an endorsement that he did not have.

Here are Terrill North’s thoughts on the matter:

I was sharing comments that Sen. Raskin made at a campaign fundraiser last fall, much of it has been posted online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42CwihDTBis since November.  My goal was to share what Jamie has said publicly about my work helping over 750 at-risk youth in District Five each year through M.A.N.U.P. and Impact Silver Spring (which was the context of his remarks).  I didn’t mean to imply a formal endorsement, just to share what Jamie has said about me with people that are just now getting to know me.  I assume he has positive comments about most of the folks running for office this year because 1) it’s hard to work for progressive change without getting to know Jamie and 2) that’s the type of person Jamie is.  My apologies for any confusion and feel free to contact me directly at info@terrillnorth.com anytime with any questions or concerns.

 

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UPDATE: Raskin Statement on North Flyer

From Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20):

“I have had a number of calls from confused constituents and candidates about this piece, which I was totally unaware of. It quotes a statement I made in September of last year at Terrill’s kickoff for one of the at-large Council seats. But I have not endorsed Terrill for the District 5 seat and have made that clear to people who have called me about this.”

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Terrill North’s Campaign No-Noes

TNorth1Bad Campaign Lit: Has Quote from Non-Endorser

Montgomery County Council District 5 Candidate Terrill North has provided what educators call “a teaching moment” about campaign literature. Two of North’s lit pieces, one above and one below, contain quotes from Sen. Jamie Raskin, a popular guy in District 5. North also has photos with Raskin on his website.

Except that Raskin has not endorsed North. The quote is from when North was going to run at-large. Candidates should not use (1) quotations or (2) photos of other elected officials without their permission. Not in their literature, web sites, Facebook pages or anywhere else. Some think this is just fine. It’s not. It is misleading and dishonest to imply support that you don’t have.

I’ve included the third piece, actually the back of North’s first piece, as a counter example. Here, North lists his past efforts and goals for the district. That’s great. I hope we see more of that instead of quotations that imply support from non-endorsers.

TNorth3More Bad Campaign Lit

TNorth2 Good Campaign Lit Highlights Accomplishments and Goals

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Reforming MoCo Council Elections

council_districts

As previous posts have highlighted (here, here, and here), Democrats dominate Montgomery County elections with vanishingly small hope for Republicans. They don’t even bother to field candidates for a majority of the seats.

While Montgomery Democrats may cherish Republican-free Montgomery, it creates other problems for democratic governance. Relatively few people actually elect the Council. It is difficult to hold officials accountable when there is essentially no viable “out” party. It increases factionalism on the Council and makes it easier for councilmembers to shift positions without consequence.

This post suggests two reform methods, one simple and one more radical. The key to assessing any reform is to examine not just how it affects fairness or representation but also governance. While fairness is great, one needs to keep in mind the impact of changes on other aspects of our democratic system.

The first reform is very straightforward: abolish all of the at-large seats except one and increase the number of districts by three so the Council remains the same size. This change would reduce the ratio of constituents to councilmembers from roughly 200,000 to 125,000, the same as the state legislature, and make it easier for constituents and councilmembers to keep in touch.

The at-large member could be the council chair, eliminating the  jockeying for this visible post. Alternatively, all of the members could be elected from districts and continue to select the council chair from among their membership.

Advantages of this reform include a reduction in the cost of campaigns. Districts would be smaller so candidates would have to spend less money to campaign in them, possibly making it easier for less well-heeled candidates to enter races.

Opponents would argue that it eliminates councilmembers who take the whole county into account. But all councilmembers have their bases of support and three out of four at-large councilmembers currently hail from Silver Spring. Upcounty and West County folks might welcome additional representation in Rockville.

The real disadvantage is that it might leave us in much the same boat as now. It is virtually impossible to draw a Republican district in Montgomery, so we’d still have a single-party council with no representation of the permanent “out” party.

The second reform would address this issue. Voters would cast ballots just as now in the five districts. The votes in these districts would then be aggregated to distribute the remaining four at-large seats such that the overall allocation reflects this total, taking into account the number of district seats won by a party.

An example helps to illustrate. Suppose that the general election results fell on the following lines:

MoCoElectionDemocrats would win all five districts and receive those seats immediately. The allocation of the remaining four seats would occur in a manner designed to produce a proportional distribution among all of the seats.

In this simulated election, Republicans received 26% of the vote. A proportionate allocation would award the Republicans two of the nine total seats (at least based on the Ste. Laguë method of PR which I used here since it is considered very fair). As a result, the Republicans should receive two of the four at-large seats with the others going to the Democrats for a 7-2 Council.

This reform would have several positive consequences. First, it would encourage the Republicans to regularly run candidates for all district seats, increasing the political competition vital to democracy. After all, the Republicans might have garnered a third seat if they had run a candidate in District 3.

Additionally, it encourages all parties to work to increase turnout even in safe seats to make sure that they win as many seats as possible. In short, it eliminates advantages gained through winning seats in low-turnout district elections. This might even augment Montgomery’s influence in statewide races as we increase our relative voter muscle compared to the rest of the State.

This change would also create a majority and minority party in Rockville. Voters could thus reward or punish the performance of each party, increasing accountability, even if the Democrats continue their overall dominance. Parties instead of Democratic factions would help give coherence to Montgomery politics.

Critics would likely contend that it emphasizes party at the expense of candidates. First, let’s be up front and acknowledge that few county residents can identify many of their councilmembers and certainly do not know enough about them to make particularly informed judgments.

Second, candidates would still be very important as each party would want to run its most attractive candidates in order to increase its overall vote. Smart Republicans would want to nominate relative moderates to maximize their vote.

Of course, neither reform seems likely to be adopted. Incumbents love the status quo because, after all, it chose them. And I cannot say that I especially blame them. People in all walks of life like to keep their jobs and systems that work for them.

 

 

 

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