Tag Archives: Hans Riemer

Council Places M-83 in the Freezer

By a 7-2 vote with Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-2) opposed, the Montgomery County Council approved a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large) telling the Planning Board to ignore that the controversial M-83 road in making future plans.

The controversy pits Upcounty residents against smart growth and environmental opponents of new roads. Many Upcounty residents in communities like Clarksburg would love to see the long promised alternative route to their communities built in order to alleviate excruciating traffic. Environmentalists and smart growthers think that new roads promote the use of cars and sprawl.

Compromise or Just Spin?

The resolution is being presented by Riemer as a compromise because it keeps M-83 in the Master Plan but tells the Planning Board to act as if it will never be built. Nancy Floreen outlined the politics of spin surrounding this resolution in explaining her “no” vote:

There is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83. So that is a win for the environmentalist, I guess. And, there is nothing in here that says we are going to build M-83, which is a win for the UpCounty.  I suppose, I should be happy about this because we leave M-83 on the master plan for the future, which is a good thing. But, because we are doing something that is designed to fuel public perception one way or the other, I think it is just plain irresponsible. It is a gratuitous slap in the face to the people who relied on the master plan. And for the people who are opposed to it, it continues the argument ad infinitum.

Indeed, the resolution in amenable to being messaged in a variety of ways to different audiences. Environmentalists and smart growthers can be told it all but kills the road for the time being. M-83 supporters will be told that it’s still in the Master Plan and that the anti-road people aren’t happy for this reason.

Road Opponents Carried the Day But this Street Fight Continues

Riemer, an M-83 opponent, is deeply misguided to the extent he believes that the sop of maintaining M-83 in the Master Plan will appease road supporters. They’re not fooled. The “it’s a compromise” argument only annoys because it comes across as disingenuous to people who wanted this road built yesterday.

Marilyn Balcombe, President and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, is campaigning for at at-large seat on the County Council and making this an issue:

[T]o invoke the Paris Climate Agreement for any project that someone may disagree with is a very slippery slope. . . . Does this proposed resolution mean that we are never building any more roads in the County?

Not a bad substantive policy question in this election year.

Politically, the impact of this issue remains unclear. It’s a great way to rally Upcounty residents who want the road. But how many vote in the key Democratic primary?

Environmentalists are indeed are unhappy that the county didn’t just kill the road outright. Another county council can take the road out of the freezer and thaw it out. They have a lot of support Downcounty but it’s more diffuse pro-environmentalism rather than opposition to this particular project. Can they rally people beyond the small set of usual suspects to oppose the road?

A more likely strategy is that environmental and smart growth groups endorse against pro-M-83 candidates but mention other more compelling issues or general concerns about climate change in their messaging to voters.

Time to Get Off the Pot

While Riemer presents the resolution as a compromise that leaves all unhappy, another way to see this decision is that they decided not to decide. Often, waiting is a good decision. In the case, however, it has the strong whiff of kicking the can down the road to no purpose as the major fact we can expect to change is that traffic will get worse.

The “solution” that our elected officials voted for is really no solution at all. If councilmembers are against the road for whatever reason–the environment, smart growth, the lack of funds–they should just tell the people by killing it. Similarly, supporters should demand a resolution that actively prepares for it and be ready to explain how they will fund it.

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They Just Don’t Get It

After Adam Pagnucco’s terrific and thought-provoking post from yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with Councilmember Nancy Floreen on Facebook. A very smart and knowledgeable former Council President who is happy to defend her record, the conversation was inadvertently helpful to me in understanding why term limits passed so overwhelmingly.

They Don’t Get It. At All.

Voters didn’t quite say “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. . . Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” in the manner of Oliver Cromwell to the Rump Parliament (repeated famously by a Conservative MP to Neville Chamberlain). But a 70% vote in favor of term limits is pretty darn close.

Yet, reflecting a common view on the Council, Nancy Floreen ascribes no meaning to the vote whatsoever, including viewing it as a vote against the status quo (see full Facebook exchange here). In short, there is now a yawning gap between how councilmembers see their work and the County government, and how voters see them.

This ostrich-like response on term limits–and even though I voted against them and really like and respect Nancy, I don’t know what else to call it–vividly demonstrates this distance and why voters supported them.

The Divorce

On reflection, I realized that something fundamental has changed about how voters see the County government. When I was a more of whippersnapper, people had a much more positive view of the County government. Yes, people paid a lot in taxes but the results were visible in terms of quality services from excellent schools to parks to libraries that made it a great place to raise kids.

People are now much more divorced from their County government–and not just because our population has doubled. Traffic, always bad, is now far worse. We’ve gone through a long period in which taxes have gone up but visible outputs in terms of those excellent services, such as libraries, are going down.

People even worry increasingly about the quality of our beloved school system and whether they’re getting value for money. Metro is no longer spanking new but decaying and dysfunctional. Other infrastructure from electric wires to gas lines to water mains needs replacement.

Why Did Voters Want to Throw the Bums Out?

Many of the problems that the County faces have little to do with its current membership. At least part of the term limits vote stems from having gone through a tough period when difficult, unpopular choices had to be made. And yet, the reasons that voters decided to make the psychological trial separation from the County a full-scale divorce via term limits go beyond that.

The Bubble

County Councilmembers are insulated from the public unless they make a strong effort. The highly symbolic locked door that prevents the plebeian masses from even entering their offices is just the start of it. Staff insulates councilmembers from the public, both by fielding calls and answering email.

Besides naturally supportive staff, councilmembers get a lot of positive feedback from visitors. After all, people lobbying for something tend not to want to alienate the Council. After 12 or 16 years, who wouldn’t be changed by that?

Two Electorates

Roughly 10% of eligible voters participate in the Democratic primaries that elect our local officials. Turnout in Montgomery has been stagnant, so politicians focus on the increasingly small share of people who participate in these contests.

The focus on the odd few of us who vote consistently in Democratic primaries leaves the rest feeling disengaged from politics, as politicians sensibly don’t reach out to them at election time because it won’t help them win.

It also leaves politicians with a pretty warped sense of what the average voter wants because the few who participate in primaries of either party tend to be more extreme than not just the average voter but also the average member of their party.

Term limits was one of the few ways that the other 90% could express dissatisfaction with local officials in a meaningful way other than casting a symbolic vote for a Republican, a brand tarnished by national Republicans that mostly fields weak or even nutty candidates here.

Confusing Congress and Local Government

Too many members of the Council seem to want to be national legislators and opine on the great national issues of the day. Increasingly, this creeps into legislation with more time spent on issues away from core functions.

I miss those wonderful ads with Doug Duncan taking out a voter’s trash. To voters, this said that he got it. One reason County Executive Ike Leggett was able to turn back challenges to his leadership despite being the man in charge at a difficult time was that (1) he showed an unusual capacity for listening at events around the county, and (2) he responded to voters with not just deep fluency on local issues but also a respect for voter concerns. At a town hall meeting with Ike, voters always felt heard.

Property Taxes

Most people’s salaries have been stagnant. Nonetheless, the County raised taxes by over 9%. At a time when many voters find it hard to live within their means, the County made it harder by increasing taxes. As it turns out, berating voters that they don’t care about schools or social justice if they feel this way doesn’t work.

In other words, it is time for the County to start to figure out how to live within its means. Maybe this means tax reform of some sort–no, not in the guise of a massive tax cut like federal Republicans–such as eliminating loopholes that help some but not most of us. Councilmember and County Executive Candidate Marc Elrich made a good start by highlighting an old post by Adam on a tax break for country clubs. But it may also mean taking on labor to rein in costs, actions Councilmember Roger Berliner or Del. Bill Frick, also running for executive, are more likely to do.

The tax argument for term limits was made especially effective by the 28.1% pay increase that the Council voted to award itself in 2013. The Citizens Commission report had recommended a 17.5% increase in one year plus COLAs. That would’ve given the Council a 17.8% increase through 2016 based on the CPI for the Washington-Baltimore region. Comparing annual wages per employee in Montgomery County from 2013 and 2016 reveals that private sector wages have risen just 7.6% in current dollars.

The People v. The Powerful

Monied interests are way better at working Rockville than the rest of us. While members of civic associations are part-time volunteers who are not always up on the latest in ZTAs (zoning text amendments), developers and other powerful interests have expensive lawyers who know how to work the process.

This critique is very different than rich v. poor because the problem affects neighborhoods across the County. Developers and other interests can afford lawyers who can navigate them through the process and leave neighborhoods feeling powerless.

Social Engineering

This intersects with the social engineering tendencies of both the Council and the Planning Board. Personally, I think smart growth is generally a great thing that builds urban nodes like Silver Spring, Rockville and Bethesda where many people want to live or to spend time.

At the same time, it needs to be done with sensitivity and awareness of existing neighborhoods. Most people moved out here for the suburban lifestyle of a house and a yard. They don’t appreciate being told that they’re outdated and even being demonized for caring about their neighborhoods and worrying about whether the infrastructure can handle the growth.

Moreover, those who have lived here a long time have a healthy suspicion of urban planners. In the 1970s and 1980s, these are the same people who told us that elevated urban plazas behind office buildings were the wave of the future. Total disaster.

I think they’ve got it more right this time with smart growth. But carrying it out in such an ideological manner that dismisses neighborhood concerns alienates the people who are supposed to be served. Downcounty residents are mighty tired of hearing patronizing talk of how much they’ll like that new 30-story building looming across the street from their home. Or that traffic is good because it will force us to ride the decaying Metro that doesn’t take us to the supermarket.

Upcounty residents really do want some of those promised roads built and are real tired of begging. If you don’t believe me, check out the hundreds of petition signatures submitted by upcounty citizens (see below) who are deeply unhappy that Councilmember Hans Riemer’s proposed resolution on traffic solutions for the area drops the M-83 extension of the Midcounty Highway.

Put another way, start treating smart growth like a very good idea to be pursued in concert with residents rather than a new religion desperate to burn some heretics. The Council made a good start with the Bethesda Master Plan. It wasn’t perfect but it was a good process so kudos, especially to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer. But concerns have already arisen that development will go beyond what is in the plan, as developers and their lawyers are already working the process.

Ferment in the Land

So yes, it’s definitely “a time for a change” election. Yet, we may end up with a crowd that has much the same views as the previous one but voters will welcome the change of faces. And, who knows, new faces may bring some good new ideas and approaches.

Here’s hoping.

M-83 Petition Signatories 101717 by David Lublin on Scribd

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Updated: Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

This morning, we posted preliminary fundraising totals for candidates in public financing.  But one of those reports was wrong because of a problem with the State Board of Elections’ processing software.  This post contains updated information.

Shortly after our original post, we received the following communication from Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang’s campaign.

Hi Adam, this is Jonathon Rowland, campaign manager for Hoan Dang.  Thank you for the article this morning.  I just want to correct the amount stated.  When we filed with the Board of Elections, our report was duplicated because of a glitch in the system giving us double the amount of donations.  We have been in contact with the Board of Elections since Monday to resolve this issue.  The actual amount of donations is 316.

When your author called Rowland for more details, he said that the Dang campaign found the error first and asked the board to correct it.  Board staff acknowledged the mistake and said that they were working with their IT developer to fix it going forward.  No public funds were ever distributed before the Dang campaign caught the mistake.

Including information provided by Dang’s campaign today, here is the updated comparison of the five campaigns who have applied for public financing.

Dang is not the leader in public financing.  George Leventhal, who is running for Executive, is the overall leader in qualifying contributors and receipts.  (Executive candidates get higher match rates than council candidates.)  Among the council candidates, incumbent Hans Riemer leads in qualifying contributors and Bill Conway leads in matching funds.  This should not discount a strong performance by Dang, whose financial numbers are not terribly different from Riemer’s.

Going forward, we hope the state prevents the kinds of mistakes that affected Dang’s campaign.  In the initial glitchy filing, Dang supposedly requested $148,328 in public matching funds.  (Again, the IT glitch was not Dang’s fault.)  In the updated filing, Dang requested $74,144 in public matching funds.  That’s a $74,184 difference.  If Dang had not caught the mistake, could that difference have conceivably been paid out?  There’s no evidence available on that point.  But for the good of public confidence in the county’s public financing system, we hope such a mistake never happens.

On a different issue, we asked what happened to Council Member Marc Elrich’s filing for public matching funds in our original post.  Elrich said he had enough contributors to qualify back in June but has not filed yet.  When asked about it on Leventhal surrogate Saqib Ali’s Facebook page, Elrich said his delay in filing was related to a payment his campaign had made to the county party, which was subsequently ruled to not be in compliance with public financing requirements.  We reprint Elrich’s statement below.

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Preliminary Fundraising Totals in Public Campaign Financing, September 2017

By Adam Pagnucco.

Correction: The numbers for Hoan Dang in this post are inaccurate.  For updated numbers on Dang and a response by Marc Elrich, please visit our updated post.

One of the virtues of public campaign financing is the rapid release of financial reports for participating candidates.  That’s right, folks – for this group of candidates, there is no need to wait until January to see fundraising numbers.  That’s because when they qualify for public matching funds and request them from the state, their financial reports are released almost immediately.  This is terrific for all data junkies like your author as well as inquiring minds among the readers!

Below is a summary for the five candidates who have applied to receive matching funds from the state.  Bear in mind the following characteristics of the data.  First, the number of qualifying contributors means the number of contributors who live in Montgomery County.  Non-residents can contribute up to $150 each but the state will not authorize matching funds for them.  Second, the individual contribution amounts are the basis on which the state determines how much in public matching funds will be released.  Third, the date of cash balance is important because it varies depending on when the applications were sent in.  That is unlike the regular reporting dates on which financial positions are summarized at the same time for all candidates.  And fourth, for those candidates who have only filed once (which includes everyone except George Leventhal), the cash balances do not include public funds from the state.  To estimate the cash positions of those candidates, the cash balance should be added to the public matching funds they requested.

What do we make of this?

1.  Let’s start with the obvious: there are a lot of small checks out there!  While many contributors are probably donating to more than one of these five campaigns, it’s not a stretch to say that close to a thousand people will have contributed by some point in the near future.  It’s hard to make comparisons with the past without exquisitely detailed research to back it up (anyone want to pay us for that?) but our hunch is that this is a larger early donor pool than in prior cycles.

2.  The big story here is Council At-Large candidate Hoan Dang.  At-Large Council Members George Leventhal (who is running for Executive) and Hans Riemer (the only incumbent running for reelection) have a combined 22 years of representing the whole county.  But Dang had more in-county contributors than either one of them!  How does that happen?  Dang ran for Delegate in District 19 in 2010.  He was financially competitive, raising $103,418, but he finished fifth out of six candidates.  There was no reason going into this race to believe that Dang would receive more grassroots financial support than Leventhal or Riemer.  But so far, he has.

3.  Dang is not the only story.  Look at first-time candidate Bill Conway, who collected more private funds than Riemer primarily by having a larger average contribution.  In most elections, challengers struggle to be financially competitive with incumbents.  But the early performances of Conway and Dang relative to Riemer suggest that, at least among publicly-financed candidates, some or all of that gap may be closed.  Our hunch is that a group of at-large candidates will all hit the public matching funds cap of $250,000 and therefore have similar budgets heading into mail season.  The big question will then become how those totals compare to what candidates in the traditional system, like Marilyn Balcombe, Charlie Barkley, Ashwani Jain and Cherri Branson, will raise.

4.  Where is Marc Elrich?  The three-term at-large Council Member and Executive candidate announced that he had qualified for matching funds back in June at roughly the same time that Leventhal and Riemer said the same.  Riemer followed up by filing for matching funds and Leventhal did it twice.  Why hasn’t Elrich filed more than two months after his announcement?  One suspects that the bewildering paperwork requirements of public financing are responsible for the delay, but political types are starting to chatter about it.

That’s all for now.  Candidates, keep those reports coming in so your favorite blog has more material for the readers!

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A Troublesome Situation

By Adam Pagnucco.

By running for an at-large County Council seat and retaining his position as the council’s spokesman, Neil Greenberger is creating a troublesome situation for both the council and the public.  That situation is rooted in the significant conflicts that Greenberger will now have between his two roles.

As we have previously written, the position of spokesperson for an elected official – or in Greenberger’s case, nine of them – is a position of trust.  Elected officials must believe that their communications personnel will represent their positions and actions fairly towards members of the public, who after all will determine if those officials are reelected.  That’s hard to believe when the spokesperson is a candidate who is running for the same office held by the elected officials he is supposed to represent.  In at least one case – incumbent Council Member Hans Riemer – Greenberger is running in the exact same contest.  (Disclosure: your author is Riemer’s former Chief of Staff and regularly worked with Greenberger.)  That means Greenberger is supposed to be trusted to represent Riemer fairly during his day job while he could very well criticize him or his positions on the campaign trail after hours.  The same situation could apply to District 5 Council Member Tom Hucker, who may run at-large.

This is not a hypothetical scenario.  Greenberger is already running against last year’s tax hikes, telling MCM, “This county cannot take another property tax hike… I will guarantee no budget in the four years I’m in office will exceed the charter limit. That’s a guarantee.”  He also told the Sentinel, “The number one thing is, no matter what their incomes, people are still feeling the pain of the big tax increases – actually the two tax increases of last year… And I don’t think they need any more tax increases in the next four years.”  Your author has some sympathy for Greenberger’s opinions.  But the fact is that all nine of the Council Members Greenberger represents in his day job voted for the tax hikes and those who are running again will be defending them on the campaign trail.  And yet their own spokesman is contradicting them.

There is more.  Greenberger runs the council side of the county government’s cable channel, County Cable Montgomery (CCM).  He even hosts his own county TV show.  He is also a liaison between the council and Montgomery Community Media (MCM), a non-profit that covers the county and receives county funding.  In those capacities, Greenberger will be in a position to influence the coverage his opponents – including those who employ him – receive.  It’s a huge conflict.  But Greenberger ignores that.  According to the Sentinel, “Greenberger said he plans to continue to work his job while he campaigns for County Council, saying there is not a conflict of interest because his job is not political nor is he required by law to quit.”  That’s a questionable contention at best.  Many communications from elected officials to the public have a political dimension to them.  Elected officials who issue communications making themselves look bad may not be elected for long!

Neil Greenberger interviews one of his nine employers – and future political rival – Hans Riemer on his county television show in 2011.

The natural reaction of elected officials who face the prospect of their own spokesperson publicly critiquing them is to stop using the spokesperson altogether.  Think about it – who on Earth would want to employ a critic or outright opponent to write press releases about them?  Here’s where the situation becomes problematic for taxpayers.  Greenberger was paid $148,091 in 2016.  If Council Members stop going through him and start relying exclusively on their own personal staff for communications, there is a possibility that his ability to perform his day job would be impaired.

These are not garden-variety conflicts, folks.  Greenberger’s compensation as well as the media outlets he influences directly and indirectly are publicly funded.  That leads us to ask what safeguards will be put in place to prevent any potential use of public resources to benefit a specific candidate, especially if it comes at the expense of others.

Greenberger has as much right to run for office as anyone else.  He is also a merit staffer and can’t be fired for political activity after hours.  But given the above facts, Greenberger should request a transfer to a less politically sensitive position and the job of council spokesperson should be converted to an at-will appointment.  Should he fail to act accordingly, voters should consider his sense of judgment on this issue when they decide how to cast their votes.

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Hucker, Riemer Targeted by Enviros

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), one of Maryland’s major environmental organizations, is targeting County Council Members Tom Hucker (D-5) and Hans Riemer (At-Large) for not supporting a bill that would have required the county’s benefits funds to divest their holdings of fossil fuel company stocks.  The bill, lead-sponsored by Council Members Roger Berliner (D-1) and Nancy Navarro (D-4) and co-sponsored by Council Member Marc Elrich (At-Large), was converted into a non-binding resolution because it could not gather five affirmative votes.  The resolution was passed today.

Hucker has received numerous environmental endorsements during his history as a candidate.  The Maryland League of Conservation Voters gave him a 99% lifetime score when he was in the House of Delegates.  Riemer was endorsed by the Sierra Club in 2010 but not in 2014.

Following is the text of the blast email from CCAN Executive Director Mike Tidwell.  CCAN is also asking its supporters to email Hucker.

*****

Subject Line: Time to keep up the divestment fight.

Dear ,

First, the good news: We made real progress today in divesting our county’s massive pension funds from dirty fossil fuels. The Montgomery County Council just passed a resolution encouraging the employee pension boards to finally STOP buying and holding stocks in companies like ExxonMobil and Arch Coal. This is a positive step.

However, it’s only a resolution. It’s not the stronger legislation – an actual bill – that CCAN and many of you had asked for.

By a vote of 8-to-1, the Council approved today the carbon divestment resolution sponsored by Council President Roger Berliner (thank you, Roger!). It asks the county pension boards to report in six months (and every 12 months after that) on efforts to divest from the 200 biggest global warming polluters. With record high temperatures, rising seas, and ExxonMobil basically running our nation’s foreign policy, it is outrageous that our county pension funds hold over $70 million in mega-pollution stock. It’s YOUR county money, after all.

Please thank your Councilmember Tom Hucker for voting for the divestment resolution. But remind Tom he’s pledged to get real results from this resolution. We need action, not delay, on dirty energy investments.

Over the past several months, many of you have attended town hall meetings and contacted the MoCo Council on this issue. You demanded that actual legislation – not just a resolution – be passed to move our county toward divestment. Thank you for your citizen activism! And big thanks to Councilmembers Roger Berliner, Nancy Navarro, and Marc Elrich for sponsoring and supporting this legislation!

But Councilmembers Tom Hucker (D-Silver Spring) and Hans Riemer (D-at large) never supported the stronger bill. And because they were swing votes, the bill died. Instead, Councilmember Hucker repeatedly told CCAN and other advocates that a nonbinding resolution was his preference. He pledged to use the resolution as leverage and then lead the fight to demand that the county’s two pension boards actually divest in the coming months.

Our message to Tom Hucker: Thank you for your efforts and we look forward to the real results you’ve said could come from your preferred resolution approach. We now want to invite Councilmember Hucker to a countywide town hall meeting exactly six months from now, where he and Hans Reimer will have the opportunity to update citizens on their efforts to persuade the pension boards to voluntarily divest from high-polluting companies.

Please thank your Councilmember Tom Hucker for voting for the divestment resolution. But remind Tom he’s pledged to get real results from this resolution. We need action, not delay, on dirty energy investments!

A little background now. For too long, our county has sought to lead on climate change policy while also investing tens of millions of dollars in the very companies whose business plans and actions are causing the climate crisis. It’s wrong to profit from these companies – and we don’t need to. The evidence is clear that properly diversified funds perform as well or better without fossil fuel companies. We don’t need to invest in ExxonMobil to have a healthy pension system.

The good news is that pension divestment can be accomplished, as we have seen from just a few miles away. The D.C. Retirement Board eliminated direct investments in the 200 most harmful fossil fuel companies shortly after a divestment resolution passed the D.C. Council in 2014.

But we’ll need real commitment from Montgomery leaders like Hucker and Riemer – and pressure from citizens like you – to replicate the D.C. success here.

So, on we go. Change is never easy, even in a progressive county like ours. We’ll be in touch in the coming months to update you on the next phase of the divestment fight in Montgomery County. And in November we’ll invite you to the big town hall meeting where we hope our leaders can confirm the real progress they’ve said is possible in the coming months.

And thanks again for all you do!

Best,

Mike Tidwell

Executive Director

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Mixing It Up in Kensington. All Quiet in Washington Grove.

Kensington

Three candidates are vying for the two Council seats up for election this year: Darin Bartram, Connor Crimmins, and Tom Rodriguez. (The Mayor and other two councilmembers are elected in even-numbered years.)

Bartram and Rodriguez are incumbents with Bartram seeking his third term and Rodriguez his second. Reports indicate that challenger Crimmins is running a strong campaign, complete with website. Crimmins is the Chief Operating Officer at Spider Stratagies, a technology an consulting company.

Like in most Maryland towns, elections in Kensington are nonpartisan. However, while Crimmins is an unaffiliated voter (UPDATE: Crimmins is a Democrat), Bartram and Rodriguez are Republicans who are active in national Republican politics through their jobs.

Bartram is a partner at Baker Hostetler who works in environmental and constitutional law. Specifically, he has provided counsel to a utility company that failed to comply with federal environmental regulations and also was part of the team that challenged unsuccessfully the constitutionality of the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act.

Rodriguez works as a communications advisor at Luntz Global, the firm run by Republican Pollster Frank Luntz. He has worked as a fundraiser for Republican Members of Congress and also served as a consultant on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Former long-time Kensington Mayor Pete Fosselman, now a Democratic Candidate in Council District 1, has endorsed Bartram. Fosselman and Del. David Moon (D-20) jousted over Fosselman’s support for Bartram on Facebook:

Moon and Bartram had tangled on Facebook. Moon, a former campaign consultant, expressed his lack of surprise at Bartram’s criticism of General Assembly Democrats in light of Bartram’s past defense of Trump and Scalia’s critique of the Voting Right Act along with Bartram’s Facebook post proclaiming “I think Sarah Palin is awesome.” Drawing the County Council into the debate, Bartram accused Councilmember Hans Riemer of feeding Moon shots from Bartram’s Facebook page. (UPDATE: Riemer had not seen the page and literally had no idea what Bartram was talking about.)

Washington Grove

Washington Grove, an adorable small town with its own MARC stop, will hold elections on May 13th from 4 to 7pm. The Town elects its mayor annually and two of the six members of the Town Council every year. In contrast to Kensington, all is very quiet in Washington Grove this year. All of the positions are uncontested:

Mayor
Joli McCathran (incumbent)

Council
Audrey Maskery (incumbent)
John Compton

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Two Tiers in the At-Large Council Race, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

In Part One, we spotlighted five losing candidates who went on to be elected to multiple terms on the Montgomery County Council.  That illustrates a key point: candidates with electoral experience often come back stronger in future races, even if they lose their first elections.  The top tier of potential at-large council candidates includes the following people who have earned lots of votes in prior races for council and the General Assembly and presumably know how to earn them in the future.

Hans Riemer

49,932 votes in the 2014 at-large primary, third place

Your author admits to being partial to Riemer as a former member of his staff.  That said, he is the only incumbent in the race as his three current colleagues have been tossed out by term limits.  Back in 2010, we ran a series on why MoCo incumbents lose and identified four reasons: they were Republicans, they were lazy, they made lots of enemies (especially in their districts) and they had great challengers.  Riemer is not a Republican, he’s not lazy and he has no more enemies than most other local politicians.  Great challengers are rare, and because Riemer is the only incumbent running for one of four seats, four great challengers would have to get in to knock him out.  That’s just not going to happen.  The only certainty in this race is that Riemer will be reelected.

Beth Daly

39,642 votes in the 2014 at-large primary, fifth place

Dickerson activist Beth Daly ran a solid at-large campaign in 2014.  Her support crossed over with incumbent Marc Elrich and she got many valuable endorsements from the labor and environmental communities.  Daly’s problem had less to do with her and more to do with the field as she was running against four incumbents.  So did Riemer in 2010, but he benefited from incumbent Duchy Trachtenberg’s blowing up her relationships with labor and sitting on a huge unspent campaign balance.  None of the 2014 incumbents committed mistakes of that magnitude, and Daly, despite all the things she did right, could not break through.  We don’t know if she has any interest in running again, but if she does, she would be a strong contender in a wide open race.

Tom Hucker

7,667 votes in the 2014 District 5 primary, winner

If Hucker stays in District 5, he will be defending a safe seat.  Pay no attention to his close victory in 2014; Hucker and his super-duper staff led by MCDCC Chair Dave Kunes have locked down the district.  But there are rumors that Hucker could run at-large.  If he does, he would be formidable.  Hucker has a true-blue progressive voting record in both Rockville and Annapolis, and with more than 20 years of political experience, he knows how to win.  Labor and the environmentalists will be there for him, too.  Note: it’s misleading to compare the vote totals of Hucker and his 2014 opponent, Evan Glass, to the other candidates on this list.  Hucker and Glass ran in a vote-for-one race whereas most of the others ran in multiple-vote races.

Evan Glass

7,445 votes in the 2014 District 5 primary, second place

Former journalist and uber-activist Evan Glass nearly shocked the world by coming close to beating heavy favorite Hucker in 2014.  Since then, he has kept busy by running youth film non-profit Gandhi Brigade and serving on Committee for Montgomery’s board.  He has well-wishers in many parts of the county’s political community and could be a consensus candidate in whatever election he enters.  It’s important to note that Glass and Hucker won’t be in the same race.  One will run in District 5 and the other will run at-large.  Our prediction: there is a strong possibility that the two former rivals will be council colleagues in December 2018.

Will Jawando

5,620 votes in the 2014 Legislative District 20 primary, fourth place

5,634 votes in MoCo in the 2016 Congressional District 8 primary, fifth place

Former Obama aide Will Jawando is the kind of candidate you could fall in love with.  He’s handsome, well-spoken and ridiculously charismatic.  He’s also good at raising money.  But after running strong for a District 20 House seat in 2014, he inexplicably ran for Congress in 2016.  Our prediction is that Delegate Sheila Hixson, who just gave up a committee chair she held for more than twenty years, will retire and Jawando will run for her seat.  But if Jawando runs for council at-large instead, he will get more than his fair share of votes.

Charles Barkley

4,896 votes in the 2014 Legislative District 39 primary, first place

Note: the above race had no challengers

District 39 Delegate Charles Barkley was first elected in 1998 as part of a slate of Democrats who took out three Republican Delegates.  He has coasted to victory in the district ever since.  Something of a maverick in Annapolis, Barkley has told Bethesda Magazine that he will likely be running for council at-large.  Barkley’s problems are that he has never run a modern campaign including social media and blast email and his district has the smallest number of regular Democratic voters of any legislative district in the county.  But he reported a $205,478 campaign account balance in January 2017, and if he doesn’t enroll in public financing, he can spend every cent of that in a race for council.

That’s the top tier.  The second tier is everyone else.  There are some noteworthy candidates stepping forward.  Chris Wilhelm is a progressive MCPS teacher who has worked for Delegate David Moon (D-20) and is off to a fast start.  Marilyn Balcombe, President/CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, is well-known in the business community and is smart and pragmatic.  School board members Rebecca Smondrowski and Jill Ortman-Fouse have not publicly said they’re interested in the council – yet – but both of them ran against MCEA-endorsed opponents and won.  Would any of them, or any of the many other people thinking about running, be top-notch candidates?  There’s no way to tell right now.  But given the number of at-large openings and the high probability that some of the top-tier people won’t get in, at least one new candidate will probably win.

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Two Tiers in the At-Large Council Race, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The race for Montgomery County Executive is starting to draw some attention from the press, but relatively little has been written about the upcoming election for the County Council’s four at-large seats.  That’s too bad considering the historic nature of the race.  The council has never had three open at-large seats since its current structure was created in 1990, but it does now thanks to term limits.  Combined with the open District 1 seat, the council will have four openings in 2018.  Whoever wins those seats, along with the next County Executive, will be running the county for as long as the next twelve years.

We are fourteen months out from the election and the race is just now beginning to form, but we are reasonably sure of one thing: candidates who have run before, even if they lost (respectably), will have an advantage over those who have not.  That’s because of two reasons.  First, they have electoral experience and don’t have the often-steep learning curve of brand-new candidates.  Second, they will have leftover support, relationships and name recognition from their prior races.  Why do we emphasize this?  MoCo electoral history is full of candidates who lost and later came back to win.  Consider just a few examples.

Steve Silverman

Silver Spring attorney Steve Silverman took on all three incumbent District 20 Delegates in 1994 and lost by more than 2,000 votes.  But he captured a council at-large seat four years later and finished first for reelection in 2002.  Silverman, as shrewd and canny as they come, is still a player in county politics as a co-founder of the advocacy group Empower Montgomery and as a successful lobbyist.

A 1994 Silverman mailer about school construction.  Some things never change.

Phil Andrews

Former Common Cause of Maryland Executive Director Phil Andrews ran for an at-large council seat in 1994 emphasizing his work on curbing lobbyists and big campaign donors.  He finished sixth, but came back four years later to knock out District 3 incumbent Bill Hanna.  Andrews would go on to serve four terms on the council.

A 1994 Andrews mailer.  Reading his comments on his time at Common Cause, it is no surprise that he would create the county’s public campaign financing system twenty years later.

Roger Berliner

Energy sector lawyer Roger Berliner ran in the 2000 District 1 special election primary and lost to Pat Baptiste, who subsequently was defeated by Republican Howie Denis for the seat.  Berliner came back six years later to beat Denis and has represented the district ever since.

A Berliner mailer from 2000.  He has much better glasses now!

Hans Riemer

Former Rock the Vote political director Hans Riemer lost a 2006 open seat race in District 5 to school board member Valerie Ervin.  Four years later, Riemer finished second in the at-large race and is the only incumbent eligible to run again.

Riemer vows to build the Purple Line in 2006 or die trying.  For the sake of his wife and two kids, we hope the project is allowed to proceed!

Marc Elrich

Former MCPS teacher and Takoma Park City Council Member Marc Elrich is the patron saint of persistent candidates.  Elrich ran four straight times for County Council before being elected at-large in 2006 and has finished first in the last two elections.  Elrich’s longevity, tenacity and consistency of message will make him a formidable candidate for Executive.

An Elrich mailer from 1994.  What did we say about things never changing?

We love history like many Seventh State readers.  But what does this have to do with 2018?  We’ll explore that in Part Two.

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Snowzilla Communication Breakdown

Thanks to Adam Pagnucco for this guest post:

Snowzilla has turned out to be a historic storm. Every local jurisdiction from the City of Baltimore to Northern Virginia has struggled to recover from it, and Montgomery County is no exception. While MoCo residents complain about the pace of snow removal, with and without justification, there is no evidence that the county has performed worse than comparable jurisdictions. But one area in which it has fallen short is communicating with its residents.

Most residents have one question on their minds: when can I escape from my neighborhood? Let’s be fair: during a mega-event like Snowzilla, that’s a really hard question to answer. The county is coordinating a large fleet of employees and contractors, as well as working with other agencies like the state, Metro, Park and Planning and MCPS. A great deal of the equipment being used is not GPS-enabled. The most honest answer is also the least satisfactory: we don’t know.

The county chose to rely on its snow removal map to deal with resident questions. The county’s Department of Transportation repeatedly directed residents to the map on Twitter.

MCDOT map tweet 1-23 MCDOT map tweet 1-25The problem is that the map wasn’t showing any useful information. Below is an image of the map as of Tuesday, January 26. The map shows that every county street in Glenmont, Wheaton and unincorporated Kensington was “in progress.” It showed similar information all over the county. That’s physically impossible. The county doesn’t have enough equipment to be everywhere at once and residents know that.

Snowmap 1-26-2016Faced with a non-functioning map, residents overwhelmed MC 311. Some called only to hear a recording. Even if they got through, no answers were available. Again, the county simply didn’t know when individual neighborhoods would be cleared, even though they claimed the map would say so.

Meanwhile, municipalities appeared to be doing a better job. Consider the Facebook posts of Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman. On Saturday, January 23, the Mayor reported that all city streets had received a first pass. He then reported that all streets would receive a second pass the following morning. This is a period during which county plows had not reached neighborhood streets at all. Residents of unincorporated areas, for which the county has responsibility, have friends in municipalities and were aware of their performance. This only increased their frustrations.

Jud first pass Jud second passCouncil Member Hans Riemer (my former employer) nailed it in a post on Facebook. Noting his work on securing funding for an upgraded snow map and planning for pedestrian mobility during snow storms, he wrote: “Better communications technology would save our residents a lot of anxiety during snow events, and enable them to more adequately plan for their work and family lives. If technology answered more questions, it would also take pressure off of our 311 call center, which has been completely overwhelmed by the volume of calls they’ve received during this storm.” And he’s absolutely right.

Hans snowSnowzilla was a gigantic storm and public employees across the region deserve tremendous credit for their recovery efforts. But MoCo had a communication breakdown that made a stressful event worse. Here’s hoping that Council Member Riemer and his colleagues can help the county prepare to do better next time.

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