Tag Archives: Marc Korman

Montgomery County Land Use 101

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Del. Marc Korman about former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson’s new book on the history of planning in Montgomery County.

Rumors abound that there could be more than 50 candidates running for the Montgomery County Council in the next election cycle (after attending the recent Montgomery County Democratic Party Spring ball, I think that could be an under-estimate).  I would recommend that each of them dive into Suburb: Planning Politics and the Public Interest, by Royce Hanson.

Royce Hanson is a legendary figure in Montgomery County.  He chaired the Planning Board from 1972 to 1980 and was brought back in as something of an elder statesman from 2006 to 2010 to clean-up improprieties fond related to development in Clarksburg.  His most lauded accomplishment is the establishment of the Agricultural Reserve which covers about one-third of Montgomery County although he oversaw numerous sector and master plans during his two tenures.  Mr. Hanson has had less success as a political candidate in the County.

Suburb is closely related to a series of speeches Mr. Hanson gave at the Planning Board Department in 2014 and 2015, which can be watched online and may be more accessible for some than the book.  Hanson’s book—like the lectures—tells the story of planning in Montgomery County essentially from the establishment of the bicounty agencies Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission and Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (the Planning Board) in the 1910s virtually up until the present.  Hanson sees County land use through three lenses.

First, land use decisions are usually the outcome of the back and forth between what he calls the “Miniature Republic”—homeowners, taxpayers–and the “Commercial Republic”—major land owners and developers.  At different times and in different locations, the power rests more heavily with one than the other.

Second, he traces land use decisions through several political regimes in the County’s history, which will be of particular interest to many local readers: The [Blair] Lee regime dominated by an insider political machine; the builders and the bar regime in which land use attorneys controlled the planning process; the progressive regime that emerged from the new Executive form of government in the 1970s, which he views himself as a product of; and the current “pure political” regime which Hanson views as lacking a cohesive vision for County land use.

Third, Hanson sees ultimate planning decisions as the place where the logic of consequentiality—the more technical and planning-based logic of bureaucrats–meets the logic of appropriateness—the politician’s changes to satisfy certain parties and make planning decisions more palatable.

The book marches through a number of “case studies” beginning with the 1964 General Plan, known as Wedges and Corridors; reimagining Bethesda and Friendship Heights for Metro; the resurgence of Silver Spring; updating White Flint for the 21st century; development of corridor cities such as Gaithersburg, Rockville, Montgomery Village, and Germantown; the huge and scandalous errors with Clarksburg development; the creation of the Agricultural Reserve; and the growth policy regularly updated by the Planning Board and County Council and now called the Subdivision Staging Policy.  Each of these chapters is rich with detail, but at times it feels as though you are just reading a series of facts and events as opposed to any type of analysis.  There are insights about what political and planning compromises worked (and sometimes didn’t work) in specific locations in Montgomery County at particular times, but broader conclusions about planning and process are hard to discern.

Indeed, Hanson even recognizes this late in the book when he concedes that it “is hazardous to overgeneralize from the experience of Montgomery County”, although he goes on to say that examples, analogies, insights, and more can be drawn and applied elsewhere, which is true in the broad sense that another place could redevelop a suburban strip mall near transit, come up with transferable development rights, or target specific neighborhoods through sector plans.  As someone more interested in the Montgomery County story, this approach helped focused on facts and events suited me fine but may be seen as a shortcoming to others.  Indeed, while as I said I think this book is important to read for County Council candidates, I’m not sure who else besides them, other local elected officials, and committed local activists would really appreciate this book.  I certainly did, but I’m in one of those relatively narrow buckets.

Hanson may have been torn between writing a history of Montgomery County planning politics and case studies that could potentially be used to teach planners anywhere and sometimes he did not find the balance he was looking for.  Those interested in the history will want to know who the unnamed councilmembers were who voted against appointing Norman Christellar Planning Board Chair and planning students will probably want to know why the failed plan to build another Mall of America in Silver Spring is relevant to their studies.  I, of course, understand why a pure Montgomery County history book was not written, as it would clearly have a small audience.  It has also been pointed out to me that the history of the County’s actions over race are almost entirely omitted.  I am sure others who lived through some of these planning efforts will note their own omissions.

Still, for you local history buffs there are plenty of interesting facts.  For example, County Executives used to control some appointments to the Planning Board and, for a time under County Executive Kramer, they could revise plans before they went to the Council.  Neil Potter devolved these powers back to the Council after defeating Kramer.  Hanson is also open with his criticism of some local County players and even relies on Adam Pagnucco research in making his attacks.  Former Councilwoman Idamae Garrott comes off as particularly responsive to the current mood of the best organized voters.

If you sit in lots of meetings about sector plans, dream about being on the County Council, or read blogs like this one, then this book is for you.  It covers interesting history and can be a good reference regarding particular parts of the County.   But for those not fitting that description, this book and its detailed history of Montgomery County land use may be more of a slog.  For the right audience, this book can provide a useful baseline of how Montgomery County developed over the last century and why.

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Ideas for Metro

Today, I am pleased to present a guest post by Dels. Marc Korman (D-16) and Erek Barron (D-24):

When we arrived in Annapolis in January of 2015, we immediately partnered to form the WMATA-Metro Work Group and bring more attention to issues related to Metro in Annapolis.  After all, the state invests hundreds of millions of dollars to WMATA each year and increased oversight is sorely needed.  We are cautiously optimistic that the new General Manager, Paul Wiedefeld, can bring some much needed change to WMATA.  He has set out his own plan for reform, much of which we enthusiastically support.  But after spending two legislative sessions hearing from WMATA officials and other stakeholders on an almost weekly basis, we have some of our own reform suggestions.  Some of these are major structural or funding changes and others are more minor tweaks to Metro operations, but we think all are worthy of discussion by WMATA and the region.

Out the outset, we should note that none of these ideas can replace or should distract from the immediate safety work necessary for the system to operate.  SafeTrack and other efforts are important, but it is our hope that some of these ideas can keep the system from finding itself in a situation like the one it is in now ever again.

Board

Board Structure: The WMATA Board is the primary means of providing oversight of Metro.  But each appointing jurisdiction treats the Board in a different fashion.  In Maryland, Board members are Gubernatorial appointees and answer to the Governor.  In the District of Columbia, usually a Councilmember and a Mayoral appointee serve as the Board Members.  In Virginia, there is a divide between state and local appointees.  The District and Virginia have elected officials on the Board, while Maryland and the federal government do not.  The Board members all receive different levels of pay from their jurisdictions.  This structural mismatch causes disharmony on the Board, makes Board members’ different perspectives even more pronounced, and is generally inefficient.  Standardizing how each jurisdiction treats the Board so that their appointees are similarly positioned would improve the Board’s critical governance function.

Resources for Board Members: The WMATA Board is a strange beast.  It is the primary method of oversight for WMATA, yet its Board Members essentially have no resources.  Board members who are elected officials or work in government may be able to use those resources to support their work, but other members do not have those options.  Consideration should be given to providing board members with the resources and ability to provide adequate oversight and independent analysis of WMATA activities, instead of being forced to rely entirely on WMATA staff.

Board Meeting Options: WMATA board meetings seem to follow a basic pattern in which WMATA staff tells the Board what they want to do on an issue, the Board asks a few questions, and the item is usually agreed to.  Sometimes, the Board pushes back and the staff has to withdraw the item and come up with alternatives at a future meeting.  Staff should consider providing more options up front for the Board on major issues (such as fare options) and let the Board make more informed decisions on the basis of those options.

Public Meetings and Access: WMATA Board Members have made an effort over the last year or two to show up at stations and meet with riders.  Far more of this public engagement and outreach is necessary. Whether that is stepped up station visits, rider-focused town halls, or better use of social media, WMATA needs to engage its riders. Twitter, for example, is not a random sampling of riders, but the frustration expressed in the Twitterverse is palpable and more opportunities need to be created to allow riders to express their concerns to WMATA board members and personnel.

Auction Board Seats: Someone in Annapolis suggested this idea to us.  If jurisdictions want more say over how WMATA operates, they could compete for additional Board seats—with an overall cap—through an auction process: a Board seat could be bought in exchange for additional operating or capital subsidies.  This could provide WMATA with necessary additional revenue.

Secretarial Board: An entirely different Board model has been floated by a WMATA board member, which would be to have a more focused Board made up of the Transportation Secretaries—or an Assistant Secretary—from each jurisdiction.  It would be a radical change from the current model, but might make WMATA more politically accountable by tying the Board more directly to the elected leadership in each jurisdiction.  There are issues with this approach, such as how to handle Virginia’s localities, but this is a radical reform that should be discussed.  If this radical reform is a bridge too far, then perhaps an “Executive Council” of each jurisdiction’s transportation secretaries could meet on a regular and scheduled basis to address major issues, providing guidance to the Board as to what will be acceptable to the compact members.

Funding

Dedicated funding: Probably the number one suggestion people have about WMATA is a dedicated funding source.  Currently, only Northern Virginia has any “dedicated funding” for WMATA, with a 2% gas tax being allocated to WMATA and making up less than 15% of the entire Virginia operating subsidy.  Meanwhile, the District of Columbia actually passed legislation in 2006 dedicating one half of one percent of its retail sales tax to WMATA, but it was contingent on similar action by the other jurisdictions which never occurred (it was estimated that this would raise $50 million) at the time.  Dedicated funding would not be a cure all for Metro’s woes, but would definitely help.  Options for dedicated funding include a regional sales tax, transfer tax, a property tax supplement for property near Metro, and several other options.  Although progress on this issue continues to lag, it should remain a part of the conversation.  Board Chairman Jack Evans has made it front and center to his agenda, although any funding change should come with governance and management reforms.

Federal Operating Subsidy: All of the Compact jurisdictions, except the federal government, provide an operating subsidy to Metro.  Indeed, the federal government was given Board seats in exchange for a non-guaranteed annual capital appropriation of $150 million.  The federal government should also provide an annual operating subsidy to WMATA, just as other jurisdictions with Board seats do.  This should become a top priority for our region’s Congressional leaders.  Again, Board Chairman Evans has rightfully been discussing this issue.

Stations

Station Ownership: Station Managers need to take more ownership of their stations.  The new GM’s plan includes establishing management ownership of each rail line to improve the customer experience and something similar should occur with the Metro stations.  Some Station Managers do stand outside of the control booth and take pride in their stations, bar far too many are inaccessible in the control booth and unaware of what is happening in the station, not making sure it is welcoming, clean, and functioning.  Station Managers should be appropriately compensated and incentivized to take more ownership of their stations.

Station Task Forces: In one of our districts, a group of local residents, businesses, and government leaders formed a station improvement task force to try and improve the Bethesda Metro Station.  Their efforts have improved cleanliness at the station, brought in new public art, and put Bethesda at the forefront of station modernization efforts.  This model should be followed at every station in the system to make sure every community is getting the attention and improvements it deserves.

Escalator Alignment: Most stations have a standard traffic flow to them.  Those in downtown DC have more exiting passengers than entering passengers in the morning and vice versa in the suburbs.  Yet escalators are not regularly adjusted for this natural schedule.  If a station has three escalators, two of the escalators should be aligned in the direction of the most travel and that should be switched at the appropriate time during the day by Station Managers.  This will reduce crowding and be generally more convenient for riders.

Vendors: Even with declining ridership, thousands of people stream in and out of rail stations and major bus stations on a daily basis.  WMATA needs to focus more on revenue capture from these opportunities, such as shoeshine stands, coffee shops for those exiting, or even small pharmacy stands.  WMATA needs to get aggressive about alternative revenue options besides fares and jurisdiction subsidies.

Signage: Metro stations are hard to navigate, particularly for tourists.  Those unfamiliar with where they are try to squint through grimy windows into dark stations with signs few and far between.  Someday, when all the railcars are new, station announcements will be clear and in-car displays will explain what station the train is at.  But there is no need to wait to add additional signage throughout Metro stations.

Metro Aesthetic: Metro stations were built as cathedrals with high ceilings, dim lighting, and an expansive feel.  Unfortunately, the large stations are hard to heat and cool, the lighting fixtures and walls are difficult to clean, and the darkness raises safety issues and is inconvenient for passengers waiting for single tracking trains while trying to read.  Yet many traditionalists want to maintain this “Metro aesthetic” as though the system were new.  We cannot be bound to the design decisions of decades ago.  Some stations can be preserved for historical reasons, but most should be updated and modernized when funding is available with better signage, lighting, and less “Metro brown.”

Maintenance

Easy Infrastructure: Within the past few years, an additional stairwell between the platform and Mezzanine was added at the Bethesda Metro station.  This low cost and easy infrastructure improvement has eased escalator crowding and spread people out at the station.  Additional easy infrastructure changes should be quickly evaluated and undertaken as they are low cost but high reward.

Repeat Work: There is a concerning pattern with WMATA needing to repeat maintenance work multiple times.  A recent example of this was the inspection of the jumper cables on the day of the shutdown.  These cables had supposedly been inspected after the L’Enfant Plaza incident, but somehow major problems were missed.  We are also on the third attempt at sustainable escalator repairs: We began with spot fixes; WMATA then tried to take apart, clean, and rebuild the escalators; and now we are on full replacement.  Recent discussion of the need to potentially close entire lines for more maintenance—after years of a capital program that has been extremely disruptive—may be the latest example of the necessity for repeat work.  How much other work is being done multiple times?  WMATA needs to quickly get to the bottom of this problem.

Single Tracking: One of the major frustrations with Metro’s rebuilding efforts is the single tracking and long delays.  Indeed, the system is virtually un-rideable on the weekends.  But many transit systems operate on only two tracks.  New York is actually unique in the amount of track redundancy it has built in.  WMATA should canvass other transit systems to make sure it is using modern best practices when it comes to serving its customers safely while doing necessary rebuilding.

Fares

Low Income Fares: The maximum WMATA rail fare is a whopping $5.90, compared to a flat cost of $2.75 in New York City or $2.50 in Atlanta.  Because of that high cost, many low income riders cannot use the system.  Some jurisdictions, such as Boston, are experimenting with lower fares for low income riders.  WMATA should follow suit.

SmarTrip on MARC: Baltimore City and WMATA have an interoperable SmarTrip card.  But the transit option that connects them—the MARC train—does not accept SmarTrip.  WMATA should work with the Maryland Transit Administration to change this and truly connect these two urban centers.  We are biased towards Maryland, but if Virginia wants to pursue something similar on the VRE, that should be supported as well.

Safety

Safety Culture: Safety culture is discussed a lot in reference to WMATA.  Supposedly, a safety culture was established after the Fort Totten incident but ongoing events suggest otherwise.  The new General Manager seems to have really changed the tone at WMATA.  One of the issues we have observed is that the “safety culture” at WMATA often boils down to checking off NTSB or FTA safety recommendations and directives.  But a safety culture is not just checking boxes to rectify previously identified problems.  It requires all WMATA personnel to be looking over the horizon for other safety issues and concerns.  That is the attitude WMATA management needs to demand and implement.

Rail Operations Control Center: Reports about the Rail Operations Control Center (“ROCC”) are incredibly concerning.  WMATA claims it has new employees in training to re-staff the ROCC, which is currently understaffed.  But there are reports that the current staff at the ROCC push new people out to protect their overtime.  This obviously needs to be seriously addressed.  One idea is to raise the base pay of those in the ROCC and bring on more, trained people quickly.  Some may view such a move as rewarding bad behavior, but something has to be done quickly to improve the climate at the ROCC and its contribution to a safe system.

Bus Mirrors: Many of the safety issues currently discussed relate to rail, but there are bus issues as well.  One issue raised by bus drivers is that the side rear view mirrors block sight lines and endanger pedestrians who drivers cannot see.  This has been the subject of litigation in other jurisdictions and there are simple solutions to reduce the size of mirrors and improve safety.

Automatic train control (“ATC”)

Metrorail has operated largely without automatic train control since the 2009 Red Line collision.  Last spring, ATC was restored for eight car Red Line trains, but six car trains and trains on the system’s other lines remain in manual control.  Restoring ATC system-wide is crucial for both safety and reliability.  Currently, it is not uncommon for train operators to have to move their train a few additional feet forward to meet the end of the platform after stopping at the station.  This creates a jerky experience for riders as they prepare to exit the train, since most don’t expect the train to move again once it’s already stopped.  Less frequent but far more inconvenient are instances where a train operator overshoots the platform and must skip the station altogether.  Returning to ATC will eliminate these problems while increasing safety and reliability.  While restoring ATC and ensuring that it functions safely is a large and complex task, it must remain a priority in order to make the system safe and convenient.

Riders Advisory Council (“RAC”)

RAC Selection: Metro’s RAC has six members each from Maryland, Virginia, and DC, two at-large members and the head of the Accessibility Advisory Committee.  Members are appointed by the WMATA Board.  An alternative approach that would improve RAC independence would be to have the RAC appointed by the heads of the state or local governments in the WMATA Compact.  That would ensure that the RAC is truly independent of the Board and representing the riders.

RAC Jurisdictions: RAC’s members in Maryland and Virginia are all from the local jurisdictions that make up the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Zone (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, Alexandria, Falls Church, Montgomery, and Prince George’s).  But there are many riders from other nearby counties such as Frederick or Prince Williams.  The option should be available to have RAC members, perhaps the at-large members, from these other jurisdictions.

Miscellaneous

Benchmarking: One Montgomery County Councilmember has called for benchmarking WMATA to peer systems.  This type of public benchmarking would be helpful and is already in use by some systems.  Every system is different, but it would be useful to see how WMATA compares to peers on some key indicators such as on-time performance, car utilization, and so on.  Community of Metros (“CoMET”) is already doing this type of work and WMATA should join the effort.

Ride Sharing: There has been concern expressed recently about ride sharing’s effect on transit and whether ride sharing can be adequately used for paratransit.  WMATA should begin pilot programs to use ride sharing to connect some riders’ last mile connections to bus and rail transit.  Usually, riders need to be less than a half mile from transit to regularly access it on foot.  Ride sharing can expand that envelope.

Archives/Documents Office: WMATA no longer has an official in charge of preserving and making publicly available historic documents.  This reduces public accountability for WMATA’s actions.  If you have ever read Zachary Schrag’s The Great Society Subway, an incredible account of WMATA’s history, you know the insight that can be provided by making historical material available.

Ridership Reports: Last year, Maryland passed legislation requiring a Maryland-specific ridership report from WMATA.  Most of the data is already collected by WMATA, but this required a jurisdiction-specific report to demonstrate how WMATA is used, especially by those outside of the Montgomery and Prince George’s County.  Ridership from other counties outside the compact helps justify the substantial expense Maryland rightly pays for WMATA.  Ridership reports that similarly track DC, Virginia, and even federal employee and contractor ridership would go a long way to demonstrating in detail the benefits of the system.

Jurisdiction Work Groups: WMATA oversight is complicated because of its multi-jurisdictional nature.  When we were elected, we formed a work group in Annapolis to try and provide some oversight to the system.  Indeed, almost every week during our legislative session we are joined by a WMATA staff member or other stakeholder to discuss in detail some of the issues, challenges, and opportunities before Metro.  We believe this is a useful model that the other jurisdictions should follow.  Oversight by the jurisdictions tends to come after emergencies, but real oversight is regularly occurring and not just reactive.

Reduce Turnover: WMATA has a surprisingly high turnover rate.  Between 2009 and 2013, 417 of 535 train operators turned over.  Considering that these are well compensated union jobs, that is a high turnover rate.  Reducing that turnover rate for train operators and other positions will allowed better trained and experienced personnel to operate the system.  That does not mean WMATA should retain personnel not acting appropriately, but turnover should not be systematically high.

Real Estate Coordination: WMATA has a robust real estate development operation as it tries to improve transit-oriented development on land it owns around stations.  That office could improve in two ways.  First, much more communication and coordination is needed with local elected officials who represent the areas around the stations and with the local business community and residents.  These stakeholders have little insight from WMATA on their plans.  Second, the real estate office is solely focused on WMATA’s holdings.  But it has great expertise in transit-oriented development that it could offer to other landowners around stations to make sure that we are meeting our economic development goals around Metro.  Another outside the box idea being floated is to spin-off this function from WMATA entirely, which is certainly an idea worth considering.

Parking: WMATA operates 44 parking facilities at Metrorail stations.  This means that in addition to all of its other functions, WMATA is also managing a whole other line of business, parking.  WMATA needs to consider whether the parking business should be subcontracted or even spun off into another public entity to better manage its operations.

Metro Innovation: Another unfortunate trend we have noticed during our Work Group meetings is a status quo culture: WMATA personnel’s insistence that everything is going according to plan.  WMATA rarely admits errors or mistakes and often gives the impression that if they were just left alone by the public and the press, everything would be fine.  This status quo attitude is obviously not shared by the new GM, but that is another cultural issue that needs to be addressed at the agency.  To change this culture WMATA should encourage its leadership teams to select system challenges and, following the path of the tech industry, think of new approaches to bring value to WMATA and its customers.  One area ripe for innovation is Metro Access, the paratransit service.  This service is costly and causes frustration for many users.  Innovation in Metro Access is absolutely necessary whether it is more pilot projects for certain populations as currently exists in Montgomery and Prince George’s County where regular, dedicated drivers are being used for certain groups; better GPS technology for routing; or even ride sharing with adequate protections where appropriate.

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Legislators Working to Make Metro Better

firemen in metroJust More Media Hysteria, So Chillax

Denial from Greater Greater Washington

Greater Greater Washington’s response to the series of problems with both the Metro and the DC streetcar was to blame “media hysteria” and remind us that transit is still safer than driving. So pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Better Response from the General Assembly

Fortunately, like the public they represent, legislators in the General Assembly think the continuing rot in Metro not only needs to be stopped but reversed. I don’t think this weekend’s repeated problems will persuade them otherwise.

Freshmen Del. Marc Korman (D-16) and Del. Erek Barron (D-24) have real interest in transit issues and have organized an informal Metro working group as part of an effort to figure out how to fix WMATA and exert more effective pressure to do so.

Special kudos to Del. Tawanna Gaines (D-22) who heads the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Transportation for supporting the effort. It’s terrific to see leaders like Del. Gaines working to support reform efforts.

The people involved realize that these are long-term problems with no quick fix. Hopefully, they can (1) improve oversight of Metro, (2) get Metro to address some specific problems, and (3) start to address some of the central questions around WMATA’s management and funding.

Fortunately, the interest in these questions extends even beyond the Metro area. Great to hear that Del. Brooke Lierman (D-46) and Del. Bob Flanagan (R-9B) joined many legislators from Montgomery and Prince George’s to attend the group meetings. Del. Flanagan was a former Secretary of Transportation in the Ehrlich administration.

While I look forward to seeing the group’s action plan as they learn more about WMATA, it is a good start that those involved know there are serious problems and want to figure out how to fix them in a more systematic, effective way.

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MCDCC Sample Ballot Incompetence Spoils Dems Pre-Election Weekend

The Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) sends out a sample ballot before the state elections to urge Democrats to the polls and remind them of their party’s ticket. There were some major snafus this year.

I’ve been receiving a lot of reports, some conflicting, of problems, and have been attempting to sift out fact from fiction. This is why I’ve delayed posting on this topic.

Mix and Match Candidates

In District 19, incumbent Sen. Roger Manno‘s name has been replaced by that of Sen. Rich Madaleno–the candidate in District 18. As you can imagine, Sen. Manno–who donated money to help pay for the sample ballot–was understandably not happy about it.

I suppose one could view this as karma, since Rich Madaleno’s name appeared as Roger Madaleno on the Apple Ballot during the Democratic primary.  But at least the critical last name and first initial were right in that case. I hope Roger gets his donation back.

In District 16, Delegate Nominee Marc Korman‘s biography has been replaced with that of Aruna Miller. I am sure Marc was interested to learn that he worked for county since he was eight and has already served on a House committee before winning election.

Latino Outreach Fail

MCDCC has touted its efforts to reach out more strongly to the County’s fast-growing Latino community. Unfortunately, the sample ballot was a textbook example of how not to go about it.

First, the name of incumbent Delegate Ana Sol Gutiérrez (D-18) was misspelled on the sample ballot:

sample2

Second, accents and the tilde of ñ were often left out in Spanish text. The office titles are sometimes incorrect, even though they could have been directly copied from the official bilingual version. Even español has been written as espanol:

sample1

Finally, the sample ballot directs people on how to find a Spanish sample ballot online. Other than that it doesn’t exist, this is an excellent idea.

Small Mailing and Still Waiting?

Beyond the giant mistake in District 19, the real story may be how many sample ballots were sent out. I am told that elected Democrats were promised that hundreds of thousands would go out but that only around 90,000 were mailed. I am unable to confirm this. MCDCC has made clear that they will not respond to my requests for information, though I understand they are also being closed-mouthed with electeds on this issue too.

While many, including your gentle blogger, have received their Democratic sample ballot, I have heard that other Democrats who did not vote early have yet to receive them. No doubt this is due to the last minute mailing. On the other hand, I imagine Roger (or is it Rich?) Manno must be relieved that at least early voters did not get it before going to the polls.

Missing Signs on Bag Day

There were no signs for either Brown/Ulman or for Brian Frosh. In other words, there were no signs for the two statewide candidates who need strong visible support in Montgomery on Tuesday.

Rumor that Should be Ignored

Some told me that they were shocked that their congressman was left off the sample ballot. This is not an error but intentional in order to comply with federal campaign finance law. Advertising their names counts as a campaign contribution.

Why Did this Happen?

MCDCC Chair Kevin Walling personally managed the sample ballot with his inner circle (the Politburo? the Presidium?) of MCDCC. It arrived very late to the printers and few others were involved to review it and make sure that they got this complex task (different versions need to go to different areas of the County) right.

MCDCC staff has long been dedicated to the Democratic Party and helped with this task many times before. They should not be blamed and I hope no one tries to throw them under the bus in order to save their own reputation.

As in the past, MCDCC has many excellent members. But they need to address these issues squarely. The central problems with MCDCC remain the ones I outlined in a previous post: a lack of accountability, transparency, and inclusion. I should now add incompetence. Mistakes happen but both elected officials and ordinary Democrats are mad about the sample ballot snafu–and rightly so.

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Gas Tax No Silver Bullet

The Washington Post recently printed an editorial stressing the vital necessity of completing a contract to buy more cars for Metro, explaining that their purchase is vital to prevent massive overcrowding in 2020 and beyond. Yet, they also express concern that the cost may be beyond Maryland’s means:

The 220 new rail cars, with the infrastructure to support them, will cost nearly $1.5 billion over six years, on top of existing funding commitments for modernizing the system from Metro’s main local benefactors: the District, Virginia and Maryland. A particular question mark is Maryland, which, despite new gas tax revenue, looks to have over-promised for the above-ground Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the Red Line in Baltimore and an array of highway projects.

But despite these real cost issues, the Post has been pressing heavily for these exact transportation projects despite also editorializing about the high cost (see here, here, and here). And, as they point out, the recent hike in the gas tax in not nearly enough.

Gaining the full benefit from our past investments in public transit requires regular maintenance expenditures. Maintenance is not sexy compared to a new project. Lack of funding has forced Metro to defer substantial maintenance–a chicken coming home to roost in a variety of ways obvious to riders (see Washington Post articles here, here, here, and here).

Beyond maintenance, Metro also needs to invest in adding cars to maximize the investment costs already sunk and keep it an attractive option. Additionally, Metro also constantly faces the costs associated with upgrading technology–the switch from Farecards to SmartTrip will likely soon be followed methods that allow consumers to pay using their phone.

As Democratic Delegate Nominee Marc Korman (D-16) has emphasized in his campaign, Metro needs a dedicated funding source. We need to fund investment in Metro infrastructure maintenance and upgrades on a constant basis–not only when a crisis creates public demand to fix it.

Similarly, Maryland needs to plan how it’s going to fund planned  projects on a long-term basis. Beyond finding the money to build them, Maryland needs ongoing funding sources for the Purple Line and the (Baltimore) Red Line light rail projects.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly took the first bite in taking the politically courageous step of raising the gas tax–an unpopular but necessary and pro-environment step to address our State’s transportation needs. However, as the Post points out, it’s not enough. More serious global transportation budgeting is needed. It would force Maryland’s government to weigh its choices and thus make more intelligent ones.

Addressing transportation needs is critical to Maryland’s economic future. We need to plan for expenditures in a cohesive manner and also for the revenue stream not just to build but to maintain them. How our leaders plan to do this strikes me as a good question to ask candidates in this political season.

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Superstars in Waiting: The Freshman Democratic House Class

Without an unprecedented General Election upset, the following Democratic nominees for House Seats will be sworn into the General Assembly for the 2015 Session. These legislators show particular promise:

1) Brooke Lierman – The new face of South Baltimore is young, white, wealthy and progressive. Brooke is all of these things (And DC powerhouse Terry Lierman’s daughter). Despite a convenient last name, she fully deserves her seat in the House on her own merits (going back to the campaigns of Paul Wellstone and Howard Dean) up to her present day practice as a civil rights lawyer.

2) Erek Barron – An Attorney at Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, the newest addition to the District 24 Delegation has tremendous statewide potential. A former prosecutor (as an ASA in Prince George’s and Baltimore City as well as at the Department of Justice) who worked for then US Senator Joe Biden on Capitol Hill, Erek has as sterling a resume as any legislator. He also has an easy going charm and keen intelligence. Bonus Points: he played foot ball at College Park.

3) Marc Korman – This Sidley Austin Attorney and former Capitol Hill Staffer (not to mention a former blogger at Seventh State predecessor Maryland Politics Watch) has always been the smartest guy in the room–and that definitely won’t change when he gets to the Lowe House Office Building.

4) Andrew Platt – A very, very sharp former US House Leadership staffer cruised to victory and is set to become the youngest legislator in Annapolis. He has future leadership written all over him.

5) Cory McCray This East Baltimore IBEW Leader is charming and exceedingly genuine. He ran an incredibly strong campaign this year and is sure to rise quickly in Annapolis as a powerful voice for working families in the state.

6) David Moon – Attorney and Political Operative David Moon is sure to establish as a liberal lion in the legislature as he marries his communication skills with sharp progressive politics. He will represent his new constituents in Takoma Park well.

7) Will Smith – Despite (perhaps unduly harsh) criticism of his campaign budgeting decisions on this blog (by me), Will Smith cruised to victory on June 24th with the help of a slate led by Jamie Raskin. His future in this state couldn’t be brighter.

These are the future County Executives, Congressman, MGA Committee Chairs, Attorneys General, Comptrollers, Lieutenant Governors of the coming 10-15 years.

Note: This post was modified from the original version because Candice Quinn Kelly lost her close race.

 

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MoCo Top Ten Young Guns

1. Dave Kunes & Nik Sushka. Dave is a smart, savvy operative with the heart of an activist. He revitalized the Montgomery County Young Dem’s into a force to be reckoned with within the County and beyond. That they helped carry a candidate the Virginia House Caucus had left for dead to victory–Mike Futrell–in 2013 was lost on none). Tom Hucker was lucky to have him and Anthony Brown is too. Labor’s favorite person–period. Future? Whatever he damn well pleases.

Nik, Dave’s fiancé and an all around nice person could have a future representing District 20 in the Legislature. She succeeded Dave as President of the Young Dems (which, in a strange twist of events, now seems to wield more clout than the Central Committee). She works for Montgomery College and is well versed on a number of policy issues.

2. Andrew Platt. If Andrew isn’t finishing up his first session as a delegate representing District 17 next year, I will donate $100 to a charity of his opponents’ choice. But between massive labor support, strong fundraising, and tremendous campaign vigor, I think my hundred bucks is safe. He’s sharp as anyone and has the spirit of a hustler. Future MD-06 Congressman?

3. Dan Reed. Land use aficionados have turned to Just Up The Pike for sharp policy analysis for years. In the last six months, Dan has shown versatility in taking on Josh Starr on a host of education issues for which he has dutifully taken heat. Future Planning Board Member? Or could a 2016 school board candidacy be in the offing?

4. Jonathan Jayes-Greene. Jonathan is charming, handsome and very bright. He combines a tremendous personal story with boundless political savvy to promote the issues important to him, which frequently involve immigration. Currently working in the governor’s office, maybe he’ll return there as First Panamanian-American governor?

5. Joel Sati. Joel isn’t just smart. He’s a genius. He brings the intellectual fire power of an Ivy League Department Chair to his advocacy which has often been based around the Dream Act. Currently in New York City for School, I (and many others) would love to see him run for office back home. With JD/PhD plans in his future, could he be the first African American AG?

6. Dan Campos. This Latino investment banker and former U.S. Senate staffer made a convincing 2010 bid for delegate in D17 as a Republican, earning the NARAL endorsement. He has since switched parties–and everyone should welcome him to Team Blue with open arms. Right now, he is leader of the opposition in Gaithersburg’s municipal affairs. When he runs for something, watch out. Nobody outworks Dan Campos.

7. Jonathan Sachs. A rare wunderkind made good.  Currently Director of Public Policy for Adventist Healthcare , I could see Jonathan as a successor to GiGi Godwin as CEO of the MoCo Chamber. A number of different people wrote in to nominate Jonathan for this list. Here is what two of them said:

“Probably the most notable thing about Jonathan—and it speaks to his character and intelligence—is that in a county where “progressives” rule, Jonathan is a centrist, pro-business Democrat. He thinks for himself and doesn’t fall in line with the local political dogma, so his input is all the more valuable because those who share his point of view can get drowned out in our local political conversations. But when Jonathan says something, people—included elected officials—pay attention.”

In a universe of newbies – most with slim credentials – Jonathan stands out as a star.  Rather than conjuring up bona fides, Jonathan is and has been in the trenches since his days at the University of Maryland.”

8. Kelly Blynn. Rockstar Organizer. No one does it better in Montgomery County. I dread the day I find myself on the opposite side of an issue from Kelly because that can be a very scary place to be. One nominator described her as:

“Coalition for Smarter Growth, transit advocate – a sophisticated and energetic organizer who played a central role in the BRT campaign.”

9. Kevin Walling. A well connected national operative who works at the top political phones firm in the country, Kevin traded an uphill fight for delegate for a safe shot at the MCDCC. Four years from now, he’ll have the local roots to compliment his national credentials. This will make him an even stronger candidate when he runs for office again. Rumor has it that he intends to make a play for MCDCC Chair this year.

Editor’s Note. Number 10 is the author, John Gallagher, nominated by just too many different people to leave out. Offered without comment except from the nominators:

“John Gallagher, Seventh State, mail/campaign operative – the youngest of the young guns, with a campaign resume that would be impressive for a 40-year-old.”
“You. You’re everywhere, you’re a beast, you deserve it.”

Honorable Mention: Marc Korman. Marc has aged out. However, due to his youthful good looks so many people mistakenly nominated him for the list as to necessitate his inclusion. He has an even shot at winning a delegate seat in Annapolis this year. Sidley Austin Attorney, Democratic Party stalwart and ex-Capitol Hill staffer. Anonymous comment:

candidate for delegate, former MPW – smooth edges and a good sense of humor, with broad and deep contacts across Montgomery politics and government.”

 

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More on the D16 Poll

After my post about the poll testing Jordan Cooper’s name came out, a highly placed spy close to the District 16 Race alerted me that Hrant Jamgochian also has a poll in the field. The pollster of record is PPP (Public Policy Polling).

PPP only does robopolls and are therefore prohibited from including cell phones in their surveys, which skews their samples a bit. Nonetheless, they are a top tier, reputable pollster. The survey was in the field a few weeks ago. It tested descriptions of Marc Korman, Hrant Jamgochian, Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Jordan Cooper. It also tested issues.

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District 16 Delegate Poll

District 16

A few days ago,  a one of three Democratic primary voter reached out to me to with some mildly interesting news: they had received a live telephone survey testing positive and negative messages regarding Jordan Cooper’s candidacy in the District 16 delegate race.

My educated guess would be that the poll is from Jordan Cooper’s campaign since any other candidate polling would not have focused on him, or at least also asked questions about Marc Korman, Hrant Jamgochian, Ariana Kelly and Bill Frick.

Except that Jordan Cooper says he did not do the poll. At any rate, it should make him feel good that someone is taking him very seriously. I guess we’ll see when the next campaign finance reports come out.

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