As Adam Pagnucco showed today, councilmembers are in high dudgeon over County Executive Marc Elrich’s hot mic comments. Councilmember Nancy Navarro blasted Elrich, ending her Facebook post with a demand for respect and stating (in Spanish) “Enough already! What a shame!”
Our diverse community has unsurprisingly had a diverse response. Navarro received supportive comments from people who were also appalled at Elrich’s remarks and appreciate Navarro’s efforts. Others were more temperate but also thought Elrich needs to apologize. But, as they are wont to do, some constituents were critical.
A critical comment quickly degenerated into the sort of Facebook discussion that didn’t exactly cover anyone with glory. Attacks by Navarro and Councilmember Craig Rice juxtapose incongruously with Navarro’s call for respect in the original post and her criticism of Elrich for a lack of it. (Screenshots of the exchange are at the bottom of the post so you can judge for yourselves.)
Two constituents, Chip Py and Helen Elizabeth, express a desire for the Council and the Executive to work better together. This is a common thought from constituents even if some tension between the two bodies can be healthy. During the current crisis, impressions of squabbling by either the Executive or the Council play very poorly.
Navarro’s response presenting concrete facts about how she tries to work with Elrich is basically a good one. Except then she and Rice go after their constituents, which is almost never a good look on a politician. Just ask George Leventhal who became infamous for attacking constituents (often more strongly than either Navarro or Rice here). His campaign for county executive suffered greatly from this well-earned reputation.
A big part of the job of all elected officials is to listen respectfully to their constituents, regardless of what they think of their views. Navarro and Rice know this as I have lauded them for it on other occasions. But here, there isn’t a lot of respect for the constituents despite the original post being about the executive not showing respect to constituents.
Both councilmembers get obviously annoyed at the idea that they are acting politically. It can be frustrating, as constituents tend to think everything is political. At the same time, the idea that both of these term-limited officials might want to run for higher office is far from bizarre.
It’s also well-known that there is quite a bit of tension between the Exec and the Council. Navarro’s original statement that “some of use have been working around the clock” (but implying Elrich has not) along with her literally claiming credit here for all major initiatives on this issue by the CE certainly does nothing to dispel it.
The idea that Navarro or Rice might want to run for higher office is not only perfectly fine but normal–no one owns their elected office and ambition is as natural in politics as any other profession. Consequently, the notion that there might be a weensy bit of political hay making going on here hardly shocks. I doubt that any councilmember’s office is a snark-free environment–if only because Adam Pagnucco used to work there!
That doesn’t really matter because it is the public presentation that counts, which is why Elrich landed in the soup here. It’s also why Navarro and Rice haven’t helped themselves on Facebook.
Navarro’s most unfortunate statement is her claim that “As a woman of color, I don’t owe you or anyone an explanation, my record speaks for itself.” The idea that she is a strong and proud Latina, who sees an important role for herself in standing up for the needs of the Latino community, is great. But all councilmembers are accountable to their constituents who have every right to criticize them regardless of their gender or ethnicity.
This sort of argument makes all involved look smaller. Councilmembers who have said the least have probably gained the most, demonstrating that saying nothing publicly can often be the best option. County Executive Ike Leggett won a record-tying three terms in part because he was better than anyone at exercising this self-discipline.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz’s statement works somewhat better than Navarro’s because the emphasis is less on credit claiming, though it’s there, but more about problems and working with others. Which at the end of the day is what we all need.
My bottom line: Elrich should apologize because it’s the right and gracious thing to do. The Council should accept and express that we can all do better to serve our community. A little humility can go a long way. Most important, this fight to protect everyone is our community is far from over. Doing our collective best is owed to everyone, including more focus on helping the disproportionately hit Black and Brown communities.